Select Page

When the going gets tough…make things Effortless (Book Summary)





Book Summary: Effortless by Greg McKeown

Most things worth doing aren’t exactly easy, especially in schools. Most educators know that there are things that they should do to make classrooms more accessible for all students, maybe changing a certain lesson that they’ve taught the same way for years, maybe implementing a new routine that will maximize instructional time, or perhaps doing something new to differentiate instruction based on student achievement data. But these things are hard, so it can be tempting to put these things on the back burner.


And then you never make the change.


And that nagging feeling haunts you.


And the change feels more and more daunting to complete.


So how do you change your thinking from daunting to done? In his book Effortless, Greg McKeown suggests a simple framework you can use to make difficult changes feel less difficult so that you stop putting them off and start checking them off the list. The next time you find something that you need to change in your classroom, and the change feels difficult enough that you’re tempted to put it off, ask yourself these five questions to turn the difficult task into an effortless one!

Watch a summary of Effortless by Greg McKeown on the Productivity Game




“What does done look like?” 

McKeown suggests that the first step is defining a tangible moment of completion. It’s important that you’re able to say “this is accomplished by…” and then complete the sentence with something you can visualize. So close your eyes and ask “what does done look like?”

Done might look like:

  • All students hard at work on your new lesson
  • Students having their materials ready in half the time that they do now
  • You leaving work 2 hours earlier because you didn’t have to stay after to grade papers



“What steps can I delete?”

Most educators are excellent planners. But sometimes plans can get in the way of completion instead of facilitating it. McKeowns suggestion is to make fewer plans instead of more complex ones, since complex plans can make a big task feel even bigger. So avoid thinking of all that you could do and instead focus on what you must do to make the change. 

“For each nonessential step removed, we gain more time, energy, and cognitive resources to put toward what’s essential.” – Greg McKeown


“What is the obvious first action?”

“We often get overwhelmed because we misjudge what the first step is: what we think is the first step is actually several steps. But once we break that step down into concrete, physical actions, that first obvious action begins to feel effortless.” – Greg McKeown

There’s an old adage about the journey of a thousand miles. By visualizing the first step, you’re able to quickly grasp what you need to do. Just like deleting unnecessary steps from your plan, visualizing the very first obvious action helps you gain momentum and get started. After all, getting started on big changes is the hardest part.

McKeown isn’t the only person who understands starting small. Isaac Newton understood it too!



“What gradual pace can I sustain?”

Another big mistake many people make when tackling a major change is overestimating how much they’ll accomplish in a given amount of time. Instead, figure out what you can realistically accomplish each day to make progress. 

“Do not do more today than you can completely recover from by tomorrow.” – Greg McKeown

By making progress gradual, and realistically deciding what you can do each day, you’ll set benchmarks that will feel small at first, but add up to actual progress in the long run.



“What can I be grateful for?”

During difficult changes, it can be easy (and natural) to focus on the pain you experience during the process. But focusing on the pain will only demotivate you, so ignore it. Rather, repeatedly ask yourself along the way what you’re grateful for in the experience. Focusing on gratitude gives you the psychic boost you need to keep going and sustain success all the way to the finish line.


Coaches can be great gratitude motivators. The Goal Gradient Hypothesis is a great coaching strategy to stay focused on gratitude.


Greg McKeown

Things can often seem hard in a classroom. And being a lifelong learner means you’re always having to change…which can also feel difficult. But when the going gets tough…these five questions from Greg McKeown’s Effortless can be just what you need to get going.

Contact Us

Technical Support

Share This