I am a book fanatic and often read several books at the same time (see my current reading list here). The majority of my reading are classic Christian authors, but I love reading a variety of history, business and leadership, health and fitness, biography, and even the occasional fiction book.
Having gone to college for business, and now finding myself in a ministry leadership role, I appreciate a good business/leadership book. One such book that has been causing a stir in the business world recently is Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism (Amazon Link). And since I was given a free copy if I would read it and write a review, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
At the beginning of the book, McKeown asks the following questions (see how well you answer them):
- Have you ever found yourself stretched too thin?
- Do you simultaneously feel overworked and underutilized?
- Are you often busy but not productive?
- Do you feel like your time is constantly being hijacked by other people’s agendas?
The basic concept of Essentialism is to focus on what is important and remove everything else. Sounds easy doesn’t it?
McKeown breaks down the book into four major sections:
- Essence: What is the core mind-set of an Essentialist?
- Explore: How can we discern the trivial from the vital?
- Eliminate: How can we cut out the trivial?
- Execute: How can we make doing the vital few things almost effortless?
What I found most helpful throughout the book, though it stems from a business perspective, is the simple premise that for every single person on earth: we cannot do everything. It’s impossible. I’ve certainly found that to be true, especially these past few months. Looking back, I was engrossed in the “trivial” often sacrificing the “essential.”
McKeown writes: “only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.” The life of an Essentialist is “not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done.”
The Eliminate section was the most helpful to me, looking at the need to purposefully be unavailable at times, determine what really matters, embrace and enjoy “play”, get adequate rest, and make the tough decisions on what is most important.
Here are a few favorite quotes:
- If I could truly be excellent at only one thing, what would it be?
- If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.
- Anytime you don’t say no, you are really saying yes.
- Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough.
- If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.
- When we don’t set clear boundaries in our lives we can end up imprisoned by the limits others have set for us.
One of the concepts he returns to several time is the idea of “trade offs.” Everything we do is a trade off. If I decide to say yes to this opportunity, I have to say no to something else to do it. If I work more hours, I have to say no to extra time with the family. If I say yes to more sleep, I must say no to working out. You get the idea.
The greatest problem in the book is that it is devoid of a Christian lens (paradigm). Though there are many helpful things for the Christian, the book itself is not stemming from a Christian mindset. As such it could be easy to follow Essentialism to the point where we forget Scripture.
This past Monday, I sat around a table with a bunch of men over lunch and I asked them how can we take the concept of Essentialism and bring it into ministry. Rather than always guarding, protecting, and seeking to serve ourselves and our agendas, how do we go about keeping an open hand in ministry (and life), allowing the Spirit of God to guide and direct – even if it doesn’t fit neatly into our “Essential Life”?
If you decide to read the book, it is something you are going to have to wrestle through.
For another great review of Essentialism through the lens of a Christian, I encourage you to check out Tim Challies’ review.