Essentialism for business: How to have success doing less (book review)

Essentialism The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

A business book review that will help you be more successful, lead a more fulfilling life and stress less!

Do you feel busy all the time? This is the perfect book review for you.

If you're an entrepreneur, I bet you always feel like there is more to do. Honestly, I think we all feel like this these days and a common reaction to feeling busy, is to try to do more. Power through the thing!! DOMINATE (ewe I really dislike it when that word is used in relation to getting things done. The same goes for the phrase "crush it". Bleck.

I really enjoyed this book and reviewing it mainly because I needed the advice.

Forcing productivity in one area of my life at the expense of others was not making me productive. More than this, It was making me unhappy and unhealthy as well. We live in a world that overvalues the illusion of business.

We fill offices with warm bodies sitting at desks between the hours of 9 to 5 and praise the “first one in” and the “last one out”. Because of this, it takes consistent discipline to make smarter choices for our happy, productive lives. And when you own your own business it can hard to slow down and trust, that if you get up from your desk and chose to spend a day creating art, that your business won't crash and burn because of it.

Putting in the time and plowing through, doesn’t work. Saddly we often need a cosmic 2 x 4 to the noggin to slow down. We need wake up calls to remind remind us that we are the ones making the decisions and to choose wisely.

Essentialism for business, and this book review, will open your eyes to the undisciplined pursuit of more, we all struggle with, why this is a problem and then teach you how to discipline yourself to choose less, every day.

I highly recommend that you buy and read the book, but for now this post will give you all the big ideas and some examples to get you achieving more, and doing less.

Book review: 16 Big Ideas From Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Essentialism VS Non-Essentialism
Essentialism (as McKeowan defines it) is not about how to get more things done it’s about how to get the RIGHT things done. By investing in fewer things, we make progress in the things that matter most to us. There are essentialists and non-essentialists. Aim to be an essentialist.
Non-essentialists: Essentialists:
want to be all things to all people,
feel everything is important
want to fit everything into their lives
do less but better
choose to do things
know only a few things matter
ask what the trade-offs are of choices
Undisciplined pursuit of more, rather than a disciplined pursuit of less is the key difference between an “essentialist” and a “non-essentialist”.

#1 Celebrate your power of choice

When we forget the ability we have to choose, we learn to be helpless. Don’t become the function of other people's choices. Celebrate your power of choice. When you surrender it you give others permission to choose for us!

#2 Most tasks are unimportant

Choose the few things that work fantastically well and have a tremendous impact. Do less. Think more. I swear, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve not taken breaks and spend hours on something only to arrive at an impasse. If I go outside and take a walk, I always complete it faster.

#3 Distinguish between the trivial many and the vital few tasks

Not all opportunities are equal. In order to discern the vital few tasks, you must explore many options. The non-essentialist is so busy pursuing all their ideas that they end up exploring less! The only way to know what is vital is with exploration. Take your choices seriously. Think about them. Explore them. This big idea really hit me. Love it.

#4 Embrace tradeoffs

When you choose, choose deliberately and celebrate your choice. When you don’t choose others will choose for you. Make your choices thoughtfully, strategically and deliberately so you understand the tradeoffs and embrace your choice fully.

#5 Enjoy the perks of being unavailable

focus is something we do

Focus is not something we have, it’s something we do. Create space to think and focus. Make space to escape your busy life.

Create space to escape and explore in life. In order to have a focus, we need to escape focus. We need space to design our lives, deliberately explore what’s essential and separate that from the many non-essential distractions in our lives.

#6 Use exploration as a method of tuning in to what really matters

Don't forget how important it is to continue to explore in life. It might be the only way to really tune in to what really matters.

"It's in the doing and being where we connect with our truth."

Clarify the question

What problem are you trying to solve? Once you are clear on that, you know where your focus lies. Stay curious. Ask yourself often: what problem am i solving right now?



The author defines play as anything we do simply for the enjoyment of it and not as a means to an end. Studies have shown that play improves health, relationships and leads to brain plasticity, adaptability and creativity.

"Imagination is the source of every form of human achievement."

Play is essential and not trivial or an unproductive waste of time. It’s an anecdote to stress, helps us see possibilities, makes connections and opens our minds. Play is expansive and comes in many forms.

A journal is a storage device for backing up our brain's faulty hard drive [where] the faintest pencil is better than the strongest memory.

Journaling to connect with what really matters

Journaling is one of my essentials.


  • Write less than you feel like writing -then the task is never daunting and you will keep the habit restrain yourself from writing more until you have this habit down -if you fall off
  • Start small -less is more until you have the habit
  • Read your journal every 3 months and look for your themes!
  • Take Action. Just plain get out and take action for the things you feel compelled to, that your heart pulls you towards. Life’s answers lie in the doing
  • Look for patterns. Keep your eyes peeled for the patterns in your doing -what do you love, hate, want to do more of, what are your observations, how do you feel?, All these patterns, details and observations are clues to what really matters to you for your happy, productive life

#7 Look for what really matters

Look for what really matters, each hour, each day and for your life. This is a practice. The more you do it the better you will get at knowing what’s most important for you. Patterns and trends will reveal themselves in your life. You will start to see the larger issues that really matter.

#8 The 90% rule

I love this. If your highest priority is to protect our ability to prioritize, this makes everything easier. You can remove indecision if you only accept choices that meet 90% of your criteria or higher. Forget the almost good enough thoughts. Don’t purposely choose 70 or 80 out of 100. If you have an important choice to make in life, go for 90 and up! Of course, you need to understand your criteria first in order to make this choice.

"Our highest priority is to protect our ability to prioritize"

In order to say YES to the top 10 percent, we need to make decisions consciously and rationally rather than impulsively or emotionally. If it isn’t a clear yes then it’s a clear no!

#9 Living with intent

Create a statement of intent

When you create a statement of intent for anything it needs to be meaningful, memorable, inspiring and eliminate “a thousand later decisions”. Ask yourself, “If I could only be truly excellent at only one thing, what would that be?” Then ask yourself, “How will I know when I’ve succeeded?”.

Here is an example of a statement of intent for an organization called “Make It Right” created to help people after Hurricane Katrina.

“To build 150 affordable, green, storm-resistant homes for families living in the Lower 9th Ward”.

That’s a concrete statement of intent that eliminates a thousand later decisions!

Clarify your purpose

Clarity of purpose will help you achieve your dreams!

You can create declarations of intent for your week, quarterly, for your business or your life. Consider using a vision board for each month or each quarter. It doesn't have to be complicated -any directed focus for something that is important to you is better than undirected choices.

Don't overthink it.

#10 Say No

Understand the tradeoff of saying yes vs no. Set your boundaries with a graceful "no" and you will gain respect by demonstrating time is valuable to you. It takes the strength of conviction to say no and if we don’t have that we can’t get the things we say we want in life. Other people end up making choices for us unless we take action and choose. Say no to the non-essentials.

Limit your availability

Technology can make setting boundaries more difficult. People expect us to be available more and more, blurring the line between work time and personal time. Understand your limits. Once you understand what's essential to you, it becomes clear what you need be saying yes and not to.

If you have limits, you will become limitless

Set your rules in advance eliminating the need for a direct “no”

Know the difference between your problems and the problems of others. You can have empathy, but when you choose to take on the problems of others, you are not choosing what’s essential to you.

Edit your life

Start getting comfy with saying no to things that are really good, but get in the way of what’s essential. With writing and living, editing is an art. What confuses your life, distracts a reader or produces endless potential decisions can take you away from your focus, your purpose and what’s essential.

#11 Make it simple to choose what’s essential

Make it easy to choose what's important

When it comes to managing large technical online projects with budgets in the millions, success is pretty dam essential. I am very good at forecasting and evaluating risk and developing a plan for success. We can manage our lives so the essentials are easy choices by using some classic project management skills.

Know the value of buffer time and the ability to evaluate scenarios.
When something is essential, you do have to plan ahead. Planning gives you space to allow choices and without the ability to chose your life, life is not yours to choose.

Add 50% to your time estimates

As a project manager, I can tell you this is the truth!

Most of the teams I got to know would estimate their time to complete tasks at least 50% below the time it actually would take. Fortunately, after 20 years working in digital media, my risk assessment skills were pretty sharp and my ability to estimate accurately just as stellar. It's unaccounted-for tasks and scenarios that take the time that's often not included in an estimate. This is what can more than double an estimate.

For example, if you plan to get to a movie by 6 pm and you know it takes you 30 minutes to drive, do you plan to leave 30 minutes before the movie starts or do you build in time to find parking and pay for it? What about traffic? If your life depended on getting to this movie on time you might make a plan that accommodates road closures and long detours well!

Life is easier when you have a plan for the unexpected

Tasks break down into details that take time and these details take time like clearing the snow and ice off your car, digging yourself out if you get stuck, road closures, traffic accidents and finding parking. Understanding the details even in a broad sense will increase your odds of success and decrease your stress. No matter how good you are at estimating time, you can never account for every possibility so make it simple to choose what’s essential.

#12 Remove the obstacles

I’m partial to this tip. I’m a firm believer in doing no harm, and it's the first thing I do when working with clients. It can be the simplest task with powerful results. In fact, this is a recurring theme in my life that I find applies to most everything. For me, removing harm is my primary value with regards to healthcare, the care of our planet and business strategy. Start with what's not working.

#13 Celebrate small wins

Start small and celebrate often. If you aren’t able to celebrate regular small win’s ask yourself the following:

What’s useful and valuable for the essential task I am doing? What is the minimum I can do right now to prepare?

Done is better than perfect

Celebrate progress visually so you consistently see your progress. Find a way to track your progress visually to keep up the momentum. Starting small can help us achieve more and when we always reward our progress, the process becomes more enjoyable.

#14 Design your routines around what’s essential


Without a routine, the nonessentials can overwhelm us and distract us. This is where I am right now.

Construct your routines around your essentials. These will become your habits and then you can function on autopilot. Meeting the needs of your non-negotiables in life becomes easy and second nature when you build them into your daily routines. Exercise, sleep, business tasks and anything else that you know is essential can be part of a routine.

Remove obstacles.

Remove obstacles and consider what habits you currently have that are not productive. What can you stop doing? I can stop watching Netflix after 8 pm and go to bed and read. I used to read before bed and found it nourishing. Since I've been up late watching Netflix, I haven't slept well, and I've missed reading.

Use triggers to change the non-essential routines you have

For example, if you decide your health is essential, but you have a routine already that includes a chocolate bar every day when you get on the subway, use that trigger to grab an apple instead.

Start extremely small when creating new routines

If you want to start a morning journaling habit, stop before you need to. Start so small that you can’t ever feel you don’t have time to do it until you form the habit. Write only a few sentences for example and then close your journal and don’t pick it up until the next morning. Do the same and continue it until you’ve developed a habit of morning journaling for a month.

Start with the most difficult task first

Use this tip with the concept of triggers. Pick something you already do every day like drinking coffee. Next, decide to tackle your most difficult daily task every morning when you drink your coffee.

Mix it up. Routines don’t have to be the same each day!

Routines can be boring. Why not have one routine for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and another for Tuesday and Thursday? Mix it up. I use Time Blocking in my calendar like this. I block certain days for Blogging and others for market research. Every day is not the same and I do build in buffer time.

Make only small changes

Don’t create several new routines all at once. Introduce one thing at a time and make it subtle. Consider only one change to your daily routine at a time. Then celebrate your success!

#15 Focus

Focus on the present, enjoy the moment and tune in to what’s important right now. There is only now so get the future and the past out of your head.

    • Ask yourself what might you want to do someday as a result of today?
    • Make a list of what’s vying for your attention and cross off anything that’s not important right now
    • Prioritize your list

#16 Be

The more you can fully embrace the idea of essentialism and embody it, the easier it is to live it and become it. Essentialism can become a way of life. Many of us who are entrepreneurs are living this life because we discovered that we were at one time not living according to what we knew to be essential. It should be no surprise that choosing to focus on what's essential takes practice. Can you afford not to?

An essentialist lifestyle can give us more clarity, more control and more joy in life.

The essential life is living a life that matters to us. A life that has meaning. Look inside yourself and answer the question “what’s essential” and eliminate everything else.

What do you think about the big ideas in this post? Have you tried any? Do you have examples of your own, for how you choose what's essential to you?  I'd love to hear from you, let me know below.

Bye for now,

Val xo

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