The Joseph Group

Essentialism: Less But Better

May 28, 2021

To Inspire:

As we emerge from some of the limitations COVID has imposed on our society, it may be tempting to jump back into lots of pursuits. After all, many of us have been cooped up and feeling somewhat on the shelf – we’re ready to get back in the game of life!

All good, but perhaps we consider some valuable insights offered by Greg McKeown in his 2014 New York Times bestseller, “Essentialism: the Disciplined Pursuit of Less.” In it, Greg uses a three German words to describe essentialism: weniger aber besser – the English translation is less but better. A more fitting definition of Essentialism would be hard to come by.

Here are some excerpts from Chapter 1 of Greg’s book:

The way of the Essentialist is the relentless pursuit of less but better. It doesn’t mean occasionally giving a nod to the principle; it means pursuing it in a disciplined way. It’s not about setting New Year’s resolutions to say “no” more, or about pruning your in-box or mastering some new time management technique. It’s about pausing constantly to ask, “am I investing in the right activities?” There are far more activities and opportunities in the world than we have time and resources to invest in. And although many of them may be good, or even very good, the fact is that most are trivial and few are vital. The way of the Essentialist involves learning to tell the difference – learning to filter through all of those options and select only those that are truly essential.

The difference between the way of the Essentialist and the way of the Nonessentialist can be seen in the figure below. In both images, the same amount of effort is exerted. In the image on the left, the energy is divided into many different activities. The result is that we have the unfulfilling experience of making a millimeter of progress in a million directions. In the image on the right the energy is given to fewer activities. The result is that by investing in fewer things we have the satisfying experience of making significant progress in the few things that matter most. The way of the essentialist rejects the idea that we can fit it all in. Instead it requires us to grapple with real trade-offs and make tough decisions. In many cases we can learn to make one-time decisions that prevent us from having to make a thousand future decisions so we don’t exhaust ourselves revisiting the same questions again and again.

For all of us who are focused on living great lives – lives of purpose and meaning – Greg’s insights are incredibly valuable.  As you begin to re-engage with others and get back into various aspects of your life, continue to grapple with your purpose – who you are and what you are called to focus on – and allow essentialism to help you pursue the great life that only you can live. You’ll be so glad you did.

Live with purpose…it leads to greatness…the greatness of a life well lived. And have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend.





Written by Matt Palmer, Co-founder and Chairman