Short summary - The Disciplined Pursuit of Less - Greg McKeown

British literature summaries -

Short summary - The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
Greg McKeown

Have you ever suffered from overwork? Did you realize that you work too much, but not efficiently enough? Are you always busy and inconclusive? Run as fast as you can, but do not budge - do you know this feeling? If you answered «yes» to at least one of these questions, then the only way out for you is to become an essentialist.

Essentialism does not help to do more things, but teaches you how to choose the right activities, that is, to set priorities in your life. The author of the book, the founder of a training company in Silicon Valley, Greg McKeon, works with representatives of world corporations and guides them on the path of essentialism.

The book consists of four sections. The first describes the essential features of an essentialist. In the next three, they develop into a systematic process that can be used in any situation and at any time.

Essentialist Key Features

Research, or «Having Choice»

When we forget about the opportunity to choose, we learn powerlessness and gradually become an instrument for the election of other people. Refusing the right to choose, we transfer to others not just power, but also permission to make choices for us.

The author acknowledges that making choices is hard. The choice implies the rejection of anything that we perceive as a loss. However, this ability lies at the very core of what it means to be an essentialist. By focusing on the essential, you always make a choice. This in itself is liberating.

Refusal of unnecessary, or «Presence of noise»

We live in a world where almost all the things around us are just noise, and only a few have real meaning.

Dieter Rams, who worked for many years as a senior designer at Braun, was convinced that there were only a few really important things in the world, and everything else was noise. He built his work precisely on this principle. Once he was given the task of developing a design for a gramophone. In the 60s it was customary to close the players with heavy wooden covers or even embed them in furniture.

Dieter and his team made a truly revolutionary decision: they decided to clear the design of «noise» and created a gramophone with a transparent plastic cover. The company's managers feared that gramophones with such an unconventional design simply would not buy. They were wrong: the minimalist style soon became popular, all manufacturers of players began to imitate the design of Braun. Ability to give up excess - this is the basic design principle of Braun. He largely explains the success of the company.

The essentialist thinks that almost everything is not important. A non-essentialist is the other way around.

Many good opportunities often mean much less than a few truly great ones.

You can spend a lot of effort and time to find these significant things.

Action, or «Compromise Opportunity»

Once, the author worked with a team of leaders who needed help in setting priorities. One of the managers insisted that there were 18 projects "with the highest priority." The author suggested choosing five of them. Within a week, she worked with the team list and eventually reduced it to only one position. Refusing to make concessions, she allocated seventeen time and resources, which are enough to carry out five projects. «We can do it all» - that was her position. It is not surprising that she did not achieve the desired result.

Concession is what confronts our two desires. More money or free time? Append a letter or catch a meeting? Do something faster or better? We want to say yes to both things, but we cannot do it, no matter how much we want it. It is a natural necessity to evaluate the available choices and discard some of them, because no one is given time to do everything that he aspires to and get everything that he wants.

One of the most important concessions is sleep. When the author was 21 years old, he thought of a dream as a necessary necessity. I always wanted to spend this time more productively. Perhaps you also reason like this:

I do not need eight hours of sleep. I can sleep peacefully for four or five hours.

But less sleep and more work is the wrong logic. Essentialists systematically and consciously bring a dream to their schedule in order to be able to achieve more. The essentialist needs sleep in order to increase the effectiveness of his actions: to do less today, to do much more tomorrow. It is scientifically proven that during sleep, the brain diligently sorts and organizes information, after which new neural connections are formed in it. This feature allows a person to think «fresh mind», achieving more in less time.

Why do people give up essentialism

Great social pressure

External circumstances and other people press us no less than a wide range of choices. The need to process large amounts of information has closely connected us with each other and increased the power of social pressure. This applies not only to professional, but also to personal life. Trying to please everyone, a person is not able to bring any benefit.

The author recalls the day his daughter was born: he wanted to fill this moment of life with calmness and happiness, but in the end he devoted it to talking on the phone with the office, communicating by e-mail and constantly worrying about being late for a meeting with a client. When the author was asked if he would appear at the meeting, he confidently answered «yes» and went to work, while his wife and newborn daughter were in the hospital.

The expression on the client's face was not at all like respect. His gaze read: what are you doing here ?!

Later it turned out that during that meeting nothing important was being decided. But even if it were significant, the author believes, he would still make himself a fool. In an attempt to please everyone and everyone, he did not bring any benefit, but only hurt his own family, reputation and customer relations.

The desire for greater success and the lack of self-discipline can lead to professional death. We are often embarrassed to say no, because only the answer «yes» is accepted in society. But for what reason?

The setting "you can get everything you want"

This idea is not new, but in our time it does not bring benefits, but harm. In their already crowded schedules, people seek to fit in with additional classes. Employees are forced to be in touch 24 hours a day, while their superiors continue to talk about the balance of work and rest.

Leaders suffer from this attitude no less than their subordinates. At round tables and meetings, they discuss many priority tasks, and in the end they can’t decide which one is the main one.

Too much choice

For the first time in the history of mankind, the number of choices available to us has exceeded our ability to manage them. It was not easy for us to separate the important from the secondary. «Fatigue from decision making» is what psychologists call this phenomenon.

The more often we have to make a choice, the worse the quality of our decisions becomes. However, the opportunity to make a choice should never be forgotten.

How to focus on the important

There are several methods to determine what is truly important and to increase your own productivity.

Alternate habits

Twitter creator Jack Dorsey devotes his day to a specific topic. On Mondays, he holds meetings, Tuesdays are devoted to product development, Wednesday for marketing, development and communications, on Thursdays he talks with partners and developers, and on Friday he devotes to corporate culture.

Such a principle of work helps Dorsey to remain calm in the midst of chaos, which is inevitable in any fast-growing startup, and it is quite simple for his colleagues and partners to adapt to it. Developing your own mode is not easy, but if you succeed, you, like Dorsey, will understand that this is an inexhaustible source of benefits, and will be able to not be torn between several tasks.

Organize your free space

Free space is not given by default, it must be planned. So, Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, leaves two empty hours daily on his schedule. He divides them into parts for 30 minutes, but plans nothing for this time.

Jeff kept this habit from the time when he spent so many meetings a day that he did not even have time to think about their results. At first, he perceived these two hours as an unnecessary luxury, but then he realized that they increase his productivity. These free two hours for Jeff - the opportunity to stay in your personal space and reflect on important topics. How can products be improved and customer needs satisfied? How to reduce the gap from competitors? What will the company be in three years?

Jeff, as a true essentialist, created a space for thought and analysis, and this helps him not to turn his work into an unorganized pursuit of a big jackpot. In the same way, each of us can learn to adjust the surrounding space for ourselves.

Another role model is Bill Gates, a former Microsoft CEO. Since the 1980s, he has been holding a «week of reflection» once a year - he devotes this time to solitude, reading articles and books, reflection and studying technology.

If it seems to you that a whole week of free time is too much, then you can arrange a «mini-week of reflection» every day.

For example, the author devotes the first 20 minutes of the morning to reading classical spiritual literature. So he managed to get rid of the habit of checking email immediately after the alarm rings.

Even if the day is scheduled in minutes, learn how to find time for yourself. It doesn’t matter if it’s two hours a day, two weeks a year, or five minutes in the morning.

Set boundaries and feel free

The boss includes you in the committee on work on his favorite project, a colleague asks you to help with the preparation of the report at the moment when, for example, you are in a hurry to meet or wait for an important call.

In the business world, people are constantly trying to use your water for their lawns. If someone tries to water their lawn at your expense, the only way out is to build a fence.

You do not need to set boundaries at the moment when you are asked for something, but much earlier. Remember, if people solve their problems themselves, it will benefit both you and them.


The author talks about the case when he did not agree with a colleague in opinions on any project, but in practice their business relations were very harmonious. Why? At the very first meeting, the author described his priorities to a colleague and explained which work he was ready to agree to and which one he would refuse. A colleague also expressed his wishes - thus, they both set their boundaries. Thanks to this, they did not waste time, turning to each other with obsessive requests.

The most important thing

So, to live as an essentialist, you need to replace the three deep-rooted false postulates with three truths.

Instead of «I have to», «all this is important», «I can do both,» you need to say to yourself «I choose», «only a few things matter», «I can do anything, but not everything.» So you get rid of the nonsense of non-essentialism and replace it with the essence of essentialism.

Transforming into an essentialist is a long process, but its benefits are endless.