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Our favourite quotes from Essentialism by Greg McKeown

Best quotes from Greg McKeown’s bestselling book

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Let’s face it, inspiring quotes from a world expert on living a calm and simpler life will always be popular. And so, we’ve chosen the our top quotes from Essentialism by Greg McKeown.

Essentialism is about the pursuit of less and being more selective about what is essential in our lives. It's a timely post-pandemic discipline to adopt, as many of us find ourselves at full-throttle again.

We interviewed Greg on Essentialism for our Growth Faculty Pass members - if you're a member you can watch that interview here.

For the key points of Essentialism, read below for our top three quotes from Greg's book Essentialism then our list of dozens more great quotes on decluttering our lives taken directly from his bestselling book.

Our Top 3 Quotes from Essentialism

Like living an Essentialist life, it's hard to be selective when faced with choices. But we've picked these as our top three essential quotes from Essentialism - see if they inspire you too.

1.  “The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default.”

We like this quote because it inspires us to stop flip-flopping through life, beholden to other people’s plans and schedules. Greg McKeown challenges us to decide what we want to include in our day, our life, our world, and reject the rest.

2.  “An Essentialist discerns more so he can do less.”

This quote shows that thinking time is essential to the Essentialist. Instead of reacting immediately to requests, opportunities, invitations, challenges, the Essentialist takes a breath and thinks about how this latest request for his/her/their time fits with their goals. If it doesn’t, the Essentialist says no.

3.  “Essentialism is about creating a system for handling the wardrobe of our lives.”

In this pithy quote Greg McKeown asks us to imagine a scenario where other people keep stuffing clothes into YOUR wardrobe – every day. He says that is analogous to people making demands on your time – do you want to give them that time (cluttering your ‘life wardrobe’)?

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More inspiring quotes from Essentialism

You’ve read our top three quotes, here are some more favourite quotes from Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism.

“Weninger aber besser. English translation: Less but better.”

“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.”

“The way of the Essentialist is the relentless pursuit of less but better.”

“There are far more activities and opportunities in the world than we have time and resources to invest in.”

“Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done.”

“The way of the Essentialist rejects the idea that we can fit it all in.”

“The way of the Essentialist is the path to being in control of our own choices.”

“If you don’t prioritise your life, someone else will.”

“The pursuit of success can be a catalyst for failure.”

“Success can distract us from focussing on the essential things that produce success in the first place.”

“Today, technology has lowered the barrier for others to share their opinion about what we should be focusing on.”

“You can think of this book doing for your life and career what a professional organiser can do for your wardrobe.”

“In the same way that our wardrobe gets cluttered as clothes we never wear accumulate, so do our lives get cluttered as well-intended commitments and activities we’ve said yes to pile up.”

“Will this activity or effort make the highest possible contribution towards my goal?”

“Studies have found we tend to value things we already own more highly than they are worth and thus that we find them more difficult to get rid of.”

“In the wardrobe of our lives, new clothes – new demands on our time – are coming at us constantly.”

“It’s about learning how to do less but better so you can achieve the highest possible return on every precious moment of your life.”

“We can choose how to spend our energy and time.”

“Almost everything is noise, and a very few things are exceptionally valuable.”

“We can’t have it all or do it all.”

“Ask three questions: What do I feel deeply inspired by? What am I particularly talented at? What meets a significant need in the world?”

“Many of us say yes to things because we are eager to please and make a difference.”

“To eliminate non-essentials means saying no to someone.”

“Everything changes when we give ourselves permission to be more selective in what we choose to do.”

“There is tremendous freedom in learning that we can eliminate the non-essentials…”

“What if we stopped being oversold the value of having more and being undersold the value of having less?”

“I have a vision of people everywhere having the courage to live a life true to themselves instead of the lives others expect of them.”

“We often think of choice as a thing. But choice is not a thing. Our options may be things, but a choice is an action.”

“Choice is at the very core of what it means to be an Essentialist.”

“To become an Essentialist requires a heightened awareness of our ability to choose.”

“Non-essentialist: ‘I have to’. Essentialist: ‘I choose to’.”

“Is there a point at which doing more does not produce more?’

“At a certain point, more effort causes our progress to plateau or even stall.”

“A non-essentialist thinks almost everything is essential. An Essentialist thinks almost everything is non-essential.”

“Essentialists see trade-offs as an inherent part of life, not as an inherently negative part of life.”

“Essentialists spend as much time as possible exploring, listening, debating, questioning, and thinking.”

“When did you last take time out of your busy day simply to sit and think?”

“The faster and busier things get, the more we need to build thinking time into our schedule.”

“In every set of facts, something essential is hidden.”

“Essentialists are powerful observers and listeners.”

“A non-essentialist thinks play is trivial. An Essentialist knows play is essential.”

“Play doesn’t just help us to explore what is essential. It is essential in and of itself.”

“Sleep will enhance your ability to explore, make connections, and do less but better through your waking hours.”

“A non-essentialist says yes to almost every request or opportunity. An Essentialist says yes to only the top 10% of opportunities.”

“Making our criteria both selective and explicit affords us a systematic tool for discerning what is essential…”

“Once you have sufficiently explored your options…ask the essential question: What will I say no to?”

“When there is a serious lack of clarity about what the team stands for and what their goals and roles are, people experience confusion, stress, and frustration.”

“A non-essentialist has a vague, general vision or mission statement. An Essentialist has a strategy that is concrete and inspirational.”

“The deeper I have looked at the subject of Essentialism the more clearly I have seen courage as key to the process of elimination.”

“Anyone can talk about the importance of focusing on the things that matter most – and many people do – but to see people who dare to live it is rare.”

“Non-essentialists say yes because of feelings of social awkwardness and pressure.”

“A true Essentialist, Peter Drucker believed that ‘people are effective because they say no’.”

“Essentialists accept they cannot be popular with everyone all of the time.”

“Remember Essentialists don’t say no just occasionally. It is part of their regular repertoire.”

“An Essentialist has the courage and confidence to admit his or her mistakes and uncommit, no matter the sunk costs.”

“The tendency to continue doing something simply because we have always done it is sometimes called the ‘status quo bias’.” 

Greg McKeown - Mugshot

Greg McKeown is author of Essentialism

“Before the words ‘That sounds great, I’d love to’ fly out of your mouth, ask yourself ‘Is this essential?’”

“In life, disciplined editing can help add to your level of contribution.”

“The Latin root of the word decision – cis or cid – literally means ‘to cut’ or ‘to kill’.”

“Essentialists see boundaries as empowering. They recognise that boundaries protect their time from being hijacked….”

“When I ask executives to identify their boundaries they can rarely do it.”

“The Essentialist looks ahead. She plans. She prepares for different contingencies. She expects the unexpected.”

“If you have an hour set aside for a conference call, block off an additional 30 minutes.”

“Essentialists…build in buffers to reduce the friction caused by the unexpected.”

“Essentialists don’t default to Band-Aid solutions…They ask ‘What is getting in the way of achieving what is essential?’”

“An Essentialist produces more – brings forth more – by removing more instead of doing more.”

“The way of the non-essentialist is to go big on everything; to try to do it all, have it all, fit it all in.”

“Instead of trying to accomplish it all…the Essentialist starts small and celebrates progress.”

“Research has shown that of all forms of human motivation the most effective one is progress.”

“The Essentialist designs a routine that makes achieving what you have identified as essential to the default position.”

“Our ability to execute the essential improves with practice, just like any other ability.”

“Many of our non-essential routines are deep and emotional.”

“Only in the here and now can we actually execute on the things that really matter.”

“The way of the Essentialist is to tune into the present.” 

“Multi-tasking itself is not the enemy of Essentialism; pretending we can ‘multi-focus’ is.”

“When faced with so many tasks and obligations that you can’t figure out which to tackle first, stop. Take a deep breath. Get present in the moment…”

“Getting the future out of your head enables you to more fully focus on ‘what is important now’.”

“There are two ways of thinking about Essentialistm. The first is to think of it as something you do occasionally. The second is to think of it as something you are.”

“The way of the Essentialist isn’t just about success; it’s about living a life of meaning and purpose.”

“Once you become an Essentialist, you will find that you aren’t like everybody else.”

“In many ways, to live as an Essentialist in our too-many-things-all-the-time society is an act of quiet revolution.”

“An Essentialist is something I am steadily becoming.”

“As the Dalai Lama, another true Essentialist, has said: ‘If one’s life is simple, contentment has to come. Simplicity is extremely important for happiness.’”

“The life of an Essentialist is a life lived without regret.”

“I hope you will remember this: whatever decision or challenge or crossroads you face in your life, simply ask yourself, ‘What is essential?’ Eliminate everything else.”



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