The Nonessential for the Essential


I’m not sure whether I should be more concerned about the American public who found it necessary to read Greg McKeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less or the fact that Greg McKeown thought it was necessary to write about such common sense topics in the first place.

Essentialism is essentially nonessential. McKeown has spent the better part of 250+ pages writing about concepts of self and time management that are so routine to human existence that a kindergartner could have saved me time by telling me what McKeown has listed in this book.

Essentially (all right, I’ll stop), according to McKeown, we try to fit too much into our lives. We make ourselves unhappy by not accomplishing our goals and spending time with our families because we are absolutely dreadful at the work-personal life balance.

Everything in life can be separated into the realm of the essential, what is vital and absolutely necessary, and the nonessential, everything else, including dicking around on the internet. But because we humans have largely developed the psychological phenomenon known as learned helplessness, we struggle to be able to differentiate between to the essential and the nonessential, further complicating our lives. Ergo, we need Greg McKeown, a leadership researcher from England, to show us the light.


I’m not very fond of self-help books, but when I found Essentialism, I was curious as to how it might help me be able to carve out more time for myself for reading and writing. I am a world champion procrastinator when it comes to reading specifically, and I’m all for giving people a little push when necessary, even from an annoying corporate professional like McKeown (it should be mentioned that he enjoys repeating this fact throughout the entire text, so be warned). Unfortunately, once I picked up Essentialism, I realized I had made a dreadful mistake.

One of the most irritating aspects about McKeown’s text is that it circles heavily around advice for those who strictly work in Corporate America; those that work for big business with daily team meetings and constant projects related to the capitalistic ventures of their employer. Nothing necessarily wrong with this- except that the cover of the book gives the reader an idea that the advice shared will also help in one’s personal life. If you are outside of this field, then consider this book fairly useless to you. It is difficult to put them into a personal fashion.


Another really irritating aspect about McKeown is McKeown himself who is obviously not a writer; rather, someone who decided to throw a book together that could have been one long blog post. He could have saved the reader 100 pages by not telling his cutesy anecdotes that are often nonessential to the points he is trying to make.

One also would hope that McKeown would live out the list he decided to turn into a 276 page self-help book (the Table of Contents is, in fact, a bulleted list), but as someone who is obviously enthralled with living the life of an overwhelmed, overworked corporate peon, it is unlikely he is following his own advice. He also tries desperately to hustle these ideas as some type of revolutionary movement that he constructed all on his own, leaving me to shake my head and want to raise my hands yelling, “Life’s too short!” throughout the latter half of the text.


I had truly hoped for some valuable information that might be of use in my life. Instead, I wasted a week reading tips like:

  • Differentiate between what you need to do and what you don’t need to do (in case you forgot how to make a to-do list)
  • You can’t have it all (like elementary school didn’t already teach me that)
  • Get more sleep (says everyone ever)
  • Learn to say no (with multiple polite ways to say no, in case you didn’t quite develop the ability to lie about being busy previously in life)

Obviously, people struggle with being able to accomplish these things in their own lives to varying degrees. I am not making the argument that people don’t need to learn to say no or to take better care of their health, and I am certainly not saying that people do not needed to be reminded of these values here and there.

But I think the better question to stop and ask ourselves is why Essentialism was even essential to publish in the first place when it already tells us what we have known all along. Do we need someone to tell us what we already know? Well, apparently Greg McKeown thought it was essential.



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