December 30th, 2016 by Bob Bly
In his best-selling book “Essentialism: The Disciplines Pursuit
of Less” (Crown Business), Greg McKeown preaches his philosophy
of Essentialism as the path to having a better and more rewarding
After reading it, I am a born-again Essentialist!
The core idea of Essentialism is, in McKeown’s words:
“There are far more activities and opportunities in the world
than we have the time and resources to invest in.
“And although many of them may be good, or even very good, the
fact is that most are trivial and few are vital.
“Only when you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it
all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest
contribution towards the things that really matter.”
If you know people who pursue a primary goal, activity, or
mission with laser-like focus — whether it’s building a business,
mastering the violin, or accumulating wealth — they are almost
surely, with rare exceptions, Essentialists.
If you know people who volunteer for everything, have a calendar
filled with diverse activities, pursue a dozen hobbies and
interests, and volunteer for every committee in every worthwhile
organization under the sun — I can virtually assure you that they
are not Essentialists.
I only came across McKeown’s book a couple of months ago. But I
have been an Essentialist my entire adult life.
I focus, to the exclusion of almost everything else, on just the
few things that matter most to me — my business and my clients,
writing, and my family.
Yes, I would like to do more. But as McKeown correctly points
out, our time, attention, energy, and bandwidth are shockingly
So if you try to do everything, you accomplish — and get good at
— almost nothing.
“The overwhelming reality is: we live in a world where almost
everything is worthless and a very few things are exceptionally
valuable,” McKeown writes.
“We can choose how to spend our energy and time. We can’t have or
do it all.”
He quotes John Maxwell: “You cannot overestimate the unimportance
of practically everything.”
Marcus Aurelius says it this way: “If thou wouldst know
contentment, let thy deeds be few.”
The way I put it is this: If you are someone who is “all over the
place,” you will never really get to the one place you want to
The key to Essentialism is laser-like focus on one or two things.
Steve Martin said:
“I did stand-up comedy for 18 years. Ten of those years were
spent learning, four were spent refining, and four were spent in
wild success. The course was more plodding than heroic.”
I have always described myself as a plodder, too. If you write,
as I have, 12 hours a day, 5 days a week for more than 3 decades,
you can’t help but get better at it!
My Essentialism does not mean I make zero contribution to
worthy causes outside my small number of core activities.
But I do so in the most time-efficient manner — by donating money
rather than my time to these worthy causes.
By focusing just on my business, I make more money … which in
turn enables me to make bigger contributions to curing cancer,
feeding the hungry, and other things that are important but that
I do not have the bandwidth to participate in directly.