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Summary of Effortless by Greg McKeown

Greg McKeown’s Essentialism is one of my favorite books. The impact on my life cannot be overstated. I read it every January to remind myself to focus on what is important now. So I’ve been expecting Effortless, McKeown’s follow-up book, since it was announced.

While essentialism is about deciding where to focus your energy, Effortless is about how to functionally structure your work in order to most easily achieve the most important activities.

I finished the book in a day and wanted to write an article summarizing the key points, but McKeown beat me at the end of the book. In the following words from the author, here is the summary of Effortless:

Effortless: Make what matters most easier

Greg McKeown

Part I: Effortless State

What is the effortless state? The effortless state is an experience many of us have had when we are physically rested, emotionally unencumbered, and mentally aroused. You are fully aware, attentive, present, attentive and focused on what is important in that moment. You can focus on what matters most with ease.

INVERT – Instead of asking, “Why is this so difficult?”, Reverse the question by asking, “What if this could be easy?” Challenge the assumption that the “right” path is inevitably the harder one. Make the impossible possible by taking an indirect approach. When faced with work that feels overwhelming, ask, “How do I make this harder than it has to be?”

ENJOY – Combine the most important activities with the most fun. Accept that work and play can coexist. Turn tedious tasks into meaningful rituals. Let laughter and fun brighten more of your moments.

PUBLICATION – Let go of emotional burdens that you no longer have to bear. Remember, if you focus on what you lack, you will lose what you have. If you focus on what you have, you will get what you lack. Use this common recipe: “Every time I complain, I’ll say something I’m grateful for.” Release a grudge from its duties by asking, “What job did I hire this grudge for?”

REST – Discover the art of doing nothing. Do not do more today than you can fully recover by tomorrow. Divide important work into three sessions of no more than ninety minutes each. Take an effortless nap.

NOTE – Achieve a state of heightened awareness using the power of presence. Train your brain to focus on what is important and ignore the irrelevant. To see others more clearly, set aside your opinions, advice, and judgment, and put their truth above your own. Eliminate the clutter in your physical environment before clearing the clutter in your head.

Part II: Effortless Trading

What is Effortless Action? Effortless action means achieving more by trying less. You stop hesitating and take the first obvious step. You get to the point of completion without thinking. You make progress by pacing up and down instead of switching your way through. You overtake without overexertion.

DEFINE – To start with an important project, first define what “done” looks like. Establish clear conditions for completion, drive there, then stop. Take 60 seconds to focus on the result you want. Write a “Ready for the day” list. Limit it to items that would represent significant advancement.

BEGIN – Make the first action the most obvious. Break the first obvious act down into the smallest, concrete step. Then name it. Get maximum learning with minimal effort. Start with a ten minute microburst of focused activity to increase motivation and energy.

SIMPLIFY – To make the process easier, don’t simplify the steps: just remove them. Realize that not everything requires you to go the extra mile. Maximize the steps not taken. Measure the progress in the smallest steps.

PROGRESS – When you start a project, you start with garbage. Take a zero-draft approach and just add a few words, any words, to the page. Fail cheaply: Make mistakes the size of your learner. Protect your progress from the harsh critic on your mind.

TEMPO – Set an effortless pace: slow is smooth, smooth is fast. Reject the false economy of “powering through”. Create the right range: I’ll never do less than X, never do more than Y. Realize that not all advances are created equal.

.Part III: Effortless Results

What are Effortless Results? You have maintained your hassle-free condition. You have started taking effortless action with clear purpose, tiny, obvious first steps, and a steady pace. It is easier for you to achieve the results you want. But now you want these results to flow to you over and over again with the least possible additional effort. You are ready for effortless results.

LEARN – Learn principles, not just facts and methods. First, understand the principles thoroughly, then apply them over and over again. Stand on giants’ shoulders and get the best of what they know. Develop unique knowledge and it will open the door to eternal possibilities.

ELEVATOR – Use the lesson as a lever to harness the strength of ten. Make great impact by teaching others to teach. Live what you teach and notice how much you learn. Tell stories that are easy to understand and repeat.

AUTOMATE – Free up space in your brain by automating as many important tasks as possible. Use checklists to get it right every time without relying on memory. Look for individual decisions that will eliminate future decisions. Take the high-tech route for the essentials and the low-tech route for the non-essential.

TRUST – Use trust as an engine oil for smooth and highly functioning teams. Make the right adjustment once and you will get results time and time again. Follow the rule of three me: hire people with integrity, intelligence, and initiative. Design high-confidence agreements to clarify outcomes, roles, rules, resources, and rewards.

PREVENT – Don’t just manage the problem. Solve it before it happens. Look today for simple measures that you can take to avoid complications tomorrow. Invest two minutes to put an end to recurring frustrations. Catch errors before they occur. measure twice so you only have to cut once.


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