Essentialism is a mindset. It is a way to approach all of the incoming opportunities and requests for your time and only accepting the essential ones. The concept of this book is straightforward. If you work on many tasks at once, you will make very little progress on any of those tasks. If you concentrate on only the essential tasks, you will make great strides on those tasks. That is where the simplicity stops.
Can you take an essentialism approach at your work?
I find essentialism to be an excellent concept and it is how I approach my work. However, some people will not be in a position to follow through with this approach. In my last couple of years with Procter and Gamble, I had over 35 hours a week of standing meetings. There were team meetings, department meetings, production meetings, project meetings, management meetings, safety meetings the list went on seemingly forever. When I approached my boss about how I could make any progress on any actual work, she responded that I needed to attend all of the meetings because it made us (read: her) look good. Alas, I was not an essentialist.
This book is the type of book you can read through and enjoy, however, six months later you will have forgotten most of what the book said. It is not a “how to” book. It is a presentation of ideas and anecdotes relating to how we are pulled in too many directions by other people and our lack of direction. When we have too many projects and tasks on our plates, we make small amounts of progress on many things but never make the big gains we need on the projects that are most important to us.
This could take a lot of work
Unfortunately, the book discusses dozens of daily tasks and skills that you need to master and commit to habit. As many sources have pointed out, it takes about 21 days to form a habit that you will stick with. If you dedicate yourself to mastering all of the habits espoused in this book, it could take years to accomplish.
I feel like this book was written as a marketing effort to sell workshops and speeches. The prevailing marketing wisdom nowadays is to write a book on a topic, so you become “the expert.” You can then take that expertise and turn it into products and keynote presentations that you can sell. A quick visit to gregmckeown.com might give you an idea of why this might be a reasonable theory. This book and accompanying training classes could have your working on essentialism skills for years. That does not make sense to me.
Be selective in the work you take on. Don’t try to work on everything at once. This sounds like good advice to me.
If you are genuinely interested in doing only essential work, you can skip reading this book.