Essentialism Chapter 7 Discussion Questions

The Value of Play


Questions for Essentialism Chapter 7

Download a printable pdf version here.Essentialism Questions Ch. 7

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

Major principles:

Recreation and play does not threaten a productive life, it is vital part of helping us grow and become more creative.

Key examples/illustrations

  • The story of Mr. Banks from the movie Mary Poppins. His dreary life is transformed by something as simple as flying a kite
  • Author Ken Robinson has expressed how our education system is killing creativity in children.  This transformation arrived with the Industrial Revolution.
  • Stuart Brown and the National Institute for Play. He has published scientific research about the impact of play on our brains.
  • The correlation between survival in animals (like the grizzly bear) and rates of survival.
  • Edward M Hallowell, psychiatrist, speaks about the effect of play on the executive function of the brain.
  • Throughout history many great discoveries happened during times of play.


  1. McKeown defines play as, “Play, which I would define as anything we do simply for the joy of doing rather than as a means to an end.” What are some activities in your life right now that fit this description? Use this definition to make a list of things you have done in the last 6 months for play.
  2. As children we did not need to be taught how to play.  Children play at all times, even during sickness and tragedy. What does this suggest to you about the importance of play?
  3. It is easy to view play as a waste of time.  Highly driven people and teams may even consider it something trivial or unproductive. What is your view? How do you feel about playing? What does your inner voice say to you when you stop work to engage in recreation?  What pressures or beliefs are communicated to you by your peers and culture regarding play?
  4. There are some people that are “all play and no work.” These excesses may prevent us from seeing the virtues and benefits of play.  Do you know someone in your life that is a productive and playful person? Someone who is highly effective and yet takes time for hobbies and recreation? Describe this person and their productivity as well as their play.
  5. The author uses the term imaginative play. What does this mean to you? Is there a difference between imaginative play and other kinds of play? Is one better than the other?
  6. Sir Ken Robinson says that imagination produces achievement. If imagination is a muscle, then play exercises that muscle. Do you agree with this?  Why? In your experience how has play helped you to develop your imagination?
  7. You have probably heard someone explain how they ruined a hobby by turning it into a “for profit” business.  How can you guard your important hobbies or play from the obligations that might destroy them?
  8. Stress kills creativity. Play can help to decrease stress. What stresses are you facing currently? How can you use recreation and play to decrease your stress?
  9. Which activities help you to feel light and free? Which activities help you to forget your problems?
  10. Many great discoveries and inventions happened during play. Have you ever had a breakthrough during a time of play?
  11. Many successful companies incorporate play in their corporate structure.  Examples include Google, Twitter, Apple, etc.  does your business or work encourage play? Why or why not?
  12. What activities outside of work do you must enjoy? Which activities would you like to try? Make a list
  13. How can you add these activities to your calendar next week?
  14. Which activities were your favorite as a child? Explore this.  Does this play history reveal anything about you or what you enjoy doing?
  15. How can you use this knowledge to help you learn how to play as an adult?

The Art Of Leaving Things Undone

Noble Art of Leaving Things Undone

“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists of the elimination of nonessentials.”

-Chinese author and philosopher Lin Yutang

Maxwell, John C. (2008-11-16). Today Matters: (p. 67). Center Street. Kindle Edition.

You’re Not Multitasking, Your Switching Between Tasks. And It Doesn’t Work

Multitasking Doesn't  Work Twitter

This is a good and (mercifully) brief article on the not-so-obvious truth about multitasking. We often do it because we think we are getting more done. The truth is the opposite. When we try to focus on more than one thing at a time, we end up gettting less done, it takes longer, and the work is generally of a lower quality. This article includes some good suggestions and links to research.

“What does it even mean anyway: multitasking?

“The actual term ‘multitasking’ is misleading because we might think we’re doing more than one thing at once, but that’s not what our brain is actually doing.

“What essentially happens when we switch between tasks is just that – we switch between tasks.

“Our brain is easily distracted and jumps from task to task, taking longer to complete all tasks simultaneously than it would if it attacked them one by one.”

3 Deadly Effects of Multi-Tasking, and Why It’s Worse Than Marijuana.

Photo credit: “SunsetTracksCrop” by Arne Hückelheim – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – 

Essentialism Questions Ch. 3

You can download a journal-friendly version of the questions here: Essentialism Questions Ch. 3

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 principles apply in your own circumstances is more likely to produce real learning and lasting change.

Major principles:

Most things that occupy our time are NOT important. They are a part of the “trivial many” vs the “vital few.”

Key examples/illustrations

  • Boxer the Horse from Orwell’s Animal Farm
  • The difference in hourly rates for different jobs
  • El Bulli Restaurant
  • The Pareto Principle and the “vital few”
  • Warren Buffet’s investing strategy


Power Law graph from Forbes

  1. The chapter opens with a quote from Richard Koch, author of several books on the 80/20 (or Pareto) principle: “MOST OF WHAT EXISTS IN THE UNIVERSE— OUR ACTIONS, AND ALL OTHER FORCES, RESOURCES, AND IDEAS— HAS LITTLE VALUE AND YIELDS LITTLE RESULT; ON THE OTHER HAND, A FEW THINGS WORK FANTASTICALLY WELL AND HAVE TREMENDOUS IMPACT.”  This idea can seem at odds with common sense. Do you agree with Koch? If so why? If you are having trouble accepting this idea, why?
  2. McKeown mentions the story of Animal Farm and the horse “Boxer” who’s answer is to every problem is to work harder. Based on the ideas in this chapter what are the possible outcomes of such a strategy?
  3. Why are there limits to the value of “working harder?”
  4. Some types of effort yield more and better results than other kinds of effort.  Have you experienced this in your life before?
  5. What makes something essential or important for you? Make a very short list of what makes something truly important or vital to your life.
  6. Which activities are you spending your time on that are low yield? Which are high yield? Put another way, which activities are minimum wage or less for you? Which produce the greatest results in terms of money, outcomes, happiness, quality, etc.?
  7. After a certain amount of time, “working more, working harder” results in a plateau of productivity.  This can happen because of exhaustion, loss of resources, discouragement, mental fatigue, etc.  Are there any areas in your life where you are seeing a plateau of results? Do the hard work of being honest with yourself.
  8. Diversification is a common strategy for investors. Yet according to “The Tao of Warren Buffett,” billionaire Warren Buffet makes 90% of his money of just 10 investments. What factors drive the emphasis on diversification rather than focus? Where do you see these factors at work in your life?
  9. Take a moment to look up “power law theory.” You can do a brief search, or here is an example of a write up from Forbes. A power law distribution is very different from a normal “bell curve.”  This distribution shows some of the science behind the big idea in this chapter. Some people/ideas are far more influential than others.  What is your major impression from the power law theory? Take a moment to write this down.
  10. Power law theory demonstrates that most “inputs” (people, products, sales accounts, ideas, activities) in the tail fall below median. They do NOT yield average results, they produce below average results. What activities in your life are in the long tail, bringing you lower-than-average results? How can you exchange them? Which one can you quit this week?
  11. Talking about high performing employees, Mark Zuckerberg said, “Someone who is exceptional in their role is not just a little better than someone who is pretty good. They are 100 times better.” This is not only true of people, it is true in many areas of life. Which things might you do that are even 10x more effective than the “pretty good” activities that take up most of your time.
  12. Most people fail to become essentialists because they don’t know the difference between important vs unimportant.  How can you learn  the difference in your own life?
  13. Does it seem insulting or distasteful to say that most things are “unimportant?” Why?
  14. Marketers work hard to convince people that their products/services are important. Part of their success comes from the fact that their audience hasn’t decided ahead of time what is truly important.  This can lead to people constantly looking for success through purchasing a new product or software, changing to the newest and hottest business strategy, reading another self help book. Where do you see yourself influenced about what is important by outsiders?
  15. McKeown recommends that in light of these principles we spend ample time considering what is truly essential. Take time right now to make an appointment with yourself every week for reflection on your schedule and activities.


Questions for Essentialism Ch. 1

I am rereading the book “Essentialism” By Greg McKeown with a friend and trying to work the principals into my life. I think the content of the book is needed for a generation that is frantic and out of control. As a Christian I approach the answers from the perspective of Biblical priorities. But the questions and insight in the book are invaluable. I am also attaching a pdf to download Essentialism Questions Ch. 1

Essentialism Picture

Questions for Essentialism

Chapter 1

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

1. What are the things you do each week?  Take time to make a list of the items that occupy your time. This will be helpful throughout the book. It is important to actually and honestly evaluate what you are doing.


2. There is a diagram on p. 6 contrasting “a millimeter of progress in a million directions” vs. substantial progress in a single direction. Where are you working in too many directions? Do you feel you have a clear single direction? What would your one direction be if money and resources were not a problem?

3. What things on your activity list (#1) would you give up right now if you could? Why do you continue to doing these things?

4. Are there things that you have committed to do that you resent? What are they? Why did you say yes to them?

5. What activity would you say has made the biggest impact in the lives of others? In your career? In your income?

6. Who else is making your priorities for you?

7. The author mentions “decision fatigue.” What are you putting off because you are reluctant to make a decision about it?

8. We are often motivated (consciously or unconsciously) by the opinions of others. Which people are you trying to please? How is this helping or hurting you?

9. On p. 16 the author mentions the hospice nurse Bonny Ware, and her observation of the frequent regrets of dying patients. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” We often sell our souls to do what pleases others in ways that are bad. Other times we simply lack courage. How are you conforming to the expectations of others?

10. Note the questions on p. 22, and the diagram. It is not just about cutting things out, but cutting things out so you can figure out the right things.

a. “What do I feel deeply inspired by?

b. What am I particularly talented at?

c. What do I do that meets a significant need in the world?”