We have become workaholics and are perpetually exhausted. We crave more balance between our work and home lives, but the last year of living during the Covid pandemic has exacerbated the problems we have now shoved under the rug. Out of sight, but sadly, not out of mind. We seem to be working harder and longer and constantly blurring the lines between our professional and personal lives. Based on behavioral economics, philosophy, physics, and neuroscience, in his new book, Effortless, Greg McKeown unveils tips to working smarter, not harder. They are simple yet brilliant strategies, and therefore easy to apply.
When your cognitive load is at capacity, every bump seems like an insurmountable mountain. You feel the need to constantly be ‘on’ to show that you are a productive member of the team and adding value. Often, the marginal return of working harder, is in fact, negative. You, therefore, have three choices:
1. Continue at the same pace and be miserable;
2. Lower your bar of excellence;
3. Find an easier way with less resistance to achieve success.
McKeown recommends the last option and offers a three-step solution:
1. Get into an effortless state
2. Take effortless action
3. Achieve effortless results
To achieve an effortless state, we must first stop overthinking problems and making them appear bigger than they are. As my grandmother used to tell me, “Stop making a mountain out of a molehill.” In other words, stop, take a breath, and consider which solution offers the least resistance.
High achievers control what they can control, so finding ways to handle a challenge is a critical first step. Break things down into achievable tasks, reward yourself for meeting milestones, and consider if what is blocking your achievement is a misguided attachment to outdated regrets and grudges. If so, let it go.
Getting into an effortless state is a critical foundational step. It gives you a state of flow where you are entirely focused, physically rested, mentally energized, and emotionally unburdened. You are fully present and able to focus on what is essential at the moment. There are five steps to this process which involve inverting a seemingly complex problem and making it easier, pairing the important activities with things you enjoy, letting go of negative feelings which serve as an unintended anchor, the ability to rest and recharge, and the ability to develop a heightened state of awareness by focusing on the important and ignoring the irrelevant.
In the state of effortless action, you are in the zone and begin to accomplish more by trying less. You achieve your purpose with intention, not exertion. Another five step process takes you through this phase. The precise start and completion phases are defined, tasks are broken down into small manageable pieces, and procedures are simplified. Any progress is considered a step in the right direction, and an effortless pace is maintained.
To continue this process, you reach the final stage. This requires a higher stage of development so that the process becomes embedded in who you are, and the practice can work off of muscle memory. Learning principles trumps memorizing facts. Lift others as you learn more. Free up time in the long term by automating as many essential tasks as possible. Trust your team and believe that you hired the right people. Finally, do not just manage a problem; solve it before it happens. Invest time into simple actions which can prevent future complications.
High achievers want to obtain results and wish to achieve them immediately. When we
do this, we are in danger of getting ahead of ourselves. McKeown warns, “We spend most of our time focusing on the next 10 steps instead of just the next step. The results of this can be disastrous. The task begins to feel insurmountable. We become overwhelmed. We begin to overcomplicate things. The solution becomes harder to recognize and execute.”
All hope is not lost. Success can be achieved by focusing on the next task and taking actionable steps. McKeown suggests asking yourself, “What is the very next thing that needs to be done to make meaningful progress? Start there. When you do this, momentum begins to build. One win leads to another and instead of this daunting problem that requires immense effort, the task becomes manageable, almost effortless.”
The Covid pandemic, working from home for what seems like an eternity, and the desire to avoid the feeling we are not doing enough is simply not sustainable. McKeown’s new book, Effortless, provides a plan for you to achieve more by approaching tasks differently and ultimately freeing up time and letting go of unhelpful levels of stress.
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