In this episode of The Feel Good Effect, we’re talking about how to make more of the important things in our life effortless with author, Greg McKeown.

Listen in to the episode or read the article to learn his tactical, science-backed tips!

how to make anything effortless with greg mckeown

Greg McKeown, a New York Times bestselling author, is joining us to talk about the powerful idea of essentialism (or the disciplined pursuit of less). He’s walking us through the necessary mindset shifts and behavior changes we can use to make the things that matter most easier.

Plus how to transform tedious tasks into enjoyable rituals, set a sustainable pace instead of powering through, and use “microbursts” to get more of the right things done.

“Productivity is about getting more stuff done, essentialism is about getting more of the right things done”. 

Greg McKeown
what is “essentialism”?

The book Essentialism: A Disciplined Pursuit of Less is really about seeing your life through a lens of asking, “is this essential?”. And if it’s not – eliminating, reducing, or delegating it.

The goal of essentialism is to make sure that nonessentials don’t get prioritized in your life. It’s about not living a life that is busy (but not productive) or a life in which others’ agendas interrupt & control your life.

It acknowledges the truism that if you don’t take responsibility for the prioritization of your life, someone else will.

is essentialism all about productivity?

We get put into boxes that exist (not necessarily the boxes that should exist), leaving Essentialism to fall under productivity. Yet, it really is its own category that doesn’t exist. Where productivity is about getting more stuff done, essentialism is about getting more of the right things done. It’s a meaningful difference.

On one hand, you could get to the end of your day, have checked off many items from your to-do list, and feel a sense of satisfaction. But on the other, you could do the same but feel exhausted without satisfaction. You could have been successful but not feel satisfied because you didn’t invest your time and attention into the most important things. You might feel worn out but have that gnawing guilt because the true asset of your life was not prioritized. It begs the question, “can you set up a life where you protect the asset that is you?”.

It’s important to not just go for more productivity. Instead, you need a new mental model of essentialism. Essentialism starts by protecting the asset that is you, investing in you and the most important relationships in your life and giving yourself permission to be selective about what projects you put into the closet of your life. 

You have permission to be selective and thoughtful about what you do and don’t do. There is permission to not have to “do it all” or be it all. Permission to not think you have to have it all. And certainly permission to reject the idea that just because you can do it all you will get it all.

“You are an asset. Your value is not only the value you are to other people. It’s not selfish to understand that you are an asset”. 

Greg McKeown
how to look at your life through a different lens

There are really two moments in a person’s life: the moment before they recognize they are full of mental models and the moment afterwards. 

Many are so busy going through life that they aren’t stepping aside and looking at it. They think that the way they see something is the way it is. Then when others, like children, behave in ways different to us, we think there is something wrong with them & that they just need to do it this way.

The risk of being too busy living to think about life is that your filter is shaping and framing every decision you make. You just may not be aware of it as it’s happening. You can start to see things differently when you recognize that you have mental models – a lens on your mind, a set of beliefs, ways of thinking, and a series of assumptions already in your head. This invisible lens inside of you shapes the decisions you make, the experience & quality of your life, and the relationships you have.

Essentialism is about taking off the lens of nonessentialism. Nonessentialism is a con – it says you have to do it all, and if you do it all, you’re going to get it all. What nonessentialism actually produces, however, is burnout, exhaustion, frustration.

Where did this idea that we have to do it all come from? Maybe we picked it up from the media, maybe our family of origin had a set of assumptions of what you should do and how you should act. How do we get rid of it all so we can see clearly, a few things that are essential, almost everything is noise?

essentialism shouldn’t be confused with minimalism

Although it is starting to be grouped with minimalism, essentialism grew out of the work Greg had done in coaching and life experiences. He was naming that process of disciplined pursuit of less. 

What is essential to one person could be very different to another; not everyone’s lives look the same. Sometimes there is a rigid, black & white view of minimalism (houses with modern-styled furniture, no clutter whatsoever, perfectly organized and curated). But essentialism is not necessarily interested in that aesthetic or rigid view.

Essentialists’ houses could be very different from each other. Full of relationships, full of mess (because life is messy), and full of color. You may be able to take a photo of what minimalism looks like, but essentialism isn’t something you can capture in one image.

“Instead of a disciplined pursuit of more, we need a disciplined pursuit of less”. 

Greg McKeown
rethinking how we see easy paths vs. hard paths

Greg’s newest book, Effortless, asks us to consider that an easier path can be the noble, virtuous path. Taking the hard, sacrificial path isn’t the only good path in life; there is so often a good alternative, even in the midst of difficult circumstances.

We can ask, what is the mental model that might ease life’s inevitable burdens & help make today and tomorrow a little easier?

When your responsibilities are immense, you can’t use all the fuel in one moment to keep the fires burning. You have to design a life that is sustainable, doable, and easier – so that you can be around for the next challenge.

transforming the essential into the effortless

This is a time in which everyone seems to be burned out. We don’t need to be told to do more or sacrifice more. What we need is a different way to work and a different way to get the results that really matter, to get the important things done in a way that don’t burn us out.

It’s not about life always being easy, it’s simply about entertaining the question, what if this didn’t have to be so hard? At the core of that, some things are indeed happening outside of our control. However, what we can control is how we respond. This can be an empowering & fundamental mindset shift.

How could this be made effortless? Stop distrusting the easy and open yourself to it. Often the questions we ask ourselves are invisible to ourselves. Deliberately asking, “what if this could be easy?” allows our minds to come up with new answers, even to age-old problems. We can think, “well, life is hard” and we just need to muscle our way through it. Or we can ask if this could be effortless & open ourselves up to new possibilities and solutions. 

In an everyday, real-life example, Greg was having trouble keeping his kids around after dinner to help with clean-up. They tried creating a plan to divide and conquer, but it just didn’t work – until his daughter suggested they listen to music while they clean up. Music took something mundane and made it playful. It’s an everyday chore that is now a much more enjoyable practice of effortlessness. 

The more important something is doesn’t mean it has to be less enjoyable. What if the essential things could become the most enjoyable things, the easiest things? That type of approach has the power to change everything.

“Don’t separate the essential work from the enjoyable work”. 

Greg McKeown
using microbursts to make big things feel less overwhelming

One of the concepts Greg talks about in the book is “microbursts” – a practice of setting a timer for 10-minutes to do something. This practice is a solution to the problem we face when something we want or need to do feels too overwhelming to us. That feeling often leads us to just give up the overwhelming, essential thing altogether and move to something that is easier and more trivial.

You do something to get out of the discomfort, but then you’re left with the feeling that there is still something important thing you’re not taking care of. One solution is to set a timer and do a microburst of work. When the timer goes off, you’re done. Either you finished the task or you know that you can feel successful because you completed the microburst. 

For example, Greg has the opportunity to write for the New York Times. Every time he thinks about it, it feels overwhelming, and that’s enough to move onto something else. So instead of sitting down to write it all at once, he set a microburst for just ten minutes. He asks himself, what is the first obvious action? It’s not ‘write an article’, it’s as simple as ‘open the document’. The next time he thought about the article, he knew what the first tangible step was and knew he could do it. He sticks with a routine of 10-minute microbursts every day on this project. Small steps, done consistently, can lead to big results.

The key part of this practice is to make sure you don’t change your goals in a way that might make it feel too big or too overwhelming. Set an upper & lower boundary (say between five and 20 minutes, for five days a week) and don’t go beyond those bounds. Just focus on achieving that level of consistency until that job is done, instead of burning yourself out on the first burst.

It’s enormously valuable (and rewarding) to see yourself take daily action & make progress on something important. And that can all happen once it has become easier to do.

what does it really mean to be healthy?

“The word that comes to mind immediately is ‘light’. One of the reasons we would protect the asset that is us, that we should be healthy mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually is because we want to be able to discern the light within ourselves, around us, inside other people. When we’re exhausted, we just can’t do it. It will not let the light in. Relaxing is a responsibility. To be in an effortless state and then in that state you are then in an way to serve the people that matter most to you. You’ve actually got something to give.”

Greg McKeown
guest bio

Greg McKeown is the author of the New York Times bestseller, “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” and the founder of McKeown, Inc, a company with a mission to teach Essentialism to millions of people around the world. Their clients include Adobe, Apple, Airbnb, Cisco, Google, Facebook, Pixar,, Symantec, Twitter, VMware and Yahoo!. McKeown is an accomplished public speaker and has spoken to hundreds of audiences around the world. His writing has appeared or been covered by Fast Company, Fortune, HuffPost, Politico, and Inc. Magazine and Harvard Business Review. He has also been interviewed on numerous television and radio shows including NPR and NBC. In 2012 he was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. Originally from London, England, McKeown now lives in the Los Angeles area with his wife and their four children. He graduated with an MBA from Stanford University.


Connect with Greg on Instagram @gregorymckwon

Essentialism: A Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown

Effortless: Make it Easier to Do What Matters Most, by Greg McKeown

Order Effortless to get access to a Masterclass on The 21-day Essentialism Challenge, with 21 microadjustments to help pivot your life to make what matters most as effortless as possible.

Tune into the What’s Essential Podcast

other feel good episodes you’ll love

The 80/20 Rule (and How to Use It to Be Brilliant at the Basics)

A Decision Diet for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner (FGE Meals)

Why You Need to be Exercise Snacking

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