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Essentialism Summary

Here’s the Essentialism summary. The full title is Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. Learn the systematic discipline to know what is essential and get rid of the rest.


Essentialism author Greg McKeown explains how to become an essentialist through a systematic discipline. He explains how to declutter your work life, become more productive, and how to focus.

He also explains how to reclaim control over our own choices. This way we’ll be able to spend our precious time and energy on our contribution and what matters to us.

About the Author

Greg McKeown is the CEO of THIS Inc. which helps people and companies focus on the vital few rather than on the trivial many. He has worked with big clients such as Apple, Google, Facebook, Adobe, Pixar, and other innovative organizations.

He is one of the most popular bloggers in the LinkedIn’s Influencers group (million views a month). His works have appeared or covered in Fortune, Inc magazine, Fast Company, and other media publications.

Main takeaways: Essentialism Summary

Let’s discuss the key takeaways from his book:

  1. Use the 90 percent rule.
  2. Practice saying NO.
  3. Add 50 percent more time as buffer.

Use the 90 percent rule

For every decision you make, apply the 90 percent rule. How? Each decision you have to make rate it in a scale of 0 to 100 according to its relevance and importance. If it’s below 90, forget it. It doesn’t matter if it’s 80 or 85. If it’s below 90 forget making the decision.

It also applies to your clothes and other items. For example you’re organizing your closet. You see one clothing with a 90 percent likelihood that you’re never going to wear it again. Why should you keep it? Better option is to give it away than keeping it stuck in your closet.

The same goes with other items and decisions. Focus on the most important. Focus on the 90 percent importance or probability. This way you’ll eliminate most of the useless stuff around you.

It’s like being an editor of your own life. It’s more about correcting the errors and eliminating unnecessary words (even sentences and paragraphs) to make the whole work stronger.

If you edit your own life, ask yourself what are the unnecessary? Where should I focus? What can I get rid of while still maintaining the essence of my life?

Practice saying NO

This is important. We all have a tendency to say yes to everything. We feel that everything is a duty we must face. The result is we get overwhelmed. Each moment we feel that we’re not in control of our precious time and energy.

What happens if we say no? We feel that we’re in control. And if we’re saying it, that means we know what’s important to use. We know our priorities. We don’t let ourselves get swayed by the trivial tasks.

Saying no is one of the first steps to focusing on the essentials. If we say yes to everything, there’s a good chance the essentials will get to the bottom of the list. We’re wasting our time and energy on the trivial that don’t lead us closer to our objectives.

Say no to non-essential meetings. Say no to non-essential tasks. If you do this, you’ll have more resources to devote for the truly essential things. You’ll get more results and you’ll derive more satisfaction.

Add 50 percent more time as buffer

After saying No to the trivial many, you’ll have more time for the essential things. You can also set an allowance or buffer so you can accommodate the unexpected.

Unexpected things do happen no matter how busy we are. When those things come, we might not have time to complete our essential tasks. That could mess up our priorities and lead us further our goals.

The solution is to add 50 percent buffer to the required time. For example you estimate that you can finish writing an article for about 1 hour. You make it 1.5 hours so you have a safety. While writing the article, some small urgent tasks will pop up. With the buffer you won’t have a problem.

You can also do that in other tasks you have. The point here is that you should set a buffer so you’re sure you can finish the whole. You can still do it even urgent tasks come up at your desk.

You’ve learned how to use the 90 percent rule to help you make decisions. You’ve also learned the importance of saying NO and adding 50 percent time buffer for your essential tasks. Aside from those, you’ll also learn the following from the Essentialism book:

  • How to set limits and boundaries
  • Why you should focus on getting the small wins
  • How routine can help you get more done
  • The importance of play and sleep
  • How to achieve clarity in your work life

My personal takeaways

The concept of essentialism is about elimination. We get rid of the unimportant so we can focus on the essential things. We set limits and constraints. We also say no so we can take control of our own time.

I’ve realized more that most things don’t matter. The danger is that we spend far too much time on those non-essential things. The result is that we’re not having enough time for the essential ones.

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