Effortless by Greg McKeown Summary

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Effortless Book Cover

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

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My Thoughts

Greg’s previous book, Essentialism, is one of my favorite books. Effortless is a sort of continuation of Essentialism. Effortless does a good job of touching briefly on a lot of topics without any fluff. Because most of the chapters take a broad view of each topic, you may want to do more reading on specific areas to get more detailed and actionable advice.

For example, chapter 13 talks about automating tasks and creating checklists to systematize work. The broad concepts of using checklists are discussed, but I recommend reading The Checklist Manifesto for detailed advice on how to create and implement checklists.

The one lesson Greg wants you to take away from Effortless is this: life doesn’t have to be as hard and complicated as we make it.

My Favorite Quotes

  • When we apply effortless actions to high-leverage activities the return on our effort compounds.
  • When we invite joy into our daily routine, we are no longer yearning for the far-off day when it might arrive. That day is always today.
  • After I complain, I will say something I am thankful for.
  • When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. -Maya Angelou
  • When we are fully present with another person we see them more clearly, and we help them see themselves more clearly.
  • Simplicity, the art of maximizing the steps not taken, is essential.
  • Most geniuses prosper not by deconstructing intricate complexities, but by exploiting unrecognized simplicities. -Andy Benoit
  • There is no mastery without mistakes.
  • If you are not embarrassed by your first product launch, you launched it too late. -Reid Hoffman
  • The most useful knowledge often comes from fields different than our own.
  • Reading a book is among the most high-leverage activities on earth.
  • Identify knowledge that is unique to you and build on it.
  • Knowledge may open the door to an opportunity, but unique knowledge produces perpetual opportunities.
  • When we invest our time in actions with a long tail, we continue to reap the benefits over a long period.
  • Each new moment is a chance to start over, a chance to make a new choice.
  • Just think how the trajectory of a life can shift in the most fleeting of moments.

The list of key questions can be found at the end of this summary.

Effortless Table of Contents

[Please let me know if you like this table of contents and how it is formatted. I am experimenting with ways to provide easier navigation within my book summaries.]

Introduction

Greg McKeown says he wrote this book to help you lighten your burdens, not to downplay them. The approaches in this book can make many hard things easier.

  • Burnout is not a badge of honor.
  • What if we took the opposite approach?
  • Essentialism is about doing the right things. Effortless is about doing them in the right way.
  • Motivation is not enough because it is a limited resource. To truly make progress on the things that matter, we need a new way to work and live.
  • Instead of trying to get better results by pushing harder, we can make the most essential activities the easiest ones.
  • What could happen in your life if the easy but pointless things became harder, and the essential things became easier?
  • Perfectionism makes essential projects hard to start. Self-doubt makes them hard to finish. Trying to do too much, too fast, makes it hard to sustain momentum.

Two Types of Results to our Efforts

  1. Linear
  2. Residual
Linear Results
  • One-time benefit
  • 1:1 ratio of return
  • No effort = no results
Residual Results
  • Repeated results without further effort
  • Put in the effort once and reap the benefits again and again
  • Residual results can be virtually infinite
  • When we apply effortless actions to high-leverage activities the return on our effort compounds.

Questions to Consider

  • Have you ever been in a relaxed state and found it easier to get in the zone?
  • Have you ever stopped trying so hard and actually gotten better results?
  • Have you ever done something once that has benefited you multiple times?

The Effortless Concentric Circles

  1. Effortless State (middle circle)
  2. Effortless Actions (second circle)
  3. Effortless Results (outer circle)

In writing this book, Greg made a disciplined pursuit of uncovering answers to the essential question “How can I make it easier to do what matters most?”

Part 1: Effortless State

  • When our brains are at full capacity, everything feels harder.
  • When your brain is full of outdated assumptions, negative emotions, and toxic thought patterns you have less mental energy available to perform what is most essential.
  • The first step towards making things effortless is to clear the clutter in our heads and our hearts.
  • The effortles state is one in which you are physically rested, emotionally unburdened, and mentally energized. You are completely attentive, present, and focused on what is important in that moment. You are able to do what matters most with ease.

Chapter 1: Invert – What if This Could Be Easy?

  • We have created a false dichotomy between things that are essential and hard, and things that are easy and trivial.
  • We don’t even pause to consider that something important and valuable could be made easy.
  • What if the biggest thing keeping us from doing what matters is the false assumption that it has to take tremendous effort?
  • What if instead, we considered the possibility that the reason something feels hard is that we haven’t yet found the easier way to do it?

The Path of Least Effort

  • What if, instead of asking “How can I tackle this really hard but essential project?” We inverted the question and asked, “What if this essential project could be made easy?”
  • Trying too hard makes it harder to get the results you want.

Effortless Inversion

  • One must invert, always invert.
  • To invert means to turn an approach upside down.
  • What if the opposite were true?
  • Inverting can highlight errors in our thinking.
  • Inverting can open our minds to new ways of doing things.
  • Assuming that all worthwhile things take enormous effort, is one way of looking at problems.
  • Effortless inversion means looking at problems from the opposite perspective.
  • Effortless inversion means asking “What if this could be easy?”
  • It means solving problems from a state of focus, clarity, and calm.
  • It means getting good at getting things done by putting in less effort.

Two Ways to Achieve All The Things That Really Matter

  1. Gain superhuman powers
  2. Get better at making the impossibly hard work easier

Removing Complexity

  • Asking the question “What if this could be easy?” is a way to reset our thinking.
  • When you are free of the assumptions that make your problems look hard, you will be surprised at how often an easier solution appears.
  • When a strategy is so complex that each step feels like pushing a boulder uphill, pause and ask “What is the simplest way to achieve this result?”
  • When we remove the complexity, even the slightest effort can move what matters forward.

Chapter 2: Enjoy – What if This Could Be Fun?

  • We all have things we do consistently, not because they are important, but because we enjoy doing them.
  • We all have important activities that we don’t do consistently because we actively dread doing them.
  • Why would we simply endure essential activities when we can enjoy them instead?

Create Building-Blocks of Joy

  • Work and play can complement each other.
  • Together they make it easier to tap into our creativity and come up with novel ideas and solutions.
  • The Lego Group has a culture of productive play that fuels their creativity.

Create Habits With a Soul

  • Habits explain what you do, rituals are about how you do it.
  • Rituals make essential habits easier to sustain by infusing them with meaning.
  • He uses the example of Marie Kondo’s discarding ritual from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
  • Rituals have the power to transform a tedious task into an experience that creates joy.
  • When we invite joy into our daily routine, we are no longer yearning for the far-off day when it might arrive. That day is always today.

Chapter 3: Release – The Power of Letting Go

  • Do you have any items living rent-free in your mind? Outdated goals, suggestions, or ideas?
  • When Greg was six years old, his older brother planted an idea in his mind that it would be cool to have a real stormtrooper costume. Thirty years later he was wearing a stormtrooper costume and realized there was no part of him that wanted to own one. That idea had stayed hidden in his mind for a long time.
  • His wife now uses the question “Is this a stormtrooper?” when Greg thinks about acting on a suggestion without giving it proper consideration.
  • To reclaim space in your brain, you need to send the stormtroopers packing.

Focus on What You Have

  • Have you ever found that the more you complain, the easier it is to find things to complain about?
  • Have you ever found that the more grateful you are, the more you have to be grateful for?
  • Complaining is an example of something which is easy but trivial.
  • Toxic thoughts quickly accumulate. The more mental space they occupy, the harder it becomes to return to an effortless state.
  • When you focus on something you are thankful for, it immediately shifts you from a “lack-state” into a “have-state.”
  • Gratitude develops a positive and self-sustaining system whenever and wherever it is applied.

The Broaden and Build Theory

  • The Broaden and Build Theory in psychology gives an explanation of the benefits of positive thoughts and gratitude.
  • Gratitude develops a positive and self-sustaining system whenever and wherever it is applied.
  • Positive emotions open us to new perspectives and possibilities.
  • Our openness encourages creative ideas and fosters social bonds.
  • These things change us, they unlock new physical, intellectual, psychological, and social resources.
  • A system is self-sustaining if it requires less and less investment of energy over time. Once it is set in motion, maintaining it becomes easier, than easy, then effortless.
An illustration of the broaden and build theory. Image is from Advantage Learn on Facebook.

Let Go of Grudges and Complaining

  • “After I complain, I will say something I am thankful for.” Apply this concept to stop complaining.
  • Attach gratitude to every complaint.
  • Holding grudges makes it harder to focus on the things you truly care about. Let go of them!
  • Ask yourself this “What job have I hired this grudge to do?”
  • Grudges cost us resources but don’t deliver a return on investment.
  • When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. -Maya Angelou

Chapter 4: Rest – The Art of Doing Nothing

  • We need to learn how to take a break.
  • Studies in physiology show that peak physical and mental performance requires a rhythm of exerting and renewing energy.

Relaxing is a Responsibility

  • To maximize gains from long-term practice, individuals must avoid exhaustion.
  • Limit practice to an amount from which you can completely recover on a daily or weekly basis.
  • We all struggle with the tension between not doing enough and doing too much.
  • We can miss the signs that we’ve come to the end of an energy cycle.
  • When we are struggling, instead of doubling down on our efforts, we might consider pausing the action, even for one minute.

How to Take Advantage of Your Body’s Natural Rhythm

  1. Dedicate mornings to essential work.
  2. Break down that work into three sessions of no more than 90 minutes.
  3. Take a short break, 10-15 minutes, in between sessions to rest and recover.

The Recipe for Taking an Effortless Nap

  1. Notice when your fatigue gets to the point that you feel it is real work to concentrate.
  2. Block out light and noise.
  3. Set an alarm.
  4. As you try to fall asleep, banish all thoughts about what you could be doing.

If you are seeking inspiration, the easiest thing you can do is rest your eyes.

Chapter 5: Notice – How to See Clearly

  • There is a difference between seeing and observing.
  • There is a difference between being and being present.
  • How often do you engage in the act of observing?
  • Distractions that keep us from being present make it harder to notice what matters.
  • If we have too many distractions, we eventually become blind to what really matters most.

How to See Clearly

Greg writes about how Steph Curry sees the basketball court more clearly than most athletes. He references the article Steph Curry Literally Sees the World Differently Than You Do by Drake Baer. Both the book and article have interesting details on Curry’s training methods.

  • One study suggests that by training our “attentional muscles” we can improve our processing of complex information moving at great speed.
  • To be in an effortless state is to be aware, present, and alert.
  • In the state of heightened attention, we see differently. We are able to laser in on things that are important.

The Inner Game of Relationship Tennis

Three distinct ways we can respond to a bid for attention from another person.

  1. Turning Toward – a positive response.
  2. Turning Against – an argumentative response.
  3. Turning Away – ignoring the comment (they do not address your comment and respond with something entirely unrelated).

The first two responses are generally healthy for a relationship, the one that does the most damage is the third kind. It signals that these two people do not see each other.

  • We don’t need to agree with the other person on everything, but we do need to be present with them and give them our full attention.

The Curious Power of Presence

  • Can a fleeting moment leave such a lasting trace as shape the trajectory of a life?
  • When we are fully present with people it has an impact, not just at that moment.
  • The experience of feeling like the most important person in the world can stay with us for a disproportionate time after the moment has passed.
  • There is a curiously magical power of presence.
  • Think of someone that was completely present with you in your life. Describe what that was like for you in one word.
  • When we are fully present with another person we see them more clearly, and we help them see themselves more clearly.
  • The greatest gift we can offer to others is simply us.
  • When we are in an effortless state, it becomes easier to give the gift of our intentional focus to the people and things we care most about.

How to Call Up the State of Heightened Perception and Focus

  1. Prepare your space.
  2. Rest your body.
  3. Relax your mind.
  4. Release your heart.
  5. Breathe-in gratitude.

Part 2: Effortless Action

  • Haven’t you found that when you do your very best work, the experience feels effortless?
  • Past a certain point, more effort doesn’t produce better performance, it sabotages our performance.
  • This is the law of diminishing returns. After a certain point, each extra unit of input produces a decreasing rate of output.
  • We can get to a point of negative returns where we are actually decreasing our overall output.
  • There is a point in writing where you make a manuscript worse by working on it longer.

Examples of Overexertion (Trying Too Hard)

  • Trying too hard in a social setting makes it harder to connecting authentically with someone else.
  • Trying too hard for a promotion can wreak of desperation and make you seem less desirable.
  • Trying too hard to look intelligent rarely impresses the people you want to impress.
  • Tring too hard to be cool, relax, or feel good all make it harder to bee cool, relax, or feel good.

Chapter 6: Define – What Done Looks Like

  • If you want to make something hard, truly impossible to complete, make the end goal as vague as possible.
    (Greg uses the construction of the Vasa as an example)
  • You cannot complete a project without a clearly defined endpoint.
  • To get an important project done, it is absolutely necessary to define what “done” looks like.
  • This is similar to the concept of asking yourself “What does ‘done look like?” from Getting Things Done.
  • On the essential projects you are working on, how clear is your idea of what completion looks like?

The Heavy Cost of Light Tinkering

  • To avoid diminishing returns on your time and effort, define clear conditions for what done looks like, get there and then stop.
  • Getting clear on what “done” looks like doesn’t just help you finish, it helps you get started.
  • You can achieve a lot of clarity on what done looks like in a one-minute burst of concentration.
  • Getting the outcome clear focuses you like nothing else can. All of your resources shift into gear to bring that outcome to fruition.

Make a “Done for the Day” List

  • How do we know when the work of the day is done?
  • Create a “done for the day” list of what would constitute meaningful and essential progress.
  • A test is to imagine how you will feel once this work is completed.
  • Ask yourself. If I complete everything on this list, will it leave me feeling satisfied by the end of the day?
  • Is there some other important task that will haunt me all night if I don’t get to it? If the answer is yes, that item should go on your done for the day list.

Chapter 7: Start – The First Obvious Action

Take the Minimum Viable Action

  • We often get overwhelmed because we misjudge what the first step is.
  • Once we break the first step down into concrete physical actions, that first obvious action begins to feel effortless.
  • Taking the first concrete physical step ignites a surge of focused effortless action.
  • Take the first minimum viable first action. This is the action that allows us to gain the maximum amount of learning from the least amount of effort.

The Power of 2.5 Seconds

  • The “now” that we experience lasts 2.5 seconds. One of the implications of this is that progress can happen in tiny increments.
  • Our many actions of 2.5 seconds may not feel like wasting time. Over time, these activities rarely add up to making progress on the goals we hope to achieve. They are easy but pointless.
  • Viewing the next action through the lens of 2.5 seconds is the change that makes every other change possible. It is the habit of habits.

Chapter 8: Simplify – Start with Zero

  • Amazon and their patent on the one-click ordering process that they developed at Jeff Bezos’ direction.
  • The simplest steps are the ones you don’t take.
  • There is a huge difference between simplifying steps and removing steps.

No Matter How Simple the Step, It Is Still Easier to Take No Step

  • What are the minimum steps required for completion?
  • This question can save you untold headaches and get you moving on projects that seem overwhelmingly hard and complex.
  • Eliminating unnecessary steps allows you to channel all of your energy toward getting the important project done.
  • In most realms, completion is infinitely better than adding steps that don’t add value.

Steve Jobs and the Apple iDVD

Here is an anecdote about Steve Jobs from this chapter.

Mike Evangelist (yep, that’s his name) still remembers one of his first meetings with Jobs. It took place in the Apple boardroom in early 2000, just a few months after Apple purchased the American division of Astarte, a German software company where Evangelist was an operations manager.

Phil Schiller, Apple’s longtime head of marketing, put Evangelist on a team charged with coming up with ideas for a DVD-burning program that Apple planned to release on high-end Macs — an app that would later become iDVD.

“We had about three weeks to prepare,” Evangelist says. He and another employee went to work creating beautiful mock-ups depicting the perfect interface for the new program. On the appointed day, Evangelist and the rest of the team gathered in the boardroom. They’d brought page after page of prototype screen shots showing the new program’s various windows and menu options, along with paragraphs of documentation describing how the app would work.

“Then Steve comes in,” Evangelist recalls. “He doesn’t look at any of our work. He picks up a marker and goes over to the whiteboard. He draws a rectangle. ‘Here’s the new application,’ he says. ‘It’s got one window. You drag your video into the window. Then you click the button that says BURN. That’s it. That’s what we’re going to make.’ “

“We were dumbfounded,” Evangelist says. This wasn’t how product decisions were made at his old company. Indeed, this isn’t how products are planned anywhere else in the industry.

Source: Fast Company Article
  • Steve Jobs tried to figure out the absolute minimum number of steps required to produce the desired outcome.
  • If there are processes in your life that involve an inordinate number of steps, try starting from zero.

Maximize the Steps Not Taken

  • In February 2001, seventeen people met at a ski resort in Utah to discuss software development (full story).
  • They developed The Manifesto for Agile Software Development.
  • The manifesto codified a set of principles for developing better software by removing obstacles, and friction, to create an effortless user experience.
  • One of the agile principles is: “Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.
  • We can adapt this principle of simplicity to our daily lives.
  • Many seemingly complex goals and tasks can be completed in just a few steps.
  • Most geniuses prosper not by deconstructing intricate complexities, but by exploiting unrecognized simplicities. -Andy Benoit

Chapter 9: Progress – The Courage to Be Rubbish

  • In your own pursuit of what matters, don’t try to get everything exactly right the first time, embrace the rubbish.
  • Pixar tries to create a culture that creates a space for rubbish. There would be no Buzz Lightyear without hundreds of awful ideas along the way.
  • Overachievers tend to struggle with the notion of starting with rubbish, they hold themselves to a high standard of perfection at every stage in the process. The standard to which they hold themselves is neither realistic nor productive.
  • There is no mastery without mistakes.

Make Failure as Cheap as Possible

  • Give your children a chance to be rubbish with money while the stakes are low.
  • To make effortless progress on what matters, learning-sized mistakes must be encouraged.
  • Let go of the absurd pressure to always do everything perfectly.
  • If you’re not embarrassed by your first product release, you released it too late. -Reid Hoffman

Protect Your Rubbish from the Harsh Critic in Your Head

  • A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable but more useful than a life spent doing nothing. -George Bernard Shaw
  • Even rubbish words are more powerful than a blank page.
  • Inspiration flows from the courage to start with rubbish.

Chapter 10: Pace – Slow is Smooth, Smooth is Fast

  • When we try to make too much progress on a goal or project immediately, we can get trapped in a cycle of becoming tired, taking a break, then sprinting again.
  • Going too fast at the beginning will almost always slow us down the rest of the way.

The Upside of Upper Bounds

  • Holding back when you still have energy may seem counterintuitive. This kind of restraint can be key to breakthrough productivity.
  • It is important to pace yourself.
  • Set an upper bound of work you will do each day (hours per day, words per day, miles per day, etc).

The Right Range

  • All progress is not created equal.
  • Some “progress” can be counterproductive and create more work.
  • One of Greg’s daughters learned this the hard way. She was responsible for taking care of their chickens and they encouraged her to do it every day. She tried to give them three times the food and water and skip a few days. One of the chickens died of dehydration. It would be been best to keep to a daily routine.
  • To make progress on a daily basis we need to choose the right range and keep within it.
  • Establish upper and lower bounds.
  • Use the following rule: never less than X and never more than Y.
  • Sales example: never less than 5 sales calls a day, never more than 10 sales calls a day.
  • Writing example: never less than 500 words a day, never more than 1,000 words a day.
  • The lower bound should be high enough to keep us feeling motivated and low enough that we can still achieve it even on days when we are dealing with unexpected chaos.
  • The upper bound should be high enough to constitute good progress, but not so high as to leave us feeling exhausted.

Part 3: Effortless Results

  • Linear results are limited, they can never exceed the amount of effort exerted.
  • Residual results are completely different, you exert effort once and reap the benefits again and again.
  • Results continue to flow to you whether you put in any additional effort or not.
  • Examples: compound interest, learning first principles, authors royalties.
  • A person who does something every day habitually, without thinking and effort, is benefiting from residual action.
  • When we are generating compound interest, we are creating effortless wealth.

Powerless Effort vs Effortless Power

  • A lever multiplies the impact of the effort we put in.
  • We can apply the principle of leverage in many areas.
  • Two ways to approach getting things done. The hard way is with powerless effort, the easy way is with effortless power.
  • Levers give us effortless power.

Five Levers That Turn Modest Input Into Residual Results

  1. Learning – personal capability compounds over time.
  2. Teaching – teach others to teach and you get exponential impact.
  3. Automating – automate something once, and it works perpetually.
  4. Trusting – if you hire the right person once, they will produce results hundreds of times.
  5. Preventing – solving a problem before it happens can save you endless time and aggravation.

Chapter 11: Learn – Leverage the Best of What Others Know

  • It is tempting to seek out easy methods to solve a problem right away.
  • A method may be useful to solve one specific type of problem, but principles can be applied broadly and repeatedly.
  • Specific methods produce only linear results.
  • Principles produce residual results.
  • First-principles are like the building blocks of knowledge, once you understand them correctly you can apply them hundreds of times.
  • Methods are many, principles are few.
  • The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble. -Harrington Emerson

Seek Principles

  • Not all knowledge has lasting value.
  • When you understand why something happened, or how something works, you can apply that knowledge again and again.
  • A student who learns the fundamental principles of any discipline can apply that understanding in a variety of ways over time.
  • Learning the right thing once is a bargain. A one-time investment of energy upfront yields effortless results over and over.

Find Commonalities

  • Learn and study mental models.
  • Universal principles don’t just apply to science, they can provide mental shortcuts for understanding people.

Grow a Knowledge Tree

  • Knowledge can be viewed as a tree. Make sure you understand the fundamental principles (trunk and big branches) before you get into the details (leaves), or there is nothing for them to hang onto.
  • When we understand the fundamentals of knowledge, we can anchor additional knowledge in the mental models we already understand.
  • By understanding things at their most fundamental level, we can apply them in new and surprising ways. Elon Musk is a living example of this.

Learn the Best of What Others Have Already Figured Out

  • Charlie Munger believes in combining learnings from a range of disciplines: psychology, history, mathematics, physics, philosophy, biology, and more. By doing so, we produce something that is greater than the sum of its parts.
  • Ideas in isolation represent linear knowledge. Interconnected ideas form residual knowledge.
  • The most useful knowledge often comes from fields different than our own.
  • The best new ideas usually come from combining existing knowledge in one field with an intrusion of unusual combinations from other disciplines.
  • The exchange of ideas across disciplines breeds novelty.

How to Get the Most Out of Reading

  • Reading a book is among the most high-leverage activities on earth.
  • For an investment of time roughly equivalent to a single workday, and a few dollars, you can gain access to what the smartest people have already figured out.
  • Reading delivers residual results by any estimate.
  • Use the Lindy Effect for selecting books.
  • The older a book is, the higher the likelihood that it will survive into the future.
  • Prioritize reading books that have lasted a long time.
  • Read to absorb rather than to check a box.
  • Absorbing yourself in a book changes who you are, just as if you had lived the experience yourself.
  • Distill to understand. After you read a book, take ten minutes to summarize what you learned on a single page.
  • The process of summarizing helps us turn information into understanding, and understanding into unique knowledge.

Know What No One Else Knows

  • Being good at what nobody is doing is better than being great at what everyone is doing.
  • Being an expert in something nobody is doing is exponentially more valuable.
  • To reap the residual results of knowledge, the first step is to leverage what others know. But the ultimate goal is to identify knowledge that is unique to you and build on it.
  • Is there something that seems hard for other people but is easy for you? That is an opportunity for you to create unique knowledge.
  • Knowledge may open the door to an opportunity, but unique knowledge produces perpetual opportunities.
  • Gaining unique knowledge takes time, dedication, and effort. You can invest in it once and you will attract opportunities for the rest of your life.

Chapter 12: Lift – Harness the Strength of Ten

  • When we want to make a far-reaching impact, teaching others to teach can be a high-leverage activity.
  • There is no better way to teach than through the power of stories.
  • When you learn to teach, you teach yourself to learn.
  • Teaching others is an accelerated way to learn.
  • If you try to teach people everything about everything, you run the risk of teaching them nothing.
  • Clearly identify, then simplify, the most important messages you want to teach others to teach.
  • These messages should be not just easy to understand, but also hard to misunderstand.
  • Make the most essential things the easiest ones to teach and the easiest ones to learn.

Chapter 13: Automate – Do It Once and Never Again

  • Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations we can perform without thinking about them. -Alfred North Whitehead
  • As many essential steps and activities as possible should be automated.

Is There a Cheat Sheet for This?

  • The section focuses on utilizing checklists and references a lot from Atul Gawande’s book, The Checklist Manifesto.
  • Extreme complexity increases the cognitive load, making us more prone to errors.
  • We need skills and strategies that allow us to apply our knowledge without taxing our working memory.
  • A checklist is a tool that helps address this.
  • My summary of The Checklist Manifesto has more insights on using checklists to automate tasks.

Chapter 14: Trust – The Engine of High Leverage Teams

  • When you have trust in your relationships, they take less effort to maintain and manage.
  • When you have trust, people can talk openly and honestly about problems.
  • When you have low trust on teams, everything is hard. Just sending a text or email is exhausting.
  • You can’t have a high performing team without high levels of trust.

The Hire That is Worth More Than 100 Other Hires

  • The best way to leverage trust is to select trustworthy people to be around.
  • Hiring someone trustworthy starts with making sure you are hiring someone honest and honorable, someone you can trust to uphold a high standard when nobody is looking.
  • Hiring someone who is trustworthy is also about hiring someone who is conscientious.
  • A trustworthy person is going to do what they say they are going to do when they say they are going to do it and do it well.
  • Hiring the right person is a single decision that produces effortless results.
  • Who we hire is a disproportionately important decision that makes a thousand other decisions.
  • Hiring quickly may lighten the load at first while hiring well will lighten the load consistently and repeatedly.

Warren Buffet’s Hiring Criteria

  • Warren Buffett uses these criteria to determine who is trustworthy enough to hire or to do business with.
  • He looks for people with integrity, intelligence, and initiative.
  • This reminds me of the “humble, hungry, and smart” model from my summary of The Ideal Team Player (one of my favorite books on hiring).

Create a High-Trust Agreement

  • Every relationship has a structure, even if it is an unspoken and unclear one.
  • In a low-trust structure: expectations are unclear, goals are incompatible or at odds, people don’t know who is doing what, roles are ambiguous, nobody knows what the standards for success are, priorities are unclear, and the incentives are misaligned.
  • In a high-trust structure: expectations are clear, goals are shared, roles are clearly delineated, rules and standards are articulated, and the right results are prioritized, incentivized, and rewarded.
  • Taking time to build a foundation of trust is a valuable investment in any relationship. It is a lever that turns a modest effort into residual results.

Elements of a High-Trust Agreement

  • Results – what results do we want?
  • Roles – who is doing what?
  • Rules – what minimum viable standards must be kept?
  • Resources – what resources are available and needed?
  • Rewards – how will progress be evaluated and rewarded?

Chapter 15: Prevent – Solve the Problem Before it Happens

  • Why do so many of us put up with problems (big and small) for so much longer than we have to?
  • One reason is that, at the moment, it usually takes less time to manage a problem than to solve it.
  • From a long-term perspective, the cumulative cost of managing a problem is much higher than solving it once.
  • A few minutes of effort can prevent hundreds of future frustrations.
  • When we invest our time in actions with a long tail, we continue to reap the benefits over a long period.
  • We can get so used to little irritations that we don’t really see them as a problem worth fixing.

How to Break the Habit of Managing Problems Instead of Solving Them

Ask yourself these questions.

  1. What is a problem that irritates me repeatedly?
  2. What is the total cost of managing that over several years?
  3. What is the next step I can take immediately, in a few minutes, to move towards solving it?
  • The goal is to find the most annoying thing that can be solved in the least amount of time.
  • This reminds me of Paul Akers’ philosophy of “fix what bugs you” and in his book 2 Second Lean. It is available for free on his website in several formats. 2 Second Lean is a fantastic book and I highly recommend it.
  • Greg refers to this as long-tail time management.
  • Look for small actions to make your life easier in the future.

The Surprising Power of Striking at the Root

  • Managing a problem is just hacking at the branches.
  • To prevent problems before they arise, we should strike at the root.
  • The sooner you identify a problem, the more likely you are to avert a dangerous situation.
  • Look for small actions that will prevent your life from becoming more complicated.

Conclusion: Now – What Happens Next Matters Most

  • Each new moment is a chance to start over, a chance to make a new choice.
  • Just think how the trajectory of a life can shift in the most fleeting of moments.
  • If you take away just one lesson from this book, Greg hopes it is this: life doesn’t have to be as hard and complicated as we make it.

Key Questions from Effortless

  • What if we took the opposite approach?
  • What could happen in your life if the easy but pointless things became harder, and the essential things became easier?
  • Have you ever been in a relaxed state and found it easier to get in the zone?
  • Have you ever stopped trying so hard and actually gotten better results?
  • Have you ever done something once that has benefited you multiple times?
  • How can I make it easier to do what matters most?
  • What if the biggest thing keeping us from doing what matters is the false assumption that it has to take tremendous effort?
  • What if instead, we considered the possibility that the reason something feels hard is that we haven’t yet found the easier way to do it?
  • What if this essential project could be made easy?
  • What is the simplest way to achieve this result?
  • Why would we simply endure essential activities when we can enjoy them instead?
  • What job have I hired this grudge to do?
  • How often do you engage in the act of observing?
  • Can a fleeting moment leave such a lasting trace as to shape the trajectory of a life?
  • Haven’t you found that when you do your very best work, the experience feels effortless?
  • On the essential projects you are working on, how clear is your idea of what completion looks like?
  • How do we know when the work of the day is done?
  • If I complete everything on this list, will it leave me feeling satisfied by the end of the day?
  • Is there some other important task that will haunt me all night if I don’t get to it?
  • What are the minimum steps required for completion?
  • How often have you sat through a presentation with too many slides, or too many words on each slide?
  • How am I making this harder than it needs to be?
  • Is there something that seems hard for other people but is easy for you?
  • Why do so many of us put up with problems (big and small) for so much longer than we have to?
  • Problem Solving Questions
    • What is a problem that irritates me repeatedly?
    • What is the total cost of managing that over several years?
    • What is the next step I can take immediately, in a few minutes, to move towards solving it?

Related Book Summaries

Hope you enjoyed this and got value from my notes.
This is the 17th book read in my 2021 reading list.
Here is a list of all my book summaries.

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