Book Summary: “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less”

This is one of my favorite books that I frequently revisit. As I grow older and as my career develops, life continues to present a flux of possible choices and opportunities. This is mostly a good and fortunate thing (not many people have the luxury to choose). But clearly, too many choices can be paralyzing.

To solve that problem, Greg Mckeown proposes a somewhat radical approach: eliminate most and pursue few. Although I don’t follow his advice religiously (sometimes I still take on more than I should), for the most part, “essentialism” has helped me take control of my life, focus on the things that truly matter, and excel.

I highly recommend you read the book in full (Amazon link), but if you don’t have time, here’s a summary:


  • The way of the essentialist is “less but better”.
  • Step 1: Explore: discern the trivial many from the vital few. Find highest point of contribution: right thing, right reason, right time.
  • Step 2: Eliminate
  • Step 3: Execute
  • Exercise the power of choice: “I choose to”.
  • Almost everything is non-essential, distinguish the vital few from the trivial many.
  • Ask “What is the trade-off I want to make. What can I go big on”.


  • Create space to escape (literally) and explore life.
  • Create time to read non-fiction, classics that withstood the test of time.
  • Pay attention to the big picture, the story. Find the essence of the information. Keep a journal, but don’t focus on the small details, focus on the headlines.
  • Get out into the field.
  • Clarify the questions you want to ask yourself.
  • “Play” sparks exploration & creativity.
  • Protect the asset (aka. your body): sleep well.


  • Set extreme criteria: it’s either a “Hell Yeah, or a NO”
  • 90% rule: give the option a score between 0 and 100. If it’s lower than 90, reject it.
  • Set up and use narrow criteria: “Is this exactly what I’m looking for?”
  • PROCESS: 1. define the opportunity 2. describe what are the minimum criteria for this option to be considered 3. what are the ideal criteria for this option to be approved?
  • Clarify your mission statement, be very clear.
  • Say NO gracefully: the soft “no” (“no but”), “let me check my calendar and get back to you”, “yes, what should I de-prioritize?”, use humor, a positive no (offer something else), “i can’t do it, but x might be interested”.
  • Un-commit: Be comfortable with cutting losses
  • If you have limits, you become limitless. Boundaries can be liberating.


  • Build buffer for unexpected events
  • Practice extreme and early preparation.
  • Remove obstacles to progress.
  • Start small and get big results. Celebrate small wins.
  • The most effective form of human motivation is progress.
  • Design a routine, making execution almost effortless (think of Michael Phelps example).
  • Overhaul your triggers.
  • Do the most important thing first.
  • To operate at your highest level of contribution requires you deliberately tune in to what is important in the here and now.
  • Mind is focused on the present. Tunes in to what is important right now. Enjoy the moment.
  • Essentialist isn’t just about success; it’s about living a life full of meaning and purpose.