1 Big Idea to Think About

  • If you want to accomplish a goal or make a contribution that far exceeds your ability to push harder, then you have to stop investing in linear effort that gets linear results and harness the power of leverage through residual effort.

1 Way You Can Apply This

  • Look around your world and take note of examples of leverage. Some examples could include:
    • Someone using a tool like a wheelbarrow.
    • Someone who is using a bottle opener.
    • Someone who is using financial leverage through a loan.
    • Someone who is using social leverage through networking.

1 Question to Ask

  • Which area or areas of my life would best benefit from leverage and residual effort?

Key Moments From the Show 

  • What are linear results? (2:59)
  • Residual results – a far better alternative (4:31)
  • Powerless effort vs. Effortless power (7:41)
  • The importance of leverage (8:24)
  • The 10X dilemma (13:54)
  • How to start recognizing leverage opportunities in your life (15:21)

Links and Resources You’ll Love from the Episode

Greg McKeown:

Welcome everyone. I’m your host, Greg McKeown. I’m the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Effortless as well as Essentialism, and I am on this journey with you to design a life that really matters, to be able to learn how to do that a little better every day, and then to be able to share it with people around me, and you are among that group. 

I’ve been thinking about you and about how easy it is to get trapped in linear living. Have you ever been trapped by reactively doing things that just get results one time today, that just get you through the immediate, urgent needs of your life and don’t seem to be able to get you ahead? I know I have, and for a lot of people, they really feel that this is the best that they can do, but we have learned by experience that there’s a much, much better way than this to shift between linear thinking and residual thinking between linear results and residual results.

This is part one of a five-part series focused specifically on how you can achieve 10 x results; however, you want to measure that but without burning out. This is loosely based on the last five chapters of Effortless, so if you have your copy, you can use that to be able to do further reading, and if you haven’t got your copy yet, now is the time to begin. By the end of this episode, you will have learned the first lever that you can use to be able to break through to that next level, but without burning out, let’s get to it.

Thank you to those of you who have subscribed to the 1-Minute Wednesday newsletter. It comes out, of course, on Wednesday. It can be read, of course, in just about a minute. We’re looking for a less but better design, and people seem to be appreciating how we’re approaching it. 175,000 subscribers to the newsletter and counting. If you haven’t signed up for it yet, go to gregmckeown.com/1mw. Sign up and see if being a member of that community doesn’t help you to be able to really design a life that is meaningful and that matters. 

What do I mean by linear results? Whenever your inputs create a one-time output, you are getting a linear result. Every day, you start from zero. If you don’t put the effort in today, then you don’t get the result today. It’s a one-to-one ratio. The amount of effort you put in equals the results received. Linear results exist in every area of endeavor. If you are listening to this and you are an employee who works one hour and gets paid for that hour, you have a linear income. If you’re a student who crams for a test, regurgitates facts, and gets a grade, you are acquiring linear knowledge. If you’re listening to this and you decide to exercise for an hour today, but tomorrow you’ll have to decide again whether to exercise. You have just made a linear decision. An entrepreneur listening right now who makes money only when she is actively working has a linear business model.

If you’re a volunteer and you serve once and make an impact once, then you are making a linear contribution. If you’re listening right now and you know that you have to exert great effort to make yourself do something today, then you are taking linear action. A father who has to remind his children to do the same chore every day is practicing linear parenting. 

Linear results, as you would imagine, are limited. They can never exceed the amount of effort exerted, and what many people don’t realize is that there exists a far better alternative. Residual results are completely different. With residual results, you exert effort once and reap the benefits again and again and again. Results continue to flow to you whether you put in additional effort or not. Results flow to you while you are sleeping. Results flow to you when you are taking the day off.

Residual results can be virtually infinite. Think of the contrasts. An author, of course, I speak from experience, who writes a book and has paid royalties for years and years is getting residual income. If you’re a student and instead of cramming for tests, only your learning first principles that you can apply in understanding a whole variety of circumstances over time, you are acquiring residual knowledge. Think of that. 

If you have ever made a one-time decision to exercise every day, you have made a residual decision. An entrepreneur who sets up her business to work even when she’s on a vacation for six months has a residual business. A social entrepreneur who provides micro-loans that are repaid so that they can be loaned out again and again is making a residual contribution. 

Of course, we could go on a person who does something every day habitually without thinking, without effort, is benefiting from residual action. A mother who delegates a whole chore to her child and makes it fun, and puts in an accountability system, so it happens every day without prodding, is practicing residual parenting. I could do better at that right now in my life. I’ll tell you that for sure. 

I know as you’re listening to this, perhaps it sounds like it’s just an exaggeration, but I don’t think it is. The very thought of getting perpetual results might seem improbable, impossible, unrealistic, but that’s really because we’ve got so used to this taking one action and getting one result. But there are tools, and not a few, that we can use to turn our modest effort into effortless results again and again, and residual results are like compound interest. 

Benjamin Franklin summarized the idea of compounding interest best when he said, “Money makes money and the money that makes money.” Or, put another way, when we’re generating compound interest, we are creating effortless wealth. Well, that same principle is not a business principle, it’s not a money principle, it’s just a human principle, a natural law that can be applied to many other pursuits as well. 

What I’m emphasizing here is the difference between powerless effort versus effortless power. Powerless effort is what happens when we get into a linear mindset. Effortless power is what we get once we have started building residual machines in our lives that produce results for us. So we’re working not just in our life but on our life, not just working in our business but on our business, not just working in our family but on our family so that we make the system work for us. We stack the decks in our favor. 

To be precise now about the idea of leverage a literal lever, it’s a simple machine that makes work easier. It’s made up of a rigid beam that rests on top of a fulcrum, so the longer the distance between the fulcrum and the spot on the beam where the force is exerted, the less force is required to move a heavy object or lift a heavy load. The lever, in other words, multiplies the impact of the effort we put in. If you’ve ever played on a seesaw, if you’ve ever used a bottle opener, a crowbar, if you’ve ever rode a boat in all those situations, and so many more, you were using a lever. 

Archimedes, the great mathematician and mechanical engineer, is considered to be the first to have discovered the principle of leverage, at least in this literal way. He’s thought to have said that if he had a long enough lever and the right place to stand, he could move the world, but I admit, I’m absolutely fascinated by how we can apply the principle of levers of leverage, and the reason for that is because life is so pathetically short and my ability to exert effort, so pathetically small.

So if you want to make a contribution that lasts beyond today, maybe for years into the future, maybe for generations into the future, if you want to make a ripple effect that far exceeds your ability to push harder, then you have to get into the game of levers. 

I just this week was at a keynote at Southwest Airlines, and I began the whole conversation by asking them to put their hands up if they wanted to achieve 10 x results, significantly better results in either quality or quantity or both. Every hand went up, hundreds of people in the room, every single hand went up. Second question, who here can work ten times harder? Not one hand in the entire room goes up. You put those two questions together; that’s the 10 x dilemma. That’s what you are facing right now in your life. 

You want better results. Maybe you want better results in your career. Maybe you want better results in your personal health. Maybe you want better relationships at home. Maybe you want to be able to build a business, but you are already maxed out. You want the better results, but you can’t put in more effort. What do you do in that situation? That’s why I wrote Effortless. It was for people just like that, and if you are in that category, and basically I’m sure that you are because you are here, you are listening to this podcast, you could be doing all sorts of other things, so you self-select in as a certain kind of person, thoughtful, driven, already successful. But as David Allen said to me on this podcast, you’re running out of space. 

So here’s all I want you to do today. I want you to develop a heightened awareness of the leverage that exists all around you. All I want you to do is start looking for examples of leverage in your everyday experience. Just today, if you are listening to this and you are on a walk, look around you right now. You use or see someone using a nutcracker. Anyone who’s using a wheelbarrow is, of course, an example of leverage. The wheel and the handles allow you to transport heavy loads with less effort. The next time you see someone using a bottle opener, of course, you’re using leverage to pry open the cap from the bottle, but also see it in a metaphorical way. Think about how you have used financial leverage in your life, borrowing money to invest in a business or real estate, the home that you own. In these ways, you are using someone else’s money to potentially amplify your returns. That’s leverage. If you’ve ever done one thing to become an essentialist, then you have used leverage because prioritization is leverage. You’re leveraging your time by concentrating on what matters most on what’s essential, so then you can get far more back for the return of that hour of time.

Have you ever been successful in networking? Have you ever built a professional relationship with someone that helped to leverage you in your career? Well, you’re listening right now to this podcast, so that’s leverage too. Technology. If you are using smartphones, computers, especially if you are using them rather than them using you, that’s leverage. Although, to be honest, they’re both leverage. The technology companies, when they distract you, are certainly leveraging that technology to get your value into their pockets, so we might think about that as a negative type of leverage, but it’s still leverage. 

We could go on because, really, almost all human progress is a function of finding and using levers true in the physical world, true in the financial world, true in the social world, and true in the educational world. I mean, true in the totality of our lives. Progress is a function of levers, and that’s the assignment to just look around and see if you can increase your awareness of the levers you are using and other people around you are using. 

I’ll leave you on poignant question. How might your life be fundamentally different in 10 years if you consistently focused and acted on one essential lever that you’re currently under-investing in or not using at all?

Thank you. Really thank you for listening to this new series. We’re going to go through five specific leavers together to be able to break through to the next level without burning out, and I want you with me on this journey. 

What is something that stood out to you today? What is one thing you can do about it immediately to put it into action, and who can you bring along with you on this journey? This podcast is now consistently in the top 10 in the educational category out of all of the podcasts available. It’s in the top 200 podcasts of all podcasts in the United States. That’s because of you, but we’ve just begun on this journey. My commitment to you is that I want to make this podcast better and better over time, more and more relevant and valuable to you. What I’m asking from you is that you’ll share this with other people, share it with your teams, share it on social media. Use those tools to leverage these messages to make a bigger difference to other people. 

If you’ve got value out of this episode, please write a review on Apple Podcasts. The first five people who do that from today’s episode will get access to one year for free of the Essentialism Academy. You just go to gregmckeown.com/essential for details. Thank you. Really thank you for listening, and I’ll see you next time.