Essentialism: An Interview with Greg McKeown on Success

Essentialism

If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.

We all have essential, important tasks to do in our day-to-day lives (like this morning I had to record the next episode of my podcast).

But if you look at where you spend your time, I bet a ton of it is wasted on some random stuff: Tasks you felt were important (but aren’t),stuff you “need to do” (but really don't), busy work to look productive for your boss (but really doesn't matter).

Why do we do this?

Every day we’re faced with a battle over our time.

And every day, we’re pushed to do more in the limited hours we have:

  • We’re expected to answer hundreds of emails and Slack messages
  • We spend countless hours in meetings (which drag on for too long)
  • We’re surrounded by constant distractions, making it hard to focus on what matters

Saying “I’m sooooo busy” is like a badge of honor. We’re judged for how busy we are… even if the busyness doesn’t help the bottom line.

As a result, our calendars and inboxes are jam packed, and we’re always doing something.

Greg McKeown doesn’t believe life should be focused on the “more, more, more” mentality. His book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, is about pursuing only the most important tasks in life. This is one of my FAVORITE books of all time.

After I talked with Greg, I reworked my ENTIRE approach for this blog. My conversation with Greg blew my mind so much I told one of my Dork Squad team members: “This podcast f*cked with my head.”

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Here are 4 essential lessons from speaking with Greg McKeown:

1. The shortcut is the hard work

If you scour the internet, you’ll find everyone is looking for shortcuts:

  • “10x your email list with these 5-minute hacks!”
  • “Make 6-figures from the beach!”
  • “Here's how I built an empire working 2 hours a day!”

I can see why people buy into this stuff. It’d be amazing to reap all the rewards of hard work without any of the hard work itself.

But if you think that’s going to happen, you’re living in a dream.

The best shortcut is hard work. (Tweet this)

Essentialism for Greg: The best shortcut is hard work

For example:

  • If you want to open a store, start selling stuff from your home to get going
  • If you want to be the next YouTube star, just create videos and learn from the process
  • If you want to build a 6-figure SaaS business, go validate a product and find a way to build it

You can’t just sit on your ass all day waiting for a magical shortcut. The shortcut is the hard work.

2. Don’t outsource the essential

At some point in business (or life), you’ll need to outsource something:

  • Your laundry — drop it off at the laundromat instead
  • Food delivered through Postmates, UberEATS, or Instacart
  • Hire an editor to improve your writing

Hiring people is a great way to grow. I couldn’t produce all the content here on OkDork, plus my podcast and YouTube videos, without getting help from my Dork Squad.

BONUS: Get the exact hiring formula I've used 10,000+ times

But a word of warning about outsourcing…

You need to be careful to NOT outsource the essential work.

For example, I can outsource some of my podcast editing. But it’s important I come up with topic ideas, reach out to guests, and think about the strategy for the podcast I want to create.

The same is true of Sumo, we have a team of 40+ people now, all doing amazing work. But as CEO, some tasks — like the final decision on a question — I can’t outsource.

This also doesn’t mean you can outsource everything you don’t like.

I hate meetings, but my weekly check-in with the leadership team at Sumo is important to grow our business. It's something I can’t miss (I can reduce it to just the necessary meeting topics, but I can’t avoid it). The bottom-line is, essential work won’t always be fun.

Focus yourself, outsource what you can, but ensure you spend time on the most important tasks you can’t outsource.

Tweet this quote

3. How to avoid catastrophe of success

Before you can think about the “next steps,” you first need to make sure ends meet.

In other words, to survive you need to make enough cash to cover your rent / mortgage, buy food, and pay your bills.

But past a certain stage, money stops being an issue and something very odd happens to a lot of people who are financially well-off...

Once the excitement of travel and the thrills of luxuries goes away, success doesn’t really feel as successful.

There’s a lot of shallowness in chasing success purely for monetary rewards. To steer clear of the “catastrophe of success,” it’s important to always ask yourself these two questions:

  • What's the contribution I need to make?
  • What’s the thing I can do to make in impact that no one else can do?

To be truly successful you need to do the essential work that no one else can do. The work that makes you fulfilled and happy.

This is why I started the Noah Kagan Presents podcast, and began to publish more content on my blog and my YouTube channel. I love creating this content and find it incredibly rewarding, especially when I receive emails like this:

4. The paradox of similar

“Things that appear to be very similar are often not very similar.”

It can be easy to fall into the trap of believing that things that appear similar are similar.

But that’s not always the case.

For example, many bloggers and marketers transition into keynote speakers.

Both professions might sound similar because you’re sharing knowledge and educating people.

Greg used an example: He's in high demand for work besides writing, but he doesn’t do any coaching or consulting.

Why?

Because even if it seems similar, it's not. The cost of focusing on writing and speaking are vastly different when you start working on both.

That's just the tip of the iceberg. For more tips on success, cutting back, and growing your career, take a full listen to the podcast below.

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21 responses to “Essentialism”

Ryan
September 5, 2017 at 10:14 pm

If you took the content from this episode and put it in the format that Nick explained in your "How to make a Podcast:Lessons from an NPR producer," you could have an episode on par with your interview of Aubrey Marcus. McKeown's message is life altering, but the format of the interview made a lot of the information fall flat. It required multiple rewinds and re-listening to sections in order to grasp what he was trying to communicate. It's worth a re-recording.

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Sean
September 11, 2017 at 7:41 pm

I was thinking the exact same thing

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Nikki
June 9, 2017 at 12:05 am

Are you happy?

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Lauren Martin
June 1, 2017 at 8:54 am

Yes Yes Yes. Love this post. Was just writing a blog post on a similar theme so now definitely giving this a mention in it. Also, love the UberEATS shoutout. 🙂 Hope you are well.

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Clayton
May 30, 2017 at 11:36 am

I just wanted to say thanks for writing the detailed summaries for your episodes. It helps us that don't have time to listen to every podcast. I wish more people did it.

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Rajeev Sharma
June 7, 2017 at 12:41 pm

Totally agree! Thanks, Noah and Dork Squad for putting this up!

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sheralyn jones
May 29, 2017 at 12:37 pm

Thanks again Noah! I'd be curious to know how you, and/or Greg, handle business failures.
I've plugged away at one concept for years and am beginning to wonder , when do you know
it's time to give up and stop!! Or just pivot? Anyway, this read will be on my short (not shortcut) list. Cheers

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Nick
May 29, 2017 at 8:30 am

Noah--

Listening to the podcast now--22minutes in--and I am annoyed.

Before I say why, I'll will state I have already given your podcast a 5 star rating. I am and always will be a fan of your work and I am in debt to you for inspiring me so many years back when I was stuck in a Fortune 500 company, unhappy and unfulfilled. Your blog lifted me out of that and gave me actionable advice.

However--this podcast and the podcast entitled something to the effect of "side hustle porn writing" have been absolute garbage. The aforementioned podcast began with 20 minutes of you asking the guest to jerk you off and him obliging: "so what was it like to work out with me", "what did you learn most from spending the day with me", "how am I different in-person versus my online persona"...a self serving, self indulgent, solipsism festival of circle jerkment.

And now I listen to this podcast with the author of essentialism. Noah...he sounds like a fucking lunatic. I'm an entrepreneur looking for advice and inspiration and this guy essentially tells us to wait for a divine revelation. If you had a guest emphatically advocating for his decision making style of looking to the celestial bodies and wisdom of astrology we would all call him mad--and yet this guy comes on and starts going on about miracles and his prayer life--it was nauseating, unactionable and if not for his NYT Bestseller, I would think he was just another religious fanatic. Casually and subvertedly advocating a type of charismatic, faith-led life of decision is useless to the vast majority of us entrepreneurs. We don't make decisions based on "confirmation" from friends after a church service just because they by chance also mentioned "Stanford Business School"--we make decisions based on our own skill set, the market and yes, intuition.

This gentlman seems to have mistook (like most silly religious people do), intuition for divine intervention. He is talented and has a good intuition...there's no other worldly intervening body. That's just as stupid as astrology and alchemy.

Again, I'm a fan, and will continue to give the podcast a listen. Loved your interview of your Indian/consultant friend who helped with AppSumo. Him sharing his revenue %s and revenue sources was IMMENSELY helpful and applicable.

Hope you appreciate the honest feedback. And thank you for your continued great content, hoping to be an AppSumo customer in the near future to support your efforts.

Sincerely,
A Pissed Off Fan

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Dominik
May 26, 2017 at 12:30 pm

book ordered. thanks noah 🙂

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4 whirled peas
May 25, 2017 at 12:58 pm

I love how you talked about essentialism...but still ended the session with the usual random "what's your favorite vegetable." Rome wasn't built in a day : )

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Dre Nakaso
May 25, 2017 at 11:07 am

Noah, great article and words of advise. Like the concept of "making a higher level of contribution" Thanks for sharing this with us.

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Angel B
May 25, 2017 at 10:51 am

Great post I'm behind on some of the podcast episodes but I'll be sure to take a listen to this one! I really enjoyed the Mike Posner podcast!

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Wayne Watt
May 25, 2017 at 10:44 am

NOAH, yeah I yelled it. Man I am loving your stuff.
Just started tuning into your podcasts and you are ROCKIN IT . No seriously. High value, life
bettering content. Just my humble opinion but doing what you're doing, curating, sharing, whatever you want to call it, and as Greg mentioned in this podcast "creating the space", is where you shine.
I know this sounds like "fanboy gush" but hey, I AM a Fan and wanted to just Recognize, with a little feedback.

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Noah Kagan
May 25, 2017 at 2:30 pm

SUP WAYNE.

I'm a bigger fanboy of my listeners / readers who leave comments and enjoy what I put out =)

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Bob
May 25, 2017 at 10:03 am

Powered by tacos? Homemade or from a fast food joint? Just curious. ...I need some of that power.....man of the future (2020)

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Ash
May 25, 2017 at 9:27 am

I look forward to listening to this Noah ! Thanks 🙂

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JAM
May 25, 2017 at 8:57 am

Thanks for your clear, no-nonsense observations. Made me think. I'm the queen of being "oh so busy" and maybe wasting time on non-essentials. I just realized that what was originally a $100/hour teaching job turned out I really earned $10.65 an hour because of all the extra stuff I did. ouch.

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Britt
May 25, 2017 at 8:34 am

Dude! This was rad podcast. You have been consistently changing my life for the better for years now. I can't thank you enough.

Cheers

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Omaid
May 25, 2017 at 1:08 am

I like the personal relating stories here. Read the book 3 years ago and it's a great reminder. Also fantastic to see how Essentialism is evolving. One piece of advice, I like when there was less editing involved. Sounds like the white space between questions and responses has been removed.

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Chuck
May 24, 2017 at 2:53 am

Great post Noah! I've gifted this book more than any other. I loved the step of trying everything you might find enjoyable up front and then paring it back to only those that bring the most benefit/fun/value

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Ron Hogue
May 23, 2017 at 3:24 pm

Love this episode! "Can you live a life that's TOO focused on what's most important? No. ...you then just live a life that matters most." Wow.
"A little bit can be a lot cheaper than nothing." "There's a COST to 'nothing'."
Even the episode's title is a single word. Genius.

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