Essentialism: Inspiration and A Book Review


Remember Marie Condo?

Her decluttering methodology was so 2019.Her approach to clearing out your wardrobe was to only keep the clothes that ‘spark joy’, then thank the rest of your clothes before putting them in the charity bag.

I bet there are thousands of people regretting putting that fluffy onesie in the charity bag now? Nothing could spark joy on a cold day in lockdown like a fluffy onesie!

Decluttering your wardrobe is the metaphor used in the book I’m currently reading – Essentialism by Greg McKeown.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Essentially, it’s about only doing the things that are essential; only keeping the things in your wardrobe that spark joy.

He proposes a four-step essentialism process to eliminate the trivial many and focus on the vital few.

  • Essence
  • Explore
  • Eliminate
  • Execute
In theory, it makes a lot of sense.
In reality, however…
I’m about halfway through the book and looking forward to the 4th stage ‘execute’ to see what practical techniques and activities he suggests.
As a business book, it’s readable, concise and well structured, if a little simplistic – there is a heavy scent of ‘this system is the silver bullet to solve all your problems’ about it. Because I’m imbued with the innately British trait of deep cynicism, I am sceptical of anything that seems too good to be true!

However, I will share a few nuggets and learning points that I hope inspire you.

Reading Notes on the Essentialism Philosophy:

“Living by design not by default”

This quote is right up my street. As a passionate supporter of micro-enterprise and a start up mentor, this simple phrase reminds me of the power of following your own path. It’s the reason I never want to rely on an employer for my livelihood again.


“If you don’t prioritise your life someone else will”

We all lead busy lives with demands and expectations on our time. Sometimes you have to prioritise yourself, being a people pleaser can leave us feeling unfulfilled, exhausted and taken advantage of.


“The vital few from the trivial many”

This is the core of the book. A simple idea, a tough one to implement. However, when working with start ups, I actively encourage my clients to tackle one thing at a time. To focus their energy on a vital few. A prime example is when marketing through Social Media. It’s far better to be really good and consistent on one or two platforms than to be distracted by the new shiny-shiny and spread yourself too thinly over multiple channels. Pick a channel you are comfortable with and that is right for your audience and learn to use it really well.


“The undisciplined pursuit of more”

This is a such an easy trap to fall into when you work for yourself. Our fear of ‘not enough’ means we say ‘yes’ to things too quickly.


“The volume of choice has outstripped our ability to manage it”

It’s easy to mistake information overload for opinion overload. Especially at times like this, spending more and more time online and relying on it for our social and business interactions. The boundaries between fact and information and opinion are increasingly blurred. “We are so hyper-connected it is overwhelming.”


“Deliberately setting aside distraction free time in a distraction free space to do absolutely nothing other than think”

Thinking time is underrated. We feel guilty if we are ‘not busy’. The scourge of busy means that all too often we are on the go. Acting without purpose or priority. Filling that most precious and finite of commodities we have – our time – with minutia. One of the positive outcomes from a year of lockdowns and uncertainty has been access to more of our own time. Time to simply think, breathe  and reflect.


“When many things are a priority nothing is”

It’s up to us to set our intent, choose where to focus our energy. If we don’t take responsibility for our own time, others will.

The ‘Fun Window’ is a useful model to help you decide what to spend time on and when to do it.

Like + Can Do

These are things you enjoy and come naturally to you. This is Maximum Fun. Do more of this!

Don’t Like + Can Do

This is where being a pen for hire comes in for me. I am able to do it, but I don’t like it.

These are things that you may find you do in the short term to reach another goal, but please don’t make them core to your plans. This is really Unfun!  These are the things to say ‘no’ to, or delegate, or only do as a last resort and only temporarily.

Your intentions should always be to enjoy what you do!

Like + Can’t Do

These are your plans for the future. Things to work towards, the things to take on as part of your continuous professional development. They are enjoyable activities and you get a huge sense of satisfaction from having learned a new skill.

This is where many of my clients are. They are in the early days of their writing journey and it’s hard, but with time, effort, focus, feedback and practice, soon the skills they learn will come naturally to them and can become Maximum Fun!

Don’t Like + Can’t Do

These are Zero Fun. They are miserable and hard. Best avoided!

fun window - How to decide what you want to do


Essentialism – A system for the butterfly brain

If, like me, you’ve always got lots of things flitting around in your head like ‘butterflies in your brain’, this book is worth a read. It may just help you find clarity of purpose and some techniques to make better use of your time and energy.

We can do anything, but not everything. And we can be selfish without being self centred – that’s essentialism.

My one criticism: the problem with the essentialist way is the purely logical nature of it. If we all followed this philosophy, no one would ever do anything for the greater good of their community – unless of course they made that their priority!


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