Less but Better - Discussing Essentialism

Hi everyone!  Welcome back to the Launching Out! podcast.  Brian Hosan here and this is episode 16!  

Today I want to do something a little different and rock my very first BOOK REVIEW.  Yup, I thought I’d take minute to review a book I just read - SO good in fact, that I read it cover-to-cover on a cross-country flight a few weeks back.  The book is titled “Essentialism - The disciplined Pursuit of less” by NYT best selling author Greg McKeown.

Now, I had heard of this book a while back and it had been recommended by a friend who said it changed his life and business so I put it on my Christmas list and well, Santa came through, (I actually think it was one of my siblings) but anyway, it took a few months till I made the time to tackle it, and like I mentioned a moment ago, it was so good I chewed through it basically in one sitting (minus a layover in Chicago- but that’s besides the point).

So I am going to give you my personal “Cliff’s notes”  and just cover a few core ideas and quotes that I jotted down that really jumped out at me, and I hope, will challenge your status quo of thinking as well.


Right off the bat, Greg introduces the Basic Value Proposition of essentialism and it is this:

"Only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter." 

He goes on to summarize this with another idea in just 3 words "LESS BUT BETTER"

I like this idea because I know that in prior work roles I have really struggled with being a “yes” guy - feeling like I have to or should say “yes” to just about anything that came my way.  And maybe part of that is the fact that I love to serve other people so by taking it on, I’m serving, right?  But we also probably have all realized that the more we have on our plate, the less effective we usually are at any one area.  In fact, most of the time, all the things we are trying to juggle are getting a half-baked effort at best.

You may have also heard it said that If you don't prioritize your life, someone else will.  True... But in today’s world, technology has lowered the barrier for others to share their opinion about what we should be focusing on. It's not just information overload, lets call it OPINION overload.

At some point or another I think we have ALL come face to face with the reality and pressures we feel from outside sources, but I’m going to outline quick what Greg calls the 3 Assumptions of the Non-Essentialist: (which are)

  1. I have to,
  2. It's all important,
  3. I can do both.

Now, counter that with his 3 Core truths of Essentialism: (which are)

  1. I choose to,
  2. Only a few things really matter,
  3. I can do anything but not everything.

In almost any situation we have options or multiple things we can choose between…

"Our options may be things, but a choice is an ACTION. We may not always have control over our options, but we ALWAYS have control over how we choose among them."
"When we surrender our right to choose, we give others not just the power but also the explicit permission to choose for us."

Perhaps you may have heard someone illustrate it this way: if you had a major medical emergency to you or a close family member TODAY - how would that effect your decisions on priorities the next day, week, month or perhaps even year?? How you spend your time, what you value, what is - you guessed it - ESSENTIAL??

McKeown goes on to quote Michael Porter when he says "Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs. It's about deliberately choosing to be different." 

This thought is interesting as well: 

"For an essentialist,  Instead of asking, 'what do I have to give up?' They ask, 'what do I want to go big on?'"

I really like that.

In the book Greg uses a visual illustration of how we exert our effort on project.  "Picture a circle with 10 short arrows pointing out in different directions - then next to it a circle with ONE arrow pointing out, the combined length of all 10 of the arrows in the first picture."  For me it was just a cool imagery for how we often dilute our ability to be MOST effective.

Don’t get me wrong - this is a struggle for me, and probably MOST of us if we’re honest.  But I like to learn and to be doing my best to become a better version of myself.  And that just means making progress.  Not being willing to stay in the same place in my personal development.

So a few more nuggets for you before we wrap up, I don’t want to give away everything, but let me reiterate, this book is - dare I say - an ESSENTIAL read!  Get it?  Haha, ok.  

In talking about moving towards setting your own priorities rather than accepting everyone else’s priorities for you Greg talks about setting boundaries and says….

"Boundaries can come at a high price. However, not pushing back costs more: our ability to choose what is most essential in life." 

If you haven’t picked up Dr. Henry Cloud’s book called Boundaries which is referenced in the book, it’s another great read and really important to help walk through the process of not letting others dictate when, how, and what you do, but taking the proactive approach and establishing the boundaries for your relationships, your projects, your hobbies, or whatever.

Another little nugget for me was:

"Use the good times to create a buffer for the bad." 

Good thought - its usually easier to plan ahead and set things up when things are going well.  Good reminder.

And I’ll share this as one of my final thoughts from the book, but Greg asks the question:

"What is the obstacle that is keeping you back from achieving what really matters to you??  Systematically identify and remove the "constraint" to reduce the friction keeping you from executing what is essential." 

An essentialist produces more by removing more instead of doing more. 

SO to summarize for ME personally I’d say my key take-a-ways are:

  1. Identify what matters most to me.
  2. Identify and remove the (as Greg puts it) constraints that keep me from accomplishing those essential things
  3. Less, but better.

I hope this piqued your curiosity, and I highly recommend you go out and grab this book and devour it, then APPLY it to your life.  Good good stuff here.  You can check out the show notes at for a direct link to snag the book and don’t forget if you haven’t already, sign up to get the next show delivered straight to your inbox as well.