Greg McKeown is the bestselling author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less and his new book Effortless: Make It Easier To Do What Matters Most. He is also the host of the popular podcast, What’s Essential, which has featured guests like Matthew McConaughey, Ariana Huffington, Jay Shetty, and Maria Shriver.
We all know life is hard, in multiple ways. We’ve all experienced challenging times, especially over the past year. But, as Greg points out, we tend to make things even more complicated for ourselves than we need to, and it can ultimately lead to burnout.
In his book, Effortless, Greg shares why achieving results doesn’t have to be as hard as we make it, whether in our personal lives or at work.
Why we need to get rid of the phrase “work hard, play hard”
This phrase, Greg says, gives us the idea that important work can’t be fun, easy, or enjoyable. It suggests that you have to be exhausted, self-sacrificing, and overworked in order for you to be doing something important. And on the other side, if you are having fun with something it’s not really work. Rest, relaxation, and fun is only something you do when you’re burned-out and need a break.
But what Greg believes is that there doesn’t need to be a separation between playing and working. And he is all about making the essential things enjoyable and easier to do. How? By turning the essential things into rituals that allows you to appreciate them and enjoy them.
A lot of times we confuse rituals with habits, but they are two different things. A habit is something that we make part of our routine on the basis that there will be a benefit later on. For example, maybe you’ve incorporated working out into your routine so that you feel better and live longer.
A ritual is something that you truly enjoy, it’s not about a benefit later on, it’s about enjoying the actual thing you are doing in the moment. It’s something that you look forward to. Greg says, “Take something from a chore and turn it into a ritual, then you have something magical to help you produce great results, but again, without burning out.”
What does it mean to be in an effortless state
One of the three main sections of Greg’s book is about what he calls an effortless state. Most people have experienced this sort of state, but not very often. Greg defines an effortless state as this, “when you’re in flow, it’s when you’re physically rested, you’re mentally at ease, you’re able to be at ease in focusing on what is essential to you. What’s important to note about this is that when you get into that state, it produces things. When you’re in the effortless state, you tend to take effortless action, you’re able to act without strain, without forcing things without breaking yourself or the people around you.”
That sounds great, so how do we get into an effortless state and make sure we stay there for a long time? Well first of all, you have to be able to realize when you are burned out. Research shows that the closer we get to burnout, the less likely we are to realize it.
Greg says, “The exhausted state tends to produce more exhausted action, and more exhausted results. And so people as they approach burnout start to try to power through it. So of course, that’s not a recipe for success. That’s a recipe for, you know, continuing this downward spiral.”
So it is up to us to realize that there are two states, two options. After we realize we are in an exhausted state, this is where your rituals come in.
One ritual Greg does to make sure he stays in an effortless state, is to practice gratitude. Every time he complains about something, he then says something he is thankful for. It is hard to stay in a state of anger, frustration, or fear when you are in a state of gratitude.
How to shut your brain off and be content with having free time
A lot of us have trouble taking time to rest, relax, and just have some free time. This is especially hard for entrepreneurs who tend to always create more work for themselves. But it’s true for people inside of organizations as well.
If this is true for you, Greg has some advice. First of all, he says, create a done for the day list. This is not a typical to-do list, although it is okay to have one of those as well. But typically those tend to be something we constantly add on-to and update, which means we could work with no end. But a done for the day list is a list of the things that if you accomplish them today you would feel satisfied with the day and you could walk away from work feeling good.
Another thing Greg does is he sets a time when he will be done for the day. His time is 5:00pm, so at that time every day, not only does he stop working, but he makes it a ritual that he walks out of his home office and calls out to his family “It’s five o’clock”, in order to hold himself accountable.
Now there are times when he has something special like a book launch or something like that when he has to work past his set time, but he doesn’t let that become the normal thing.
It is so important to set boundaries like the done for the day list and the set stopping time, especially during this past year. For a long time people have talked about work-life balance, but as Greg mentions, that’s a bit of a misnomer because it is never life overtaking work, it’s always work overtaking life.
But it will take time to train your brain to shut off at a certain point, in the beginning your brain will continue to think about work even after you walk away from it, but the more you practice your boundaries and get out of your old habits the easier it will be.
What to do if you don’t enjoy downtime
So now that you have set up some boundaries for yourself, what happens if you just don’t enjoy resting or free time? For over-achievers it can feel uncomfortable to not have anything specific to do. Greg shares something that sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s so true. He says, “Relaxing is a responsibility. Resting is a competency. And it turns out to be as important as the competency of work in the first place.”
These types of people who don’t like to relax need to practice self-awareness and realize that is a problem they have. Once you accept that you aren’t good at it, Greg suggests making a list of things that when you do them you are relaxed, rejuvenated, chilled out, and having fun. Greg and his wife both actually have a list of 20 things they recognize helps them relax. And you can have anything you want on this list, there are no other rules.
You may include going on a walk, reading a book, sitting in a hot tub, playing chess, drinking your favorite beverage out on your deck, going to your favorite restaurant–anything you want. And then these items become your building blocks for a time of rest. For example, if you have 3-hours of downtime, use this list to build your perfect 3-hours of relaxing. You could spend 30 minutes out on your deck with some coffee, spend 30 minutes playing chess with a friend, then go for a walk, and go out to your favorite restaurant–and you’ve filled those 3 hours, but with things that recharge you and give you rest.
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