Lessons from Effortless by Greg McKeown

Effortless is the follow-up from author Greg McKeown to his first book Essentialism, my most recommended book for coaching clients, consulting clients, and friends and family. Effortless challenges the notion that the most important things must be miserable, hard work, and take a long time and explores ways to make the most essential things in life more effortless.

Socialization and Class-Based Messages About Work

I grew up poor in rural Wisconsin. Even when your class status changes, class values often remain, for better and for worse. I certainly learned about hard work, gratitude, and resourcefulness. I also learned that if you are not suffering or miserable then it wasn’t real work. These messages came from folks whose work was physically demanding and often had to be done early in the morning, in the bitter cold, and in the mess. This mentally taught me that anything noble, meaningful, or valuable must be hard and anything easy wasn’t noble, meaningful, or valuable. I still catch myself and am working on my own unlearning.


It is hard to understand Effortless without the context of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. McKeown reminds us that “If you don’t prioritize your own life, someone else will.” I love the powerful questions, “How can you do less, so you can be more?” Another useful metaphor is weeding the garden of your life. Once you have practiced essentialism (something I think about every single day), then McKeown encourages us to think about how we can pursue the most essential things in life in a way that is more effortless.


I often share the story of the 22 Hour Pinata from Allison Vaillancourt in The Chronicle of Higher Education. What are the things that we make into a much bigger deal than they need to be? How do we avoid this? What is the simplest possible structure or solution to our problems? It is amazing how the “shoulds” can get us. Taking a little bit of time, getting some perspective, and really considering what needs to be done and how can save us significant time. adrienne maree brown calls for “less preparation, more presence” has been helping me show up better for others rather than focusing on me and all my hard work. Effortless explores how to do this beginning with an effortless state, then taking effortless action, to get effortless results. I’ll focus on the lessons from the section of the book on effortless state and effortless action, which were most helpful for me.

Effortless State

Effortless state is a state of physical, mental, and emotional groundedness. In this state we are centered, clear, energized, and can be in flow. If we are reactive, upset, tired, sick, or distracted then effortless action and results are difficult. Getting to this state, so you can be at your best, requires the emotional intelligence skill of self-management. Some strategies may include:

  • Find meaning, purpose, joy, and even play in your work.
  • Letting go. Forgiveness.
  • Gratitude practice. As McKeown says, “When you focus on what you lack, you lose what you have. When you focus on what you have, you get what you lack.”
  • Rest. Mindfulness. Exercise.
  • What would it take for you to do better work (not more work or longer work)?
  • Learn to manage your inner critic.

Effortless Action

Effortless action is the more concrete next step of taking action with clarity, purpose, and focus and avoiding procrastination, overthinking, and perfectionism. As Effortless reminded me (and so did Four Thousand Weeks), writing an imperfect book is far better than never finishing writing a perfect book. A dear faculty mentor once encouraged a friend who was writing her thesis by simply putting a post-it note on her computer screen that said, “When is good enough, good enough?” McKeown echoes one of his best essentialism strategies, deciding not to do a task is the fastest way to completing it, when he encourages us to consider what steps in the process we might be able to remove?

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