Essentialism – The Pursuit of Less


I recently read Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. The essential thesis of the book, as the title suggests, is doing less, better. The main body of the book is devoted to the ideas of explore (what is it that really needs doing that only you can do), eliminate (all the stuff you shouldn’t be doing), and execute (do it!). I have a few reservations, but here’s some snippets:

  • “If you don’t prioritise your life someone else will”
  • The non-essentialist says ‘I have to; It’s all important; I can do both.’ The essentialist says ‘I choose to; only a few things really matter; I can do anything but not everything.’
  • In order to have focus we need to escape to focus
  • Our highest priority is to protect our ability to prioritise (in other words we have to look after ourselves physically, socially, and emotionally if we’re going to function well)
  • If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no
  • The Latin root of the word decision – cis or cid – literally means ‘to cut’ or ‘to kill’

There’s lots of very practical advice in the book and I think, in general, there’s a useful principle in here. First, however, a couple of question marks.

Take the first bullet point. Is it always wrong for someone else to prioritise my life? As a Christian I want to say that someone else (God) does in fact prioritise my life (or at least I want, aspire, aim, desire, try for that to be the case). So the question isn’t so much whether someone else should prioritise my life; it’s more a case of who gets to prioritise my life. Do I live to please myself, others, or God. For a Christian (and Christian leader) the answer if obvious. Which brings me to a second reservation. If God is going to prioritise my life then I’m not sure the ruthless, black and white, yes/no game works any more. There surely are situations where things aren’t so neat and tidy. I might decide it’s not my job to take a meal round to someone in our small group, or to visit that old person, or to fill in at crèche – ‘if its not a clear yes, its a clear no’ – but that surely isn’t the mindset of someone who has decided to let God prioritise their life. I will do things that fall outside of my main focus out of love for God and love for neighbour.

Now, all of that said, I do still think there’s some helpful material in the book. I do think we often get distracted, and don’t think carefully enough about where to invest our time and energies. This book will help you at least to ask those questions, even if it doesn’t necessarily give you all the right answers.



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