· professional skills

Book Review: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Being an adult is hard.

People are constantly vying for chunks of your attention. As you become more successful, you have to weigh lots of options. There are dozens of competing commitments and everyone is so busy trying to fit them all in. It’s maddening.

According to Greg McKeown, it doesn’t have to be this way. In his book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, he lays out a case for eliminating the unimportant things in your life, creating boundaries, and focusing on the important few over the trivial many. I recently listened to this book and found a lot of actionable advice.

This book is especially useful for people in the technology industry. We have to deal with lots of stress and constant change. It can be painful to keep up. This book provides some guidance on how to focus and get better results with less stress.


Less, but better.

The main point of the book is that life is a series of trade offs. You can make these trade-offs yourself or you can let other people make them for you. To control your destiny, you need to figure out what’s essential to you. Then, you can focus on these few essentials and eliminate everything else.

The book divides the process of focusing on the essential into three phases:


Block off time for exploration and play. Because you’re only going to focus on a few important things, it’s important to explore what’s available. Essentialists spend more time exploring because they don’t go “all in” on every task that comes their way. They have more time and incentive to explore.


Come up with a clear purpose for yourself and use that clear purpose to eliminate extraneous things from your life. Use extreme criteria to reduce the number of options available. Set boundaries for yourself and others. Learn to say “no” gracefully.


Build systems that reduce the friction of doing essential things. Build smart routines and prepare for setbacks. Focus on small wins to stay motivated.

In addition to the three steps, Essentialism offers specific techniques on how to achieve simplicity in your life. One example is zero based budgeting. Most organizations budget based on last year’s numbers. Zero based budgeting starts everything off at zero. Starting from a fresh place may lead to a budget that is more in line with the priorities of the organization.

Why should you read this book?

Technology professionals have to deal with tidal waves of information while balancing competing interests. Becoming an essentialist can make balancing those interests a lot easier. The essentialist philosophy has many practical applications to software professionals.

Here are some examples:

Requirements In any given project, people want more features than there’s time to build. Essentialism illustrates the necessity of trade-offs and highlights the need to prioritize.

Career Skills Planning Essentialism makes a strong case for being a “jack of all trades, master of one” approach to skills training.

Writing Both code and prose become better with the elimination of extraneous items.

Lean Software The Lean Software movement displays a solid grasp of focusing on the essentials.


Essentialism is a great read for any software developer or technology professional. It’s made me reevaluate my life and focus more on the essential. I highly recommend it.

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