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updated: 11/13/2017 6:50 AM

Business book review: Essentialism

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  • Vickie Austin

    Vickie Austin


We have all experienced the "tyranny of the urgent," responding to tasks and deadlines that hijack our hours, our days and sometimes our lives. Greg McKeown has just the antidote for us: his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (Crown Business).

The author gives us concrete steps for turning away from being "nonessentialists," those who are driven by the compulsion to be all things to all people, to become "essentialists" who can discern what really matters and act accordingly.

This book isn't just the latest time management tome.

Essentialism includes a model for transitioning our thinking, our actions and our results so that we can "get the right things done" instead of taking on so much that our work and our quality of life suffers.

Through interviews with executives all over the world, McKeown shares stories about how success can often become a catalyst for failure, until those same executives learned the power of one word: "No."

The author tells about when he took a meeting the day his daughter was born.

While a colleague said the client would "respect" his decision, quite the opposite was true -- the client was horrified. Against Mr. McKeown's instincts and better judgment, he had allowed himself to be driven by the pressure to perform.

I suspect we all have work stories about when we were confused about what's really important to us. I know I do.

Saying "no" to everything except the essential implies that we know what our deepest priorities are. That, McKeown tells us, takes time. In a world where we are bombarded 24/7 by a stream of information, we must discipline ourselves to create a routine that allows us the time and space to think.

Within that space, he advises, we can easily distinguish what is most important to us, making a more valuable contribution to ourselves, our work, families and communities. "Becoming an essentialist is revolutionary," Mr. McKeown says, "but anything less than the disciplined pursuit of the essential leads to the undisciplined pursuit of the nonessential -- a price none of us would choose."

• Vickie Austin is a business and career coach, author and professional speaker. She hosts "Biz Books Review" the third Tuesday of every month at the Wheaton Public Library. You can reach her at and on LinkedIn or Twitter (@Vickie_Austin).