Getting Shit Done

Read Effortless

Read Effortless: Make It Easier to Do What Matters Most by Greg McKeown

The New York Times bestselling author of Essentialism takes on the holy grail of human performance: How can we make it easier to get the right things done?

Is there a goal you want to make progress on, if only you had the energy? Do you assume that anything worth doing must take tremendous effort? Have you ever abandoned a hard but important activity for an easy but trivial one? Are you often overwhelmed by the complexity that’s expanding everywhere?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you might be making life much harder for yourself than it needs to be.

In the New York Times bestseller Essentialism, Greg McKeown urged readers to eliminate nonessential activities and focus on the few that truly matter. He’s since talked with thousands of readers about the challenges they face in putting those ideas into practice. The problem, he’s found, is that the complexity of modern life has created a false dichotomy between things that are “essential and hard,” and things that are “easy and trivial.” But what if the trivial tasks became harder and the essential ones became easier? If the important projects became enjoyable, while the trivial distractions lost their appeal entirely?

In Effortless, McKeown offers proven strategies for making the most important activities the easiest ones. For example:
– Streamline your process by mapping out the minimum number of steps.
– Prevent problems later by solving them before they happen.
– Let Go of perfectionism by finding the “courage to be rubbish.”
– Accelerate your learning by leveraging the best of what others know.

By making the toughest tasks just a little bit easier, we can accomplish more of what matters, without burning out.

I like the framework he presents here, and the foundational idea that we’re all working harder than we need to be. It’s structured in three simple, stackable pieces, subdivided by chapters on subthemes. Each section concludes with a (bit too lengthy IMO) summary.

Something about this book felt… hollow? to me, despite the appealing framework that’s designed for ease of reading. The ideas are well organized, if somewhat commonsense, but the execution could have used more oomph. He gives only one example in most chapters, and frankly not people I can relate to (CEOs and pro ballplayers come to mind). That isn’t enough evidence to convince me, nor often enough tangible to take away and use. Some chapters were better than others about this. It reminds me of Seth Godin, but not quite pulling it off? If I’m remembering correctly, Indistractable also followed a similar style, so this may simply be the way one publishes a self-help book today.

Some of the examples were poorly chosen, I suspect, and to me already dated the book (Elon Musk / Tesla and the DoNotPay guy who’s currently facing some class action lawsuits). That’s rooted in another flaw of the book: its intended audience seems to be business bros who care about the dudes who own Berkshire Hathaway (another example). This roots it in the privileged perspective of managers, who have power over their actions, and in the toxic individualistic perspective of people trying to achieve and succeed on their own, rather than team players who see that part of their work is to help their colleagues. I’ve had the same complaint about Cal Newport — when you don’t answer your colleague’s emails, you’re saying that your work and attention is more valuable than theirs.

This book is still centered in the ideology of individual success, without much regard for the impacts and limitations of systems and hierarchies. Some problems can be simplified, yes, but some truly are complex or out of your influence. Tara McMullin’s What Works is better about acknowledging that politics and neurodiversity and sexism exist.

The conclusion reveals he’s come to this mentality through managing his family’s health struggles. It struck me as odd to hold that for the end. I didn’t feel it tied this philosophy together enough, but also felt that this crucial piece of the story was withheld upfront. (Either that or I’ve forgotten about it over the past two weeks?)

It’s been so long since I read Essentialism that I can’t say how this fits with that work. I remember Essentialism being better.

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at She/her.

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