Essentialism Ch. 4 Discussion Questions


This is a list of discussion questions to help work through the content of the book “Essentialism” By Greg McKeown.

Download a pdf of the questions that is more friendly for journaling here: Essentialism Questions Ch. 4

Major principles:

  • Every decision is a trade off. Since we can’t have it all, choosing one thing is not choosing another.
  • What trade off do I want to make? How can I do this deliberately rather than by default?
  • What can I go big on? Rather than “how can I do it all?” or “What do I have to give up?”
  • You need time and space to adequately consider the tradeoffs before you.

Key examples/illustrations

  • Southwest airlines deliberately rejecting certain options so they could focus on their core business.
  • Businesses that choose a straddling strategy. Trying to imitate a competitor while keeping their old strategy doesn’t work.
  • Johnson and Johnson’s response to the Tylenol cyanide crisis.
  • Businesses with lengthy mission statements or lists of values.
  1. The chapter opens by talking about the financial success of Southwest Airlines which is an example of a business with an essentialist strategy. Southwest said “no” to many things so they could focus on their strategy.  What does this suggest about the promise of essentialism?
  2. A person that is chronically late and stressed is often trying to fit in “just one more” email or action item. This has a domino effect on other important things. What insignificant things are you attempting in the name of “efficiency” that are undermining your focus?
  3. Are there tasks/responsibilities that are a part of your routine just because they seem easy for you to accomplish?  Are there things that you are doing that are not a priority, but that you don’t quit because they are not difficult?
  4. We often multitask when we fail to recognize the reality of trade offs. What happens when you multitask? What trade offs are you making?  What are you giving up? What are you gaining?
  5. There is a difference between making trade offs deliberately vs. by default. Think of a significant disappointment in your life/business. Was there a tradeoff in your choices?  Was it one that you made intentionally or that you allowed others to make?
  6. McKeown suggests that lengthy mission statements and lists of values show the failure to grapple with the reality of trade offs.  Have you seen this? Do you agree or disagree?
  7. The nonessentialist says “I can do it all,” the essentialist says, “which problem do I want?”  What problems are you facing because of your attempts to do too much?
  8. Think of a choice that is in front of you right now.  Consider the options and ask “which problem do I want?” This will require you to think of the potential outcomes of saying yes to various possibilities. Reflect on this.
  9. McKeown says, “instead of asking ‘what do I have to give up?’ ask ‘what do I want to go big on?’”  Think of an upcoming personal decision and use these two questions to analyze it. Make a list. How does each approach affect your feelings about the decision?
  10. We often feel guilt because of FOMO, “fear of missing out.” How can being deliberate about your choices help with these feelings of fear or guilt?
  11. In order to make tradeoffs wisely we have to take lots of time for exploration and reflection before we commit.  Consider a recent life decision. Did you have time to truly explore the various options before choosing? Why? Why not?
  12. Mckeown says, “To discern what is truly essential we need space to think, time to look and listen, permission to play, wisdom to sleep, and the discipline to apply highly selective criteria to the choices we make.”  What grabs you the most about this statement?
  13. Why do we need this “space” in order to make decisions based on “highly selective criteria?”

Photo courtesy of Daniel Oines. Some rights reserved

Questions for Essentialism Ch. 2

Questions for Essentialism. You Can download a pdf here: Essentialism Questions Ch. 2

Ch. 1 questions are here

Chapter 2

This is a list of discussion questions to help work through the content of the book “Essentialism” By Greg McKeown. Why discussion questions? Because interacting with the material and thinking through how the principals apply in your own circumstances is more likely to produce real learning and lasting change.

Major principals for this Chapter:

The non essentialist believes 3 false Ideas: “I have to do it… All of it is important… I can do both.”

The essentialist replaces them with 3 key truths: “I choose to… Only a few things matter, I can do anything but not everything.”

Questions to help you work through the Material:

  1. Which things are crowding you the most? Make a list of tasks/responsibilities that seem to be crowding you right now.
  1. Choose the most troublesome item from #1, and reflect on it through these questions based on those three truths:
    1. Do you feel compelled (by outside pressures) or are you making a deliberate choice that something is important?
    2. Is this item truly important for you to make the highest possible contribution? Why? Why not?
    3. Can you seriously give yourself to this task as well as other things you believe are important? If you had to confidently give something up, what would have to happen for you to realize this? If you have come to this conclusion in the past, what helped you see this?
  1. What are the areas in your life/work where you are performing at a mediocre (or worse) level because of your aptitude? How did you come to this conclusion? Why are you still doing these things?
  1. Have there been times when you were “fed up” and realized you couldn’t do it all? What events or feelings brought you to that point?  What did you do when you got there?
  1. Look in your closet or garage (or your bookshelf). What items do you see that you believe are not really important to you? Think especially of ones that you purchased.  Which of them did you feel were important when you bought them? What has changed for you to view this differently now?
  1. On p. 33 McKeown says he felt that even though he was working really hard, he was not failing, but not really succeeding either.  Which areas of your work do you feel that you are not either succeeding or failing at? How much time are you giving to these activities?
  1. If you could only do one thing with your life right now, what would it be? What are you doing right now that doesn’t fit into that?
  1. “Keep your options open” sounds like a good plan. But it can lead us to attempt too many things. Are there relationships, projects, to do lists, etc. that you are holding onto just to keep your options open? What are they?
  1. McKeown says, “Choice is not a thing, it is an action.” What actions do you need to take to move forward with determining and doing what is truly important?
  1. Where do you feel stuck because you feel you do not have a choice? Are there areas of your responsibility/work activities that you would change or abandon if you could?
  1. The author discusses the concept of learned helplessness that leads to us surrendering our prerogative to choose. Are there areas of your life and work where you believe that your work or choices don’t matter?  Are there areas where you have given up?
  1. Where is hyperactivity a sign of loss of choice in your life? Where do you believe you have to have it all or do it all?
  1. Are there areas where you have had to say “no” that feel like a loss? Are there feelings or fears of loss that are driving your decisions?
  1. Which opportunities have you passed up that you most regret? Which opportunities have you passed up that you look back on with satisfaction? Is there any difference for you?