Skip to main content

Do you sometimes feel like you’re not making progress despite your best efforts? Or, perhaps you feel so exhausted that you can’t find the energy for your important tasks or to even enjoy your successes? In his previous book, Essentialism, Greg McKeown explained how to define the most essential things to focus on. In this book, he explains how to structure your work to make your essential activities also the easiest ones to achieve. In this Effortless summary, you’ll learn exactly how to do so with a 3-part approach.

What is “Effortless” About?

When we feel overwhelmed, we tend to work harder. Yet, all of us have a finite amount of time and energy. You can only push yourself so far before you eventually burn out.

This is like trying to fit a mix of rocks, pebbles and sand into a jar. The best approach is to start with the rocks (your biggest priorities), followed by the pebbles, then the sand. But, what happens if there are just too many rocks to fit into the jar? If you’ve already distilled down to the most essential stuff and there’s still not enough time, then you need a different approach.

The 3-Part Effortless Approach

“Effortless” is about fundamentally changing how you work. Make the most essential activities the easiest to do, so you needn’t push so hard to get your desired outcomes. It involves 3 parts:

• Get into the Effortless State, where you’re relaxed and performing optimally;

• Take Effortless Action to get better results with less effort; and

• Enjoy Effortless Results with repeated benefits from the same effort.

Here’s a quick visual summary of the 3 parts and their associated strategies:

Effortless - the 3-part process

Applying the Effortless Approach

1. Get into The Effortless State

The brain is like a computer. It has huge computing abilities, but slows down when its capacity is maxed out. When you’re tired or distracted, you cannot operate optimally and any activity seems harder and more effortful. However, after a meal and a good night’s rest, you feel refreshed and everything seems easier.

The Effortless State is where you’re functioning at an optimal mental, emotional, and physical condition. You feel well-rested, light, clear-headed, energized, and focused. You can operate at peak performance to finish your most essential tasks with minimal effort.

Effortless summary - Being in the effortless state

In our full Effortless summary, we’ll elaborate on the various strategies involved, including how to:

Invert: look for an easier or simpler way to achieve the same outcome.

Enjoy: make it fun by combining or pairing your most essential activities with your most enjoyable ones.

Release: let go of emotional burdens that weigh you down and blind you to possibilities.

Rest: tap on your body’s natural rhythms and cycles, and to recover fully and operate at peak performance. [Do check out our summary of The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working to learn more about alternating between intense activity and total rest].

Notice: train your mind to focus and tune out distractions, so you can be fully present to the details and information around you.

2. Take Effortless Action

When we put in extra effort, it usually yields results to some extent before diminishing returns set in. This is when you start to get less output for the same amount of effort.

Effortless Action is about achieving more results with less effort. It occurs when you get in flow and operate “in the zone”. You take action with clarity, instinctively know what to do, and deliver great results with minimal effort.

Effortless summary - Taking effortless action
Check out the details of the specific strategies in our complete Effortless summary, including why/how to:

Define your end-goals clearly to channel your time and effort effectively, then stop when you reach the finish line.

• Start with the obvious 1st step, or “minimum viable action”.

Simplify: start from a blank state to define the minimum steps required for your desired results. Don’t start with a complex process then try to reduce it.

Progress: start with an ugly first draft, then quickly learn and improve it. Don’t try to perfect everything from the onset.

• Move faster at a smooth, steady pace.  Don’t get caught in a boom-and-bust cycle.

3. Achieve Effortless Results

Linear results give you one-time benefits with a 1:1 effort-to-output ratio. For example, you get paid for each hour you work, or must remind your kids to do the same chore daily. Your results are tied to the amount of effort you put in.

Residual results deliver repeated benefits with little or no additional effort. For example, you can write a book once and earn royalties for years, or make a chore so fun that your kids do it automatically.  They come from applying Effortless Action to high-leverage activities.

Effortless summary - Getting effortless results

The specific strategies include:

• Tap on others’ knowledge, to learn the universal principles that you can apply over and over again.

• Leverage a network: reach the masses by teaching others to teach/spread the essential message.

• Use checklists and automate essential tasks and decisions, rather than rely on your memory alone.

• Build trust so you can work more quickly and effortlessly with others around you.

• Identify root causes and take preventive measures to minimize problems. Don’t get lost in constant firefighting.

Getting More from “Effortless”

No matter what challenges or hardships you’ve encountered, how you choose to respond now will decide what happens down the road. Go for the lighter and more effortless path, not the heavier and more effortful one. Don’t make life harder than it has to be.

If you’re ready to take the more effortless route, do check out our full book summary bundle that includes an infographic, 15-page text summary, and a 28-minute audio summary.
Effortless summary - Book Summary Bundle

This is a clear, easy-to-read book with many examples from McKeown’s own experiences, references to other books and lessons from various thought leaders. The book also includes illustrations to bring the ideas to life. You can purchase the book here or visit for more information.

If you found this summary useful, do also check out the summaries for Make Time and Getting Things Done!

About the Author of Effortless

Effortless: Make It Easier to Do What Matters Most was written by Greg McKeown–a speaker, consultant and author. He is the founder and CEO of McKeown Inc., a leadership and strategy design agency. He contributed to major publications such as The New York Times, Fast Company, Fortune, HuffPost, Politico, and Inc. Magazine, and has been interviewed on numerous TV and radio shows. McKeown earned an MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business after studying communications and journalism at Brigham Young University. In 2012, he was inducted into the World Economic Forum of Young Global Leaders.


Effortless Quotes

“Essentialism was about doing the right things; Effortless is about doing them in the right way.”

“What could happen in your life if the easy but pointless things became harder and the essential things became easier?”

“When we let go of our need to punish those who’ve hurt us, it’s not the culprit who is freed. We are freed.”

“Do not do more today than you can completely recover from today. Do not do more this week than you can completely recover from this week.”

“The simplest steps are the ones you don’t take.”

“Make the most essential things the easiest ones to teach and the easiest ones to learn.”

“You can’t have a high-performing team without high levels of trust.”

“Don’t just manage the problem. Solve it before it happens.”

Click here to download the Effortless summary & infographic

Leave a Reply

0 cart

My Cart

Cart is empty