3 Valuable Strategies From Effortless By Greg McKeown

How do we make our lives feel more effortless?

We live in a world with never ending demands on our time and attention.

As Greg McKeown puts it, “there’s something about modern life that’s like trying to hike at high altitude.”

Are there ways to make progress without feeling exhausted and burnt out?

Effortless goes into the strategies and tactics for helping you make your important tasks feel easier and less overwhelming.

There were three strategies that really stood out to me.

  • Define What Done Looks Like
  • Start From Zero
  • Slow Is Smooth, Smooth Is Fast

Define What Done Looks Like

Before you start a new project or goal, it’s a good idea to establish what the end result will look like.

Where’s the finish line? What does it look like when it’s done?

Without a clear finish line, we tinker with things until they’re perfect.

We’ll keep tweaking chapters in our book instead of publishing it.

We’ll keep improving our product instead of releasing it.

And we’ll film a video over and over (and over) again instead of just uploading it and moving on.

We all want our projects to be perfect. But nothing’s ever perfect.

At some point you just have to publish the book, launch the product and upload the video. Establishing what done looks like lets you do that.

When you start a new project, start by establishing the finish line.

Clarify what you want the end result to look like and work on it until you get there.

Then once you get there, move on. Don’t allow the project to drag on because you’re trying to make it perfect.

Start From Zero

A mistake a lot of people make when simplifying a process is to try to simplify each individual step in the process.

That might lead to a marginal improvement but there’s a much better way to approach it.

Instead of just simplifying each step individually, try minimizing the total number of steps required.

Why? Because every step in a process adds more friction.

Think about a recipe with 20 ingredients, 35 steps and 4 hours of prep time. 

Now, think about a recipe with 3 ingredients, 5 steps and 15 minutes of prep time. Which one are you more likely to make for dinner on Tuesday night?

The first recipe has a lot more friction than the second one.

The more steps something requires, the less likely you are to do it.

And conversely, the fewer steps a task has, the less overwhelming it is and the easier it is to get done.

Try starting with a blank slate and rebuild your processes from scratch.

Instead of trying to make a process simpler, imagine you don’t even have a process yet. Start at zero and go from A to Z in as few steps as possible.

Minimize the number of steps and you’ll reduce the friction, your overwhelm will disappear and the task will become so much easier to finish.

Slow Is Smooth, Smooth Is Fast

Does this sound familiar?

You start a new project you’re excited about. You sprint out of the gates with a head of steam, getting a ton of work done.

But pretty soon the excitement wanes and you start to burn out from an unsustainable pace.

You take a break to recharge the batteries, but start to feel guilty about it after a few days. So you jump back in and start sprinting again to catch up on missed time.

And the cycle repeats itself until you finally lose all desire to get the project finished at all. We’ve all been there.

And we’d be better off if we learned to pace ourselves.

Especially when it comes to something we’re excited about.

Starting fast and trying to “power through” seems like a great idea, but it always ends in burnout and wanting to quit. It’s better to find a pace we can maintain.

The military has a mantra, “slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”

It means that when you move at a slower pace, you move smoothly.

And when you move smoothly, you can go faster because you don’t have to keep stopping to rest or fix a mistake.

Most of us should adopt the same mantra with our own personal projects.

The best way I’ve found is to set upper and lower boundaries on your effort. A maximum and minimum amount of work that creates a sustainable pace.

Let’s say you’re writing a book, maybe the upper boundary is 3,000 words a day and the lower boundary is 1,000.

So you have to write at least 1,000 words every day, that’s your slow pace. And no matter what, even if you’re in the zone and writing like a madman, you can’t pass 3,000 words per day.

Your sustainable pace is 1000-3000 words per day.

The lower boundary ensures that you make some progress every day. And the upper boundary keeps you from doing too much, too quickly.

Boundaries help you maintain a manageable pace so you can get your project finished without burning out or quitting.

Is It Worth Reading?

To me, Effortless is a lot like the author’s previous book Essentialism.

It’s filled with strategies and great advice that aren’t necessarily new and exciting, but serve as a good reminder to get you back on track.

Effortless is definitely worth a read if you feel frustrated, exhausted and overwhelmed with trying to balance your life with your work.

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