While I chose these two books to read primarily based on their titles and what each seemed to be trying to sell me I realized that each of these had a different focus. The first book I read, Essentialism by Greg MeKeown, gave me information I could apply directly to my life and my schedule. It was very focused on the individual, and while the advice could definitely be taken to the workplace with you and included many work-based examples, overall it seemed like a rather multipurpose message. Scrum By Jeff and JJ Sutherland was almost by definition and exclusively for groups.  It worked best with teams, but there were definitely snippets that could be taken out for general, individual use.


The books had different styles as well. The Sutherlands chose to illustrate their points with stories. You were piloting a craft in the military in one chapter, later you helped save a medical company from certain failure.  If you like a good story, this book would be up your alley. The stories definitely drove home many of their points, but as my goal was to suck the meat out of their method I could have done with wading through fewer adventures. Essentialism went through McKeown’s step by step process for boiling down your activities to the essentials. It may not have been as tantalizing, but it would help you understand his point in a straightforward way.


What is the way each of these books suggest?




The goal of this book is to narrow down the focus of your schedule so it contains just the actual things you need to do. He immediately embodies the difference between busyness and productivity. The book is full of tips and tricks to help us understand which of our activities really contribute to our life and which ones are just distractions and busy work. He outlines the “Paradox of success” in the beginning.


  1. Success! This list begins with the clarity you needed to have to succeed.
  2. Now that you are a go-to person in your field, you are asked to do more things.
  3. So many opportunities pour in that you get spread thin.
  4. All of that focus that brought you success is sacrificed to keep up with all of the busyness you are surrounded by.


It doesn’t appear to go well from there, unless you realize what has happened and refocus.


McKeown is endlessly realistic. You can’t have it all. Something has got to give. His tips help you decide what the things are that are worth hanging on to. He encourages you to decide what the most important things are in your life. He wants you to look beyond just the next thing on your schedule and what comes next. You must understand the big picture. Once you do, you can make the things on your schedule contribute to the things you have decided are truly important in your life. Be selective: if you are not absolutely certain about something, let it go. You can set up three minimum criteria for a decision and three extreme criteria as a test. If the item you are considering doing doesn’t pass all three of your minimum criteria the answer should be no. If it passes your minimum criteria, but it doesn’t pass two of your three extreme criteria your answer should still be no.


Play and rest are encouraged. Creativity can come through in those moments when our brain isn’t preoccupied with a task . The main tasks that contribute to this schedule simplification are:


  1. Make sure to allow yourself a buffer. You need to assume some things won’t go according to plan
  2. Remove obstacles to your goals.
  3. Small victories still deserve celebration.
  4. Do the most difficult or important thing first. This is the “Eating a Frog” philosophy many efficiency experts promote.
  5. You also need to design an effective routine that helps you respond to new triggers.
  6. Focus on the present.


Overall the advice in this book was actionable. Once I took a good look at my priorities it truly made the activities I focused on less attached to guilt. If I knew that my kids needed me I could remember that they were a top priority so laundry could wait. Anything that relieves guilt in a Mom’s life is something worth trying.




Scrum switches gears both style and focus-wise. We jump from paring down our schedule individually, to the best way to work in a team. While this will likely work in a classroom as well at at a company it doesn’t seem suited to family or individual life very well. The core principle of flexibility has its merits in all areas of life, however.


Teams in this book do have a plan, but the plan involves timed, intense action that produces some type of outcome by a deadline. If that outcome accomplishes the goal they set out to do, great, continue, If it doesn’t you can scrap that and start moving in a new direction. The idea is similar to the entrepreneurial motto, “Fail fast, fail often.” Value is placed on the constant fixing of problems and shedding of dead weight. It is considered too late if you have to wait to the end of an entire project to fix problems. Problems should be fixed along the way according to the Sutherlands.


Blame is not reserved for any individual on team. The Sutherlands want blame to be assigned to the system if something goes wrong. Team members are not assigned specific roles so that each member can have autonomy to spot flaws and fix them. Guilt-free camaraderie seems to be the way the Sutherlands want teams to interact. Improvement and efficiency is encouraged when people aren’t locked into a role, but feel invested in the contribution they can make to the team’s goal. You can take a risk to make sure the outcome of the team is good quality and on track if you don’t have to worry about individual failure.


One of the later focuses of the book is on happiness and how much this emotion contributes to the performance of companies. It is immensely valuable for employees to take care of themselves, work reasonable hours, and truly enjoy what they are doing. The Sutherlands define happiness as a combination of autonomy, mastery and purpose. These are the qualities they want to infuse into their team environment to ensure the best, most efficient results.

There are tips and overlap to both of these books. Take care of yourself. Nothing good comes from running yourself into the ground, besides creativity is often unlocked when you let your brain wander. Rid yourself of the superfluous. Don’t be busy just because your calendar tells you to be. Make sure the things you invest your time in match up with the things you value. Give yourself permission not to wallow in guilt. Dispense with blame and just adjust your sails and move on. It sure seems like a supportive environment with challenging, purpose-giving goals is just the place anyone could thrive, whether that be at work, or in your kitchen.  

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