Essentialism Summary (Greg McKeown)

Essentialism teaches us how to prioritize the important things first. And How to choose the valuable things and say no to distractions.

To have a rich and fulfilling life, we should become selective about important and unimportant tasks and leave distractions. We can utilize our time and resources to fulfill our goals by setting clear boundaries and knowing when to say no.

We should carefully decide our priorities and focus on only those things that are most important for us to strive for and grow in.

To construct an essentialist way of life, we must make room. Where can we start? Decluttering our mind.

Let understand his points using multiple real-life examples and scientific studies. He also presents information graphically to make it even more interesting. What might you expect from adopting an essentialist way of life? Let’s keep reading this summary for a closer look.

Saying No

Mckeown talks about Sam Elliot, an executive in Silicon Valley who found out how his life changed after a bigger corporation bought his company. Elliot kept saying yes to almost everything.

The stress of his work increased and his quality suffered. The company then approached him and said something that made him go to his mentor for advice. What the mentor told him changed his life. 

Elliot started saying “no” because of it. The author dives into the details of how Elliot’s life changed. Was it for the good or the bad?

Is yes your default response? If YES.

First, let’s understand essentialist and non-essentialist views, then I will tell you how to start saying no to unimportant things.

  • A non-essentialist perspective involves a tendency towards pleasing other people. Worrying about missing out and spreading oneself too thin.
  • On the other hand the essentialist world view emphasizes picking and choosing carefully and establishing firm priorities.
  • According to Mckeown, essentialism is not about multitasking but rather about focusing on what really matters.

By changing how we see things, we can stop being too busy and focus on the things that matter most. He also has an interesting concept of trade-offs.

READ It To Find True Happiness And Purpose of Life: Ikigai Book Summary (With Pdf)

Success paradox

Success often brings a paradox: an abundance of opportunities and demands. In this chaos, it’s important to figure out what really matters. Greg McKeown says that it is important to make mental space for deep thought and reflection.

McKeown tells stories about people who have been successful by focusing on the important few. He says that essentialism is a choice that takes effort and discipline, but it can lead to increased happiness, productivity, and overall fulfillment.

In other words, the path to success is not about doing more, but rather about doing less with greater intention and focus.

Learn the 80/20 Principle and How to Use It to Become Happy and Blessed.

Choice Spectrum

McKeown presents a metaphorical three-step process that will guide us in making intentional choices that shape our identity and destiny. He cautions against the pursuit of doing everything, as it often leads to mediocrity. Instead, he says that we should clarify our core purpose, so we can make decisions that match our true desires and aspirations.

The author talks about our societal conditioning to think that we can and should have everything. This misconception, in turn, leads to stagnation and dissatisfaction. He shares personal anecdotes about his own career choices to illustrate the importance of prioritizing our passions and values.

We have many choices, but not all of them are the same. Some decisions are minor, while others have far-reaching consequences. We should think about how our choices will affect us in the long term and make sure they match our true goals.

To counteract this, McKeown offers three criteria for making better choices:

  1. Alignment with Essential Intent: Does this choice support my core purpose and values?
  2. Trade-offs: What am I gaining and sacrificing by making this choice?
  3. Delegation or Elimination: Can this task be delegated or removed altogether?

By applying these criteria, we cultivate discernment, the ability to recognize what is truly important. In our noisy and chaotic world, discerning the essential becomes crucial.

Essentialism is also not about doing less for the sake of doing less but rather about focusing our energy and resources on the right things—the things that truly matter.

Want To Know How To Get Blessed With Money And Happiness? Read This. The Richest Man In Babylon Book Summary

Hierarchical Mindset

Hierarchical mindset for task management, categorizing them into three levels: trivial, significant, and vital.

  • Trivial tasks are abundant but hold little importance, adding minimal value to our lives.
  • Significant tasks are fewer in number but hold greater value, aligning with our personal or professional goals.
  • Vital tasks are the most crucial, representing the few activities that truly matter and have the potential to create the most significant impact.

To discern the vital few from the trivial many, McKeown suggests asking ourselves: “What do I feel deeply inspired by, and what am I particularly talented at?” This reflection helps us discover our unique passions and abilities and guide us towards activities that foster personal and professional growth.

To successfully manage our commitments, we need to say ‘no’ to non-essential engagements. We protect our time and energy for the vital few by politely but firmly declining requests that don’t align with our priorities. This approach not only improves our productivity, but also makes life more fulfilling and meaningful.

Know How Robert Greene’s 48 Laws to Help You Be Smart, Make Good Plans, and Defend Yourself.

The 10X Rule: Thinking Big and Defeating Fear

The 10X Rule says to set goals that are 10 times bigger than what we initially think is possible. This approach encourages us to think big and work hard.

McKeown shares personal experiences from his early career, where he learned that the same amount of effort could yield much bigger rewards when focused on ambitious goals. This realization led him to embrace the 10X Rule, which challenges us to think beyond our perceived limitations and aim for extraordinary achievements.

However, it can be difficult to pursue such ambitious goals. The common fear of rejection and the deep-seated desire for approval that often hold us back. These fears can cloud our judgment and prevent us from taking bold actions. To overcome them, it’s important to believe in ourselves and be true to who we really are.

The 10X Rule is not just about setting ambitious goals; it’s also about cultivating a mindset of abundance and possibility. It inspires us to take calculated risks, embrace challenges, and persevere in the face of setbacks.

By adopting this mindset, we can unleash our full potential and achieve extraordinary results in both our personal and professional lives.

Learn to connect with people and become a master influencer. Dive into our summary of “How to Win Friends and Influence People.

The Big Trade-offs and Being Unavailable

Have you ever found yourself juggling multiple tasks, feeling overwhelmed and stretched thin? We often fall into the trap of believing we can do it all, but the truth is, every choice we make involves a trade-off.

Think about it: saying YES to one thing automatically means saying NO to something else. Accepting this reality is the initial step towards intentional living. Instead of trying to fit everything into our already busy schedules, we need to learn to prioritize what really matters.

To do this effectively, we can draw inspiration from successful companies like Southwest Airlines and Johnson & Johnson. These organizations have chosen to focus on certain areas and make sacrifices in other areas to reach their goals. By doing so, they’ve become leaders in their respective industries.

Making trade-offs isn’t always easy. It requires us to think about the long-term effects of our choices. What are we willing to sacrifice to achieve our most important goals? What are the potential costs and benefits of each decision?

The Power of Being Unavailable

In today’s always-on world, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and overcommitted. We’re constantly bombarded with notifications, emails, and requests for our time. But what if making ourselves less available could actually enhance our value and well-being?

Paradoxically, being less accessible can increase our perceived value. When we’re not always readily available, people tend to appreciate our time and expertise more. This can boost our self-esteem and give us a sense of control over our lives.

Moreover, limiting our availability can be a powerful antidote to burnout. Constantly being ON can lead to exhaustion and decreased productivity. By setting boundaries and creating space for rest and rejuvenation, we can replenish our energy and return to our tasks with renewed focus and vigor.

Consider the example of Frans Johansson, who implemented a “No Phone Day” at his workplace. All employees are gathered for a day of agenda-free conversation and connection to foster a sense of community and creativity.

To be creative, we need to disconnect from the constant stream of information and distractions. Bill Gates “Think Week” is a good example of this idea, where he isolates himself to reflect, read, and generate new ideas.

Remember, saying “no” is not a sign of weakness or selfishness; it’s an act of self-preservation and a powerful tool for achieving our most important goals.

Explore the secret to living in the present moment and unlock true happiness. Read our summary of The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.

Tapping into Your Inner Journalist and Inner Child 

Have you ever been overwhelmed by information or lost the bigger picture because you were too focused on the small stuff? It happens a lot nowadays, but it’s not inevitable.

One of the most valuable skills an essentialist possesses is the ability to step back and see the forest for the trees. This means looking beyond the surface-level information and discerning the underlying patterns, trends, and implications.

It’s about asking yourself: “What is hidden in this set of facts? What truly matters?”

How can we develop our ability to see the big picture?

One strategy is to be more selective about the information we consume. Instead of trying to absorb every piece of data that comes our way, we should focus on what is truly relevant and valuable. This means being mindful of our sources, questioning assumptions, and reading between the lines.

Journaling can be a helpful tool for developing this skill. By writing down our thoughts and reflections, we can clarify our understanding of complex issues and identify hidden patterns. The key is to write only what is important and not too much.

Don’t underestimate the importance of playing, participating in hobbies, and pursuing leisure activities. A playful mindset can help us relax, see things from new perspectives, and unleash our creativity. This is true not only in our personal lives but also in the workplace.

Remember, we are not machines designed for endless toil. We are human beings, and play is an essential part of our nature. By incorporating play into our lives, we can reduce stress, improve our well-being, and unlock our full potential.

Think about it: some of the greatest minds in history have done their best work while at play. So, let’s embrace our playful side and see what we can create.

Read the Power Of Intention book summary to learn how to use intention to achieve your goals and live a happy life.

Catching the Zzzz and Being Extreme with Selection

In our constant pursuit of success, we often neglect the importance of sleep and rest. But what if getting enough rest could help us do better and feel better? Research has shown that sleep deprivation can lead to burnout, decreased productivity, and even serious health problems.

We need to challenge the stigma around sleep and see it as a vital investment in our most valuable asset: ourselves.

Sleep isn’t just about resting our bodies; it’s essential for brain function and cognitive performance. Numerous studies have demonstrated the positive impact of sleep on memory consolidation, problem-solving skills, and overall mental clarity. By prioritizing sleep, we can actually achieve more in less time.

Companies like Google have recognized the value of sleep by installing nap pods in their offices. These pods give employees a quiet place to recharge during the day, which helps them be more productive and creative.

Do you want to know how habits develop? The Hooked Book summary by Nir Eyal shows the secrets behind habit-forming products.

The 90% Rule for Decision-Making Clarity

To make the most of our time and energy, we need to think carefully when making decisions. We should choose for hell yeah or no choices instead of settling for “good enough.” This means seeking clarity and making decisions that align with our core values and goals.

The 90% rule can help us achieve this clarity. It involves assigning a score to each option on a scale of 0 to 100, based on how well it aligns with our priorities. If an option doesn’t score at least 90, it’s a “no.” This simple rule forces us to be more selective and intentional with our choices.

Clarity is essential for making sound decisions. We need to be crystal clear about our goals, priorities, and values. This level of clarity allows us to focus our efforts on what truly matters, avoiding distractions and wasted energy.

When clarity is lacking, organizations and individuals can suffer. Lack of clarity can lead to confusion, miscommunication, and even conflict. To achieve success, we must define our essential intent and align our actions accordingly.

Research has shown that organizations with a clear sense of purpose outperform their competitors. The same holds true for individuals. By clarifying our priorities and focusing on the essential few, we can achieve greater success, fulfillment, and well-being.

Is your mind holding you back? Use your subconscious mind to reach your full potential.

Being Ok With ‘NO’

It’s okay to say no and to accept what comes after. The fear of missing out ‘fomo’ is a frequent roadblock to wise decision-making. While renaming ‘FOMO’ as the joy of missing out ‘JOMO’.

Saying “no” is not always easy. We may fear disappointing others, missing out on potential opportunities, or even being perceived as selfish. However, learning to decline non-essential commitments is crucial for achieving our most important goals.

To make it easy for you, the author gives 7 helpful tips on how to achieve saying ‘no’ gracefully and regularly.

  1. Be direct and honest: Avoid vague excuses or justifications.
  2. Express appreciation: Thank the person for the opportunity, but politely decline.
  3. Offer an alternative: If possible, suggest an alternative solution or resource.
  4. Set clear boundaries: Explain your priorities and limitations.
  5. Don’t over-apologize: A simple “no” is sufficient.
  6. Be assertive: Don’t be swayed by pressure or guilt.
  7. Practice makes perfect: The more you say “no,” the easier it becomes.

It’s important to look at each new opportunity carefully before saying “yes.” Check how it might affect your time, energy, and priorities. If a commitment doesn’t match your values or goals, decline politely. As overcommitting ourselves can result in diluted efforts and a lack of focus.

Just as an editor refines a manuscript, we must also edit our lives. This means eliminating unnecessary tasks and activities, freeing up time and energy for what truly matters. By simplifying our lives, we can achieve our goals with greater clarity and focus.

Attract Positivity and Abundance: Good Vibes, Good Life Book Summary

Preparing for the Unexpected: The Essentialist’s Buffer

Life is unpredictable, and unexpected events can derail even the best-laid plans. To navigate life’s uncertainties, essentialists create buffers— reserves of time, resources, and energy to handle unforeseen challenges.

Consider the biblical story of Joseph, who interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams and advised him to store grain during seven years of plenty to prepare for the seven years of famine that followed. This foresight saved Egypt from starvation.

Essentialists adopt a similar mindset, anticipating potential setbacks and preparing for the worst-case scenario. This contrasts with non-essentialists, who often plan for the best-case scenario and are caught off guard when things go wrong.

By using periods of relative calm to prepare for potential storms, we can mitigate the impact of unexpected events. We can also avoid the planning fallacy, a common cognitive bias where we underestimate the time and resources needed to complete a task, leading to stress and inefficiency.

Making Progress Through Small Wins

Essentialists understand that progress is not about doing more but about doing the right things. They prioritize continuous improvement, recognizing that small, consistent actions over time can lead to significant results.

Imagine you’re training for a marathon. Running 26.2 miles seems daunting, but if you break it down into smaller, more manageable goals – running one mile, then two, then five – the task becomes less overwhelming. Each successful run is a small win that builds your confidence and propels you forward.

In life, too, progress is often made through incremental steps. Focus on completing small, achievable tasks that align with your larger goals. Celebrate each accomplishment, no matter how small, as it contributes to your overall progress.

For example, if your goal is to write a book, start by writing one page a day. Over time, those pages will add up, and you’ll be surprised at how far you’ve come.

Achieving Flow: The Key to Optimal Performance

Think of a time when you were completely absorbed in an activity, whether it was playing an instrument, painting, or working on a challenging project. You likely lost track of time, and your focus and creativity soared. This is known as a state of flow.

Essentialists understand that flow is often achieved by engaging in activities that align with our strengths and passions.

To cultivate flow, create the right conditions. Set clear goals, seek immediate feedback, and eliminate distractions. Also design the environment to promote focus and concentration.

Routines can be powerful tools for achieving flow. By establishing regular habits and rituals, we can create a sense of predictability and structure that allows us to enter a flow state more easily.

Building a Systematic Approach to Execution

Picture a well-organized kitchen. Every utensil has its place, every ingredient is stored neatly, and the chef knows exactly where to find what they need. This streamlined approach saves time and energy, allowing the chef to focus on creating delicious meals.

Similarly, essentialists create systems and routines to streamline their lives. This might involve using a project management tool to track tasks, setting up automated email filters, or establishing a morning routine to start the day with focus and intention.

Essentialism emphasizes the importance of a systematic approach to doing things. We can make decisions faster and use our mental energy for more important things by creating routines, frameworks, and procedures.

Prioritization frameworks, such as the Eisenhower Matrix, can help us identify and focus on our most essential tasks. Time-blocking and deep work techniques can further enhance our productivity by minimizing distractions and creating dedicated time for focused work.

The Now and Focus

As an essentialist, the first step is identifying the “vital few” – those precious, gem-like activities that truly matter to us.

Remember, the present moment is all we have. Non-essentialists often dwell on the past, regretting missed opportunities, or obsess over the future, worrying about what’s to come. This fixation on what isn’t happening now drains our energy and leads to unhappiness.

To embrace essentialism, we must cultivate a laser-like focus. This means training our minds to concentrate on one task at a time, resisting the urge to multitask.

Multitasking is a myth; our brains are not designed to focus on multiple things simultaneously. While we can switch between tasks quickly, this constant shifting actually hinders our productivity and increases stress.

When you feel overwhelmed, close your eyes and ask yourself: “What is truly important in this moment?” By focusing on the present, we can calm our minds and prioritize effectively. Now means this second, not in an hour, not tomorrow.

Take a moment to pause and reflect on your current priorities. Are they aligned with your values and goals? By removing distractions and focusing on the essential few, you can create a more meaningful and fulfilling life.


Integrating essentialism into your daily life is not a one-time event; it’s a continuous journey of self-discovery and refinement. Interestingly, essentialism is not a new concept.

It has deep roots in various spiritual and religious traditions, from Buddhism to Christianity. Many successful individuals throughout history have embraced the principles of essentialism to achieve their goals and make a lasting impact on the world.

Applying essentialist principles can help you unlock your full potential, achieve greater focus, and live a more intentional and fulfilling life.

Leave a Comment