In Essentialism,

talks about how to ruthlessly eliminate noise from your life and focus on a few key activities that bring the most value for you while making that execution effortless.

Essentialism is a lifestyle that you must adapt via small actions, as described below, to do what's meaningful.

The central theme

Essentialism is about figuring out where our highest point of contribution lies and then executing on those things effortlessly.

It is to ruthlessly prioritize tasks and work that provide the most value to us and eliminate the rest. The essentialist strongly leverages their power of choice and uses pre-set criteria before saying yes to a commitment.

Major ideas from Essentialism

  1. Trying to do it all only means trying to fail at most of it. To make the best possible contribution you can, you have to stop saying yes to everything.
  2. Essentialism starts with segregating the action with the maximum value from the trivial and removing any obstacles, so the essential things have a clear, smooth passage.
  3. The more options we have, the more we would be distracted from what would otherwise be our highest level of contribution.
  4. There are three core truths to an essentialist, they are:
    1. "I choose to."
    2. "Only a few things really matter."
    3. "I can do anything but not everything."
  5. Success is paradoxical. When we focus, we achieve. When we achieve, we get more opportunities, which means our focus gets divided, which can hamper further success.
  6. Essentialism isn't getting more things done. It's getting the right things done. Almost everything is noise; very few things truly matter to us and can let us create an impact
  7. Choice is a vital tool. Unless we choose what we want to do with our time, someone else will choose it for us.
  8. Trade-offs cannot be avoided. When given two opportunities, don't ask how I can do both. Ask, which one do I want to do?
  9. Our highest priority should be to protect our ability to prioritize.
  10. If the answer isn't a clear yes to working on something, it's a no.
  11. For each opportunity, write three minimum criteria and three extreme criteria. Say yes to the opportunity only if it passes all minimum and at least two extreme criteria.
  12. Teams should have a common, essential intent, one that is both inspirational and concrete, meaningful and measurable.
  13. We need to separate the decision from the relationship to be able to say no. Essentialists accept they cannot be popular with everyone all the time.
  14. Sunk-cost bias occurs when we continue with a low return task because we have already invested time, money, or effort into it and don't dare to own up to the wrong choice. Essentialists admit their mistake and immediately trim their losses.
  15. When presented with an opportunity, ask yourself, "If I didn't have this opportunity, what would I have sacrificed to obtain it?"
  16. To attain knowledge, add things every day and to attain wisdom, subtract things every day.
  17. Instead of big, flashy wins, the essentialist aims for small but consistent wins that lead up to a larger goal.
  18. When you feel overwhelmed with many tasks and obligations, stop and ask yourself, what's the most immediate priority at this moment? Not the next minute, not the next hour. What should I be doing right NOW that will contribute to my goals? Focus just on that, and park the rest until you're done with it.


A core tenet of essentialism is to focus on fewer important tasks and finish them instead of trying to finish everything on your plate in the desperate need to please everyone.

The book emphasizes the importance of prioritizing and executing along with important questions to answer when presented with new tasks and/or opportunities.

Essentialism focuses on solving one of life's essential puzzles: how can we do less but accomplish more? The book is essential for anyone who feels overcommitted, overloaded, or overworked.

Book Authors

Greg McKeown

Related Methodologies

Single Tasking
The “Must Do” List
Triage Technique

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