Greg McKeown | Essentialism (Episode 553)

Greg McKeown | Essentialism (Episode 553)

Greg McKeown | Essentialism (Episode 553)

Greg McKeown (@GregoryMcKeown) is the author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, which challenges core assumptions about achievement (e.g., “more is better”) to get to the essence of what really drives success — on one’s own terms.

The Cheat Sheet:

  • Essentialism: the antidote to the problems of feeling busy but not productive, stretched too thin in one area of life, and fulfilling the agendas of others but not our own.
  • Learn how to live by design, not by default.
  • Find out how to say “no” effectively without getting in trouble at home — or fired.
  • Discover how to set hard boundaries between work and play.
  • Learn why folks who are originally very good at essentialism can end up ruining their career and their sanity by letting these boundaries slip over time.
  • And so much more…


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Even if you’ve always considered yourself an overachiever with an impeccable reputation for being dependable, you may have felt the pull of someone else’s agenda taking precedence over your own. The fact is: if you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.

In this episode of The Art of Charm, we welcome Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. He explains the modern epidemic of letting others set our priorities — from college to careers — and how we can use the principles of essentialism to reclaim the course. Enjoy this one!

More About This Show

The bustle of daily life can make even those of us who seem to have it together on the outside feel stretched a bit thin. According to Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, so many of us have fallen into a pattern of living by default rather than design — at the behest of others rather than in pursuit of our own agendas.

In search of getting more out of life, we may find ourselves overwhelmed by the quantity as we enjoy less and less quality. “Essentialism says it’s about doing less but better,” explains Greg.

Like minimalism, which encourages us to pare down our physical possessions and embrace the simplicity of less, essentialism helps us identify the things that are imperative to our happiness and throw out everything that isn’t.

“I use the metaphor of the closet to explain the process of essentialism,” says Greg — referencing the ‘does is spark joy?’ question posed by The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up author Marie Kondo. “Your closet’s overloaded, and eventually you say, ‘I’m going to tidy it out,’ and you have to become more selective and thoughtful about what you really want and what you don’t want. You have to get more extreme criteria of the things you love versus the things you just like or might use eventually. And then you eliminate; you get rid of the stuff that isn’t as high on your criteria list.”

Greg explains the feeling you get from achieving essentialism as the opposite of FOMO (fear of missing out) — which tends to be society’s default setting these days. It’s JOMO (joy of missing out).

“There really is joy in it,” Greg says. “There really is value in less.”

So why has FOMO become the cultural norm? It’s due in no small part to being hyperconnected by social media and smartphones. We’re always aware of what everyone we know is doing, and we’re always available and on call. We’ve developed an expectation that we can do it all — and if we don’t do it all, we’re somehow failing. But Greg brings up the example of a successful CEO who read Essentialism and told him: “It’s not like if I had two or three hours extra every day that I’d be okay. I need like 300 hours a day and I’d still not have enough!”

Even the very smart and very successful adopt this cultural norm, knowing full well they’ll never meet its impossible expectations. A natural essentialist can easily fall into the self-perpetuating trap of non-essentialism because they get a reputation for being a dependable achiever. Others begin to see him or her as the go-to person in their field, so their time gets spread thin and their work — and reputation — eventually suffers because they’re burdened with more than anyone could ever be expected to realistically process.

This helps explain how so many people who seem to be on an upward trajectory in their field burn out or crash before taking it to the next level.

“Here’s how it works,” says Greg. “Go back to the Silicon Valley companies. You get a few people, a small team, focused on the right problem at the right time, and they generate success. This is natural and to be expected. What comes with success? Increase in options and opportunities. That sounds like the right problem to have.

“The idea is that even though it’s the right problem to have, it undermines the very focus that led to success in the first place. And so you find a situation where someone is doing the same things they were doing before. They are still driven. They’re still smart. They’re still capable. But all of a sudden, they were diffused in their efforts and they’re trying to do way too many things.”

Listen to this episode of The Art of Charm to learn more about achieving at your highest point of contribution, the importance of knowing when to say “no,” trading short-term popularity for long-term respect, how saying “yes” doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) be unconditional, the lesson of a fool’s bargain made by Greg that he still regrets, why we shouldn’t major in minor things, creating enough space to separate what’s essential from what’s not, thinking about life goals on a multi-generational level, taking time for a weekly design session, setting hard boundaries between work and personal time, and lots more.


If you enjoyed this session with Greg McKeown, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:

Click here to thank Greg McKeown at Twitter!

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