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Blog Short #45: 4 Ways to Make Your Work Feel Effortless

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday, I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you. My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

Photo by Michail Petrov

I recently read the book Effortless by Greg McKeown. I loved it, as I did his first book, Essentialism. Throughout both books, his primary messages are to simplify what you do, focus on the most essential, let go of superfluous activity, and adopt strategies that make things seem effortless.

I was particularly enamored with McKeown’s four steps to “effortless action” that he describes in Part II of Effortless (p. 93). I found these ideas extremely helpful and different from the usual advice for overcoming procrastination or managing your time, so I want to share them with you.

But before we get to them, let’s go over his definition of “effortless action.”

Effortless Action

McKeown defines “effortless action” as,

“Trying without trying. Action without action. Effortless doing.”

Have you had the experience of engaging in an activity and becoming so absorbed that you’re no longer exerting effort?

It’s called being in a state of “flow.” You, your mind, and the action are all in sync. You find yourself doing without straining and operating at what’s called peak performance. This is “effortless action.”

It’s not always possible to get into a “flow” state when doing something, but the closer you get, the better.

One thing that usually interferes is trying to act when you’re already overdone. You’ve pushed yourself too far. You’re tired, can’t think anymore, and any further activity feels like an uphill battle.

Several weeks ago, I talked about the “law of diminishing returns.” If you’ll remember, it means:

“After a certain point, each extra unit of input produces a decreasing rate of output. So past a certain point, more effort doesn’t produce better performance. It sabotages our performance.”

Putting these things together, it becomes clear that you’ll do your best work when:

  1. You’re not already wiped out and have mental space and energy to think, and
  2. You can access a state of flow.

Now let’s go to the four practices McKeown suggests that will help you do that.

1) Define done.

Before you start working, get a clear picture in your head of what “done” will look like. That means:

  1. Being very specific about what you’re going to accomplish, and
  2. Making sure it’s within reach.

For example:

Read 10 pages a day for two weeks instead of “reading more books.”

Have two vegetables for dinner every night for the next month instead of “eat more veggies.”

Clean out the hall closet from top to bottom instead of “get the house more organized.”

In each situation, “done” is spelled out with a concrete and doable goal. It’s easy to figure out the specific tasks you’ll need to perform to get “done.” Once you’re finished, you can define your next “done.”

2) Identify the first obvious action.

Starting is often difficult.

To get around that, identify your first step. Make this an effortless act like picking up the phone to make a call, getting your pad and pencil out if you’re going to write, or pulling the pan out of the kitchen cabinet to start cooking.

We tend to think of the whole job all at once, which is overwhelming, and then sit paralyzed, unable to begin.

It’s good to have a general idea of where you’re going, but focus on the early steps and keep defining your next steps as you go. Keep your focus on what’s right in front of you and block out ruminating about the future.

3) Make use of “microbursts.”

I love this one because it bypasses our resistance radars. A microburst is,

“A 10-minute surge of focused activity that can have an immediate effect on our essential project.”

For example:

You load the dishwasher instead of clean the kitchen.

Fold one load of clothes instead of sort everything in the laundry room.

Write one or two paragraphs instead of a whole paper.

Exercise as hard as you can for 10 minutes instead of doing a complete workout.

Microbursts are effective because they get you moving. When you know you’re going to spend no more than 10 minutes, you’re much less likely to resist “the doing” part. And as we all know, once you get started, you sometimes don’t mind continuing.

The key, however, is to tell yourself you only need to do that 10-minute thing, and no more. And if that’s all you do, great!

4) Simplify.

The idea behind this one is “don’t make things too complicated.” In other words, approach activity from a minimalist point of view. The question is:

What are the minimum steps necessary to get to “done?”

To effectively answer this question, McKeown uses what he calls the “Start with Zero” rule.

Start from zero and build up only to what’s absolutely necessary. Don’t add in steps you don’t need. Keep your eye on the endpoint you’ve defined as “done” and avoid side roads or excursions.

We have a tendency to do just the opposite. We brainstorm every possibility, play out all the alternatives, and create a comprehensive list of choices. Then we move backward and pare down.

For example, if you were going to prepare a presentation for work, you might create a PowerPoint, handouts, video footage, and a live demonstration. Truth is, you don’t need all that, and people would be overwhelmed by having to sit through it all. They’d get antsy about halfway through, if not before. Not to mention it would take you tons of time to put it all together.

The better approach is to decide on the crucial information you need to impart and choose the most direct way to get that across while keeping everyone’s interest. Less elaborate, more pointed, and engaging all at the same time.

Zero, in this case, would mean starting with the essential things you want people to know or learn and build from there. A PowerPoint and handout might be all you need! The best part is that you would greatly reduce your time and energy consumption.

How to use this info?

The best tactic for using this information is to select one thing you want to get done and use all four of these steps to approach it. Every step doesn’t apply every time. Choose those you need. My two favorites are “defining done” and “simplify.” See what works for you!

That’s all for today.

Hope you have a great week!

All my best,


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