Book Review /// Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

There are moments in our lives that transform us and color everything that comes afterward. For author Greg McKeown, author of the New York Times bestseller Essentialism that moment was taking a business meeting right after the birth of his child. His boss assured him he would be rewarded for his dedication, but upon reflection, he realized that he couldn’t have been more wrong about that. The decision to trade something essential for something temporary was, he says a “fool’s bargain.”  

The book Essentialism  is the most useful book on productivity, happiness, and priorities I’ve ever read, and I find myself coming back to its principles time and time again.  

I found myself looking for a refresh of the book this morning and I decided maybe the things I found valuable were things you’d also find valuable. I highly recommend this book no matter what your profession is. As a clergyperson who balances speaking, writing, pastoring and parenting, I needed this book, and perhaps you do too.

Here are the principles I most resonated with:

Achieving success can cause people to lose their way and stop focusing on the things that made them successful in the first place. I can relate to this as a writer. If I spend too much time dealing with publicity, or speaking requests, or other non essential tasks related to writing, I’ll have no time to write. I can also relate to it as a pastor. If I spend too much time in the weeds of administration, or building upkeep or other tasks that could threaten to consume every minute of work time, I won’t have time to work on building relationships, inspiring the congregation, or developing mission programs.

Try to identify big decisions that will make a thousand smaller decisions for you. Greg McKeown talks about eliminating time sucking mini decisions by making larger decisions that make the smaller ones unnecessary. Confusing? Here’s an example. Friday is pizza night in our house. Every Friday (unless we’re out of town). It seems like a small thing, but if you make a dozen or so decisions like this, you’ll free up a lot of space in your brain. Wearing the same thing every day, or saying “no” to all opportunities that don’t meet specific criteria are ways to do this. McKeown talks about identifying those things that are absolutely essential and ruthlessly clearing away everything else.

The genius of routine. My personality type doesn’t lend itself to routine (at least, I used to think it didn’t). I enjoy mixing things up. I don’t like doing the same thing every single day. I consider myself a free spirit. That said, essentialism loves routines, and I’ve come to love and appreciate them too. The things I consider essential are things I’ve build in to a routine. It’s essential to me that my congregation hear from me midweek and so I have made it a part of my routine. It’s essential to me that my family eats together as much as possible in the evening, so I arrange my schedule to make that happen and I make meal planning as automated as possible. If I really want something to happen, I think about how I can add it to my routine.

This barely scratches the surface of everything I’ve learned from Greg McKeown.

In our family, we believe in the library. No need to buy books when there are libraries full of them. That said, rules are meant to be broken. There are some books worth owning, and Essentialism is one of them. I’ve flipped through it several times since I bought it in January.

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