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Doing What Matters Most with Less Effort

By: John P. (Pat) Philbin, PH.D., PMP

President & CEO

Greg McKeown, the author of Essentialism and Effortless, provides insights, guidelines and techniques to help us become more focused on what is most important, why this is important, and how we—and others—can benefit.

In his earlier work Essentialism, marginal effort spread across too many priorities reduces quality; lack of prioritization permits others to make decisions based on their priorities; removing anything not relevant to the priority reduces complexity; ignoring noise enhances focus; clarity on goal metrics helps us understand when they have been achieved; controlling time around priorities increases the probability of completion; and every decision should be made in accordance with our priorities.

I know these may sound simple—they are not.

Fortunately, McKeown’s subsequent work, Effortless, provides a framework that helps us understand when we are in an “effortless state,” which often is characterized by being “physically rested, emotionally unburdened, and mentally energized.” He challenges us to approach things by “inverting questions” to challenges, aligning essential activities with enjoyable ones, having fun during the process; discovering the “art of doing nothing” to allow our minds to rest, and ignoring noise to allow us to be completely “present.”

Further, the author identifies effortless action as “accomplishing more by trying less.” One of the more useful examples is that of an athlete who takes a break from training to enhance their performance. By clearly defining the desired outcome, initiating action, simplifying processes—which I consider the shortest distance between two points, failing early—but “cheaply,” and pacing activity, the “tortoise” wins the race against the “hare.”

Finally, the results can be characterized as doing things with clarity, precision, and less effort—because they are aligned with priorities, are enjoyable, and are affirming. To help us, McKeown challenges us to:

· Learn principles so they can be applied across challenges; and learn from “giants and leverage the best of what they know;”

· Teach others to reinforce what we have learned and enable/empower them;

· Automate tasks to “free up space in your brain;”

· Leverage checklists to improve consistency and quality;

· “Seek single choices that eliminate future decisions;”

· “Leverage trust as the engine oil of frictionless and high-functioning teams;” and,

· Prevent problems before they happen by solving the root issue of frustrations.

How many times do we allow low priority or irrelevant issues dominate our agendas, creating frustration and anxiety? Although I am not where I would like to be on this journey, I have found that for me, the quicker I understand the root cause—and address it, or the principle—and use it broadly, the results are better.

Imagine an organization that embraced these concepts. How much more effective, productive, and efficient might it be?

Many thanks to smart people like Greg McKeown who identify natural laws that help us focus on what’s most important and useful strategies on how to prioritize them. Effortless is definitely in my “top 5!”

Best regards and be well,



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