1 Big Idea to Think About

  • To get to the next level, you must unlock the relationship between effort and reward. You must increase your return on investment (ROI) and your return on effort (ROE).

1 way You Can Apply This

  • Choose one of the five strategies and actions from the episode and implement it today. 

1 Question to Ask

  • What is my current ROE (return on effort)?

Key Moments From The Show 

  • Strategy 1: Use leverage to create residual results (2:16)
  • Action 1: The 2-minute leverage audit (4:36)
  • Strategy 2: Invert your thinking to find the easier path (5:27)
  • Action 2: How am I making this harder than it needs to be? (8:24)
  • Strategy 3: Maximize your progress through pace (8:31)
  • Action 3: Create an upper and lower bound for your work (11:49)
  • Strategy 4: Build a team you can trust (12:24)
  • Action 4: Use Warren Buffett’s “3 I’s” rule (13:29)
  • Strategy 5: Lift others through the power of teaching (13:50)
  • Action 5: Text someone with whom you want to share these five ideas (14:55)
  • Bonus strategy: Practice radical gratitude (15:15)
  • Bonus action: Two strategies to practice gratitude (19:16)

Links You’ll Love From the Episode

Greg McKeown:

Welcome everyone. I’m Greg McKeown. It’s great to be with you. I’m the author of two New York Times bestsellers, Effortless and Essentialism, and of course, the host of this newly minted Greg McKeown Podcast. I am on a journey with you to learn how to negotiate what really matters when it really matters with the people who really matter. And sometimes, that means negotiating and renegotiating with yourself. I want you to raise your hand if it’s safe for you to do it, where you are if you have ever wanted to achieve significantly better results, even 10X results. I want you to raise your hand if you can work 10 times harder. Now, if you put those two questions together, you can see what I call the 10X dilemma. Everybody wants to achieve 10X results. Nobody can work 10 times harder. What got you here won’t get you there. By the end of this episode, you will learn five things you can do right now to be able to get to that next level. But without burning out, let’s get to it.

If you want to accelerate your learning of what I share with you today, here’s how to do it. Teach the ideas in this podcast episode to someone else within 24 to 48 hours of listening. Who will you share it with? 

The first thing that you can do to break through to the next level, but without burning out, is to use leverage. Think of my friend, Jessica Jakely, who wanted to make a 10X impact. She wanted 10X results. And so she went to Africa with a group of friends. She found an entrepreneur who was completely living day to day. If she didn’t sell produce on the side of the street today, then she didn’t eat today, and her children didn’t eat today. And so Jessica thought, well, what would it take to help her? Not just work in her business but on her business. And it turned out that a rather modest amount, $500, would be a game changer for her. So as a team, they thought, well, maybe we should just take that $500 and give it to her. That would make such a difference. But then they had another thought. They said, well, what if we leveraged the $500? We provide it as a loan, which will help this entrepreneur, but then also help another entrepreneur afterward as it’s reloaned. And then again, and again, and again. Perhaps 10 times the same money could be used to help so many different entrepreneurs. Then inspired by that thought, they had this idea. What if we leveraged again at another level? What if we created a platform that allowed other like-minded people to provide micro-loans to people all over the world? And that’s how kiva.org was born. Just think of the difference. $500 used once versus now, what has grown into 1.3 billion dollars of loans provided with a 97% repayment rate.

That’s what I’m talking about when I talk about 10X impact. In fact, in this case, it’s not 10X; it’s more than 100X. It’s more than a 1000X impact. Now here’s the point. There’s a huge difference between linear results. That is, you put in the effort once, and you get the result once. And if you don’t put in the effort today, you won’t get the result today. That’s linear. Residual results are completely different. You put your effort into it differently. And because you put your effort in differently, you get rewards and results that flow to you again and again and again. 

My invitation to you is to conduct a two-minute leverage audit to ask yourself, what is the ratio of linear results to residual results in my efforts right now? How much of your effort is getting you results one time versus receiving them many, many times over?

If you automate a process, that’s a residual result. If you hire the right person, that’s a residual result. If you create a checklist so that next time you don’t have to think about it or from the beginning, that’s a residual result. If you create your content once and then are able to leverage it into many different formats, into a podcast, into a book, and into research that you publish online, these are all examples of residual results.

Number two is invert. I was coaching somebody one day who works at a university, and her norm is to push herself way past the point of positive return. She’ll work all night If she thinks it will help. And so she doesn’t just get to diminishing returns. She often produces negative returns because she’s so burned out. She’s so exhausted. She is an insecure overachiever. I advised her to invert her thinking completely.

It’s a bit like George Costanza in the episode of Seinfeld, where he does the opposite. Remember, he distrusts his original intuition because his normal intuition has made him so unsuccessful all through his life. And as he inverts his thinking to do the opposite of what he would normally do, it suddenly sparks success after success. Well, in a similar way, insecure overachievers have a basic idea. And it’s this easy equals lazy. And what I want is for you to invert that that easy does not equal lazy. 

In this instance, with the person I was coaching, she received a phone call the next day from a professor at the university who asked her to come and record his class for the semester. And she just jumped into gear. Well, I just want to wow him, she thought. I’m going to impress him so much here. I’m going to do more than he’s even asking. We’ll bring a whole team of videographers. We’ll record his class from multiple different angles. We’ll cut it all together. We’ll add music. We’ll have intros and outros. We’ll put in slides and graphics. And then she remembered the coaching invert. Is there a simpler way to achieve this result so that she doesn’t have to burn out in the process? Well, as she asked a few more questions, it turned out the professor wanted the recordings for just one student who would miss just a few classes. And the solution that she offered was to have another student in the class simply record it on their phone and send it to him whenever he was going to miss. 

Well, the professor was delighted, and the whole phone call took just 10 minutes. She hangs up the phone and sits there in awe. She has just saved herself four months of effort for an entire team of people. And she’s produced a better result for just 10 minutes of interaction. That’s the power of inversion. Here’s the question I want you to start asking, how am I making this harder than it needs to be?

Number three is pace. Go with me to the great age of exploration. This is the 1850s when everyone’s imagination is captured with the question of who will be the first person to get to the South Pole. Because nobody had ever done it. Not Sir Idius in ad 100, not the Vikings in all their adventures around the world, not anyone in the British Navy in all of its prowess. No one had ever got there. And then, two teams were competing to see who would be first. They set off on almost the exact same day from two different places. 

The first team was the British team, and their expedition leader basically followed this principle. Maximum effort will lead to maximum progress. That translated to day one going as far as they possibly could, 20, 30, 40, 50 miles if they possibly could, because, of course, that’s the way to get there fastest. But what happened in practice was that on the first bad weather day, they were so exhausted from having maximized their push for the first few days. They could make no progress at all and ended up having to be back in their tents, just bemoaning the bad weather. Could anyone make progress in weather like this? They asked. 

Well, one team could; the Norwegian team. Their expedition leader had chosen a different rule. He said, we’re going to go 15 miles a day on the good weather days. That meant they had to show restraint. They could go further, but they weren’t going to. But that meant that on the bad weather days, they had enough energy to be able to continue to make progress 13, 14, 15 miles a day.

But then the plot thickens. The Norwegian team gets within 45 miles of the South Pole. They have perfect weather, and they have perfect sledding conditions. It’s almost flat. They know that they can get there within one day, one big push. And to make the decision even harder, they don’t know where the British team is. For all they know the British team is ahead of them. Here’s my question for you, What would you do? Would you pace or push? Be honest about it. I know what I would do. I would push, but the expedition leader said, no, we will pace. And it took them three days, averaging 15 miles a day to get to the south pole. Well, what happens? It turns out that they beat the British team by something in the range of 30 days. Think of that, how different that is from what we intuitively believe should happen.

The British team had accidentally created boom and bust execution. By maximizing their effort, they had actually minimized their progress. If you go back and read the biography Race to the Poles, you find the biographer describes the progress made by the Norwegian team with these shocking words, he said they did it without particular effort. What an outrageous thing to say. It was surely one of the most physically arduous challenges imaginable. And yet that is his summation of the way they made progress. 

Next time you are trying to achieve a 10X result, ask yourself what is the lower bound? And also what is the upper bound of my daily contribution to this? Have a lower bound. Make that so easy you can do it even on a day you don’t feel like it. But then, on the days you feel like pushing way past your limits, show restraint. Stick to the upper bound. Why? So that tomorrow you have the fuel to keep making progress. Here’s another way of thinking about it. A rule for forever. Don’t do more today than you can completely recover from by tomorrow.

Number four, trust. Think of Warren Buffet when he wanted to purchase McLane Industries for 23 billion. Imagine what the costs might be to such a purchase beyond the money. You would have to spend perhaps months with a whole team of lawyers doing due diligence. Which is what made it so extraordinary, what really happened? Buffet said we did everything in a two-hour meeting and a handshake. Now what’s the key behind this? It’s to hire people you can trust completely and then trust them completely. He knew that McLane would have everything exactly as they said they would. And he reported that they did. Now, that’s the difference. Sometimes in our impatience for results, we just work with whoever we can. We hire whoever’s available. And that just means that everything becomes harder than it needs to be. When the trust is low, everything is harder. When the trust is high, everything is easier, even effortless.

So in order to work with the right people, use the three I’s rule. Buffet says he’s looking for people with high integrity, high intelligence, and high initiative. And he observes that if you work with somebody that doesn’t have high integrity, the other two will hurt you. So the order really matters.

Number five is lift, which is just another word for teach, but I love that word. Go back with me to the beginning of the pandemic. Do you remember when there was a shortage of medical masks? Well, one group of people came together to try to solve the problem. And this is how they did it. They created a video that was five minutes long that taught people at home how to be able to create a mask that was safe for frontline workers to use. They produced packs that people could drive through and pick up, go home, create, and drop off, but also to be able to teach other people how to do the same. 

The video went viral, and within one week, a million masks had been created. Within five weeks, 5 million had been created. And that was the goal of this community effort. That is an example of the power of teaching others, to teach others, to teach. 

You can lift whole teams, whole companies. And in this case, whole communities. My invitation at the beginning was that you would teach these five tools to other people to help them to make it more effortless, to achieve 10X results in their life, in their business, and in their relationships. So my invitation right now is to actually text one person that you want to share these five ideas with.

And now a bonus item, radical gratitude. Not long ago, my family and I moved into an idyllic community. It’s white picket fences. There’s no street lamps. There’s more horse trails than roads. And my children seem to really thrive, especially Eve. She’s a slim brown-eyed, blonde head girl with a mischievous grin. She simply cannot stay cross. Even when she tries to be grumpy, she can do it for only a few seconds before bursting into laughter. She loves to be in nature. She read endlessly, devouring books about horses, bees, and insects. She wrote about her adventures in her journal every day. Once, I took Eve on a business trip with me, and I called Anna from the airport and told her Eve literally hadn’t stopped talking since we left an hour and a half before. It was an animated scintillating conversation punctuated with laughter. 

Then Eve turned 14. She hit a growth spurt, began to feel tired a lot, talked to us less, and took longer to do her chores. So, we thought, pretty age-appropriate behavior. But then, on a routine visit to a physical therapist, he noticed that Eve didn’t respond properly to basic reflex tests and suggested you just might want to see a neurologist. We didn’t have to be told twice. 

From there, her symptoms worsened on a daily basis. Within just a few weeks, she could answer only in one-word sentences, speaking in a slurred and monotone voice. We noticed that the right-hand side of her body responded at a slower rate than the left-hand side. It took her two full minutes to write her own name and hours to eat a meal. The light that was once so vibrant and bright in Eve dimed. And then it seemed to go out entirely when she was hospitalized after a major seizure. 

What made the situation worse was that the doctors couldn’t explain any of it. They could not offer us even the beginning of a diagnosis. All we wanted in the world was for Eve to get better. That wasn’t just the most important thing. It wasn’t just essential. It was the only thing. What came into view for me in that moment was two paths for getting there. One made this challenging situation heavier. The other made the challenging situation lighter. And we had to choose which path to take. And maybe this choice seems obvious, but it wasn’t. 

As parents, our instinct was to attack the problem with full force from all directions, worrying 24/7. What the gravity of the situation called for, we assumed, was near superhuman effort, but such an approach would’ve been unsustainable while also producing disappointing results. Mercifully, we took the second path. We realized that the best way to help our daughter and our whole family through this time was not through killing ourselves but was to find ways to make the journey a little easier.


Because we needed to be able to sustain this effort for an unknown length of time. It was not negotiable. We simply could not now or ever burn out. And if your job is to keep the fires burning for an indefinite period of time, you can’t throw all the fuel on the flames at the beginning. Here’s what we learned. If you focus on what you lack, you will lose what you have. And if you focus on what you have, you will gain what you lack. It’s been years now, and Eve continues to get better. In fact, at this moment, I would say she’s really fully back. She smiles and laughs and jokes. She walks and runs, and wrestles. She reads, she writes, she is thriving again. 

But what is left for us are principles and practices that reinforce radical gratitude as a way of operating a new OS for our minds and for our lives. Two practices that support this are, one, after I complain, I will say something I am thankful for. And another is to start every meeting and every interaction with the question “What is going, right?” 

So let’s go back to the questions from the beginning. Have you ever wanted to achieve better results, even 10X results? Have you also been in a situation where you cannot work 10 times harder? That’s the 10X dilemma. For insecure overachievers, what got us here won’t get us there. What we want to do is unlock the relationship between effort and reward, to increase not just our return on investment, our ROI, but our return on effort, our ROE. And if you found this episode useful, please come and listen and subscribe to The Greg McKeown podcast. Sign up for my newsletter, gregmckeown.com/1MW. Read the books Effortless and Essentialism because I didn’t just write these books. I wrote them for you.