Getting more by pursuing less

Shanna Redwine

Assistant District Attorney in Montgomery County

Rather than doing more, more, more, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less advocates that we deliberately seek to do less. In a society constantly pursuing more, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less promotes a drastically different approach. Stanford graduate, New York Times bestselling author, and accomplished leadership consultant Greg McKeown compels readers to get the most out of life by deliberately seeking less. After reading Essentialism, I found that while its methods are unorthodox, they can greatly aid finding balance in our high stress profession, and I have incorporated some of them into my own life.
    McKeown’s idealism challenges readers to identify and pursue only those activities and commitments in life they deem essential through a process of prioritization and evaluation. By eliminating distractions, we can devote our best time and resources to the things we care about most and that achieve the most good. McKeown emphasizes that every activity and commitment is a choice, not only to participate in that activity but also to take time and resources away from something else.
    Essentialism draws heavily from the author’s personal experience. In one meaningful example, McKeown recounts an event that caused him to realize that his personal desire for more was damaging his family. On the day his daughter was born, against his better judgment, McKeown left his wife at the hospital and attended a client meeting. Expecting the client to be impressed with his commitment, McKeown instead saw disappointment in the client’s eyes. McKeown’s unwillingness to prioritize the essential caused him to lose his client’s respect and miss out on a pivotal moment for his family. Further examples offer credibility and context from academic research, business case studies, and historical analysis.
    The author employs logical arrangement of claims, reason, and evidence to make a case for his philosophy, providing specific tips and practices for implementing essentialism in various facets of life. McKeown concedes that his approach is extreme—and its implementation tedious—but asserts that in the dogged pursuit of less, the reader will achieve her best, most satisfied self, all while achieving the highest good.
    Of important distinction to prosecutors, Essentialism celebrates autonomy; the privilege of choice occupies a central role in McKeown’s strategy. Learning to evaluate and prioritize activities will enable prosecutors to seek the highest good in their caseloads and improve their work-life balance. Similarly, the author provides powerful rationale for learning to tactfully say “no.” Both skills are valuable tools in a career with high stakes and high stress.
    One of my own personal takeaways from Essentialism is the power and importance of personal choice. I have often, after taking on way too much at work, made the statement, “I don’t have a choice—this has to be done.” The fact is I chose to take on too much, chose to add unessential tasks, and chose to prioritize one area of my life over another. After reading Essentialism, I now try to consciously remind myself when taking on a new task at work or in my personal life, no matter its importance, that by choosing to accept it, I am necessarily choosing to take time and resources away from something else. By taking responsibility for my choices, I am better able to analyze whether the new task is essential, personally and professionally. I am trying to be more deliberate about work hours (Am I staying late because I have to or because I’m accustomed to it?), taking work home (I try not to check emails until my kids are asleep), and taking on extra-curricular tasks at work that are not essential to the assignment I have been given. As a habitual non-essentialist, this shift does not come easy for me, but I have already seen the benefits of owning my choices and narrowing my priorities. As prosecutors, our choices about which tasks to prioritize and which to let go have important implications, so we must ensure that we are choosing the most important ones. If we are well rounded, personally and professionally, we can make a greater impact for the communities we serve.

Published by Crown Business, ­Essentialism is ­available in ­hardcover and ­audiobook starting at $15 and in ebook format from Google Play and Amazon for $12.99.