“Essentialism” – Greg McKeown

The most important take-away from this book for me was – if you’re not feeling completely overworked, chaotic and goal-less with the things you’re currently doing on a daily basis (whether that’s in your personal or your professional life), put this book aside until you feel that way one day and only then reach out for it! As I wasn’t really looking for advice in the field of streamlining everything I do in my life but simply picked up the book because I’ve had it suggested by multiple people (family and friends), it just simply didn’t work for me in this time and space.

For the 2/5 ★ rating, I’ve got to say that I didn’t hate the book but I didn’t enjoy it either. It’s definitely a lower rating than the average of 3/5 ★ because there were quite a few things that bothered me about it. To name the most important ones:

• There is a fine line between repeating something multiple times in order to get your message across, helping the reader remember it, and just being borderline annoying by mentioning it too many times without even changing the tiniest bit the way it’s expressed, by using the exact same words over and over again (the latter is the case for this book here);

The design. Black pages with white font simply aren’t a pleasure to read and if the book were really to be edited down to only its “essential” parts, it should have been kept as simple as possible;

The use of charts constantly comparing the concept of an “essentialist” and a “non-essentialist” didn’t have any added value to them but rather made you wonder if they were only used for the sake of leaving some charts in to “sound smarter”;

The examples given felt a bit too random to me. Some parts stayed way too theoretic, where a deeper explanation would have been needed, while completely evident parts got elaborate examples that wouldn’t have been necessary;

The author’s use of the word “leader” was somehow triggering. Who is the “leader” at Twitter and what is his actual job within the company?! It just sounded like those “bullshit jobs” to make people sound more important and impressive;

One leader I worked with admitted to staying at a company five years too long. Why? Because he was so busy in the company that he didn’t take the time to decide whether he should be at the company.

p. 64

One leader at Twitter once asked me “Can you remember what it was like to be bored? It doesn’t happen anymore.

p. 68

The voice the book was written in, often felt condescending, as if the author was imposing his opinion as the only correct one. One example – when he was underlining the importance of reading while completely canceling out the positive effects of reading contemporary literature or novels, saying that classics are the only ones that count:

One practice I’ve found useful is simply to read something from classic literature […] for the first twenty minutes of the day. […] There are a myriad of options. Just make sure to select something that was written before our hyperconnected era and yet seems timeless. Such writings can challenge our assumptions about what really matters.

p. 73

It seems like the target group of this book are completely overworked people, who don’t understand, don’t see or don’t want to acknowledge the importance of life-work balance. Those who drag work into their weekends, those who respond to their professional emails at after-work hours from home, those who never mute their work notifications on their personal phones, those who think that 8 hours of sleep is a luxury and not a necessity. Maybe if I would have read this book about 5 years ago, it would have been more useful, but in the meantime I already managed to learn those lessons the hard way.

What I personally managed to take away from the book, (which made me settle for a 2/5 ★ rating, rather than a 1/5 ★) were the bits and pieces of information on random topics that were outside of the main focus of essentialism, such as:

• Tips on how to journal more efficiently;

I also suggest that once every ninety days or so you take an hour to read your journal entries from that period. But don’t be overly focused on the details […]. Instead, focus on the broader patterns or trends. Capture the headline. Look for the lead in your day, your week, your life. Small, incremental change are hard to see in the moment but over time can have a huge cumulative effect.

p. 78

• Reflections on how to teach children the value of money;

The considerable effort I had to put in just to earn that one pound a day forever changed the way I thought about the cost of the things I desired. From then on, when I looked at something I wanted to buy I would translate it into the number of days I would have to deliver the papers to get it. One pound of reward equaled one hour of effort.

p. 42

• Why we should always be scheduling more time for any kind of task;

Have you ever underestimated how long a task will take? If you have, you are far from alone. The term for this very common phenomenon is the “planning fallacy”. This term, coined by Daniel Kahneman in 1979, refers to people’s tendency to underestimate how long a task will take, even when they have have actually done the task before.

p. 182

• How you can manipulate the design of meeting rooms to encourage people to move away from their seats and interact more with each other within the room.

All in all, the book simply didn’t appeal to me. I might have come across it at the wrong time in life but I also wasn’t a fan of its style and the way it was written. I’d say that this is one of those bestsellers that you can easily pass on without having any regrets!

“Essentialism” – Greg McKeown

★★☆☆☆ (2/5)

Edition: ISBN 978-0-8041-3738-6
Currency, 2014

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