(Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.)
This is one of those “must-read” books for anyone who feels overworked, overwhelmed, and as though they’re no longer in control of their life. You could say it’s an “essential” read (do you see what I did there?) for the 24/7 generation–people who are hyper-connected, constantly taking on new commitments, mega-busy, and yet strangely enough, not accomplishing nearly as much as they would like.
The author likens essentialism to cleaning out your closet, and if you’ve ever purged a closet overstuffed with clothes, then you know the familiar routine: decide which things you absolutely love (and therefore want to keep), which things you absolutely don’t want (and will therefore purge), and which things fall somewhere in the middle, meaning you probably need to think long and hard about why you’re hanging on to them.
The comparison is an apt one, but McKeown takes it a step further by suggesting that if anything winds up in that third pile, you shouldn’t be considering hanging on to it at all. Rather, Essentialism says that something that you’re less than 90% thrilled about should go. The idea is to pare down your life to the absolute essentials and cut out all else, leaving yourself with more time and energy to devote to the things you really love. It’s basically a minimalist approach to life and work.
McKeown outlines a practical approach to this pursuit, going over such important topics as how to define your top priorities, cutting your losses, the power of “no” (and how to say it gracefully!), why you can’t have it all (and shouldn’t try), and the reason setting aside time to sleep and play is important. Altogether I think this is an amazing book, and one everyone should read, whether you’re trying to streamline your career, balance a hectic home situation, or strike out on a new path in life. So I know what you’re thinking…why not five stars?
Basically, I think there are situations in which you really just do not have the option of paring down. I agree that many people are too passive and don’t make the right choices in setting boundaries at work or with family, but there are times when you truly do have to sacrifice personal time or sleep to get things done–when caring for an ill family member, as a single parent working multiple jobs, as a student working and going to school, etc. I think a small dose of essentialism could help in even these situations, but it won’t revolutionize the situation. I don’t think the author is implying as much, but it would have been nice to see him acknowledge that in some cases, you will just have to grin and bear it as much as you can, because cutting out one of your commitments just isn’t practical.
That said, I can honestly say that Essentialism has changed my life and my goal strategies in my twenties. Especially as I’ve sought to define my freelance career, it’s helped me to decide what to focus on and what to ignore. So if you’re a blogger or new business owner feeling overwhelmed by all your options, pick this up! It’ll help a ton!
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown (hardcover, 260 pages). Published 2014 by Crown Business. Genre: business, self-help, psychology, management. Four out of five stars.