Greg McKeown (@GregoryMcKeown) is the host of the What’s Essential podcast and author of the New York Times bestseller Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, which challenges core assumptions about achievement (e.g., “more is better”) to get to the essence of what really drives success — on one’s own terms.
What We Discuss with Greg McKeown:
- Essentialism: the antidote to the problems of feeling busy but not productive, stretched too thin in one area of life, and fulfilling the agendas of others but not our own.
- Learn how to live by design, not by default.
- Find out how to say “no” effectively without getting in trouble at home — or fired.
- Discover how to set hard boundaries between work and play.
- Learn why folks who are originally very good at essentialism can end up ruining their career and their sanity by letting these boundaries slip over time.
- And much more…
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Even if you’ve always considered yourself an overachiever with an impeccable reputation for being dependable, you may have felt the pull of someone else’s agenda taking precedence over your own. The fact is: if you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.
On this episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show, we welcome Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. He explains the modern epidemic of letting others set our priorities — from college to careers — and how we can use the principles of essentialism to reclaim the course.
Listen to this episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show to learn more about achieving at your highest point of contribution, the importance of knowing when to say “no,” trading short-term popularity for long-term respect, how saying “yes” doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) be unconditional, the lesson of a fool’s bargain made by Greg that he still regrets, why we shouldn’t major in minor things, creating enough space to separate what’s essential from what’s not, thinking about life goals on a multi-generational level, taking time for a weekly design session, setting hard boundaries between work and personal time, and lots more. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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Miss the conversation we had with Hollywood leading man and musician Dennis Quaid? Catch up with episode 279: Dennis Quaid | Sharks, a Bear, and a Banjo here!
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THANKS, GREG MCKEOWN!
If you enjoyed this session with Greg McKeown, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
Click here to thank Greg McKeown at Twitter!
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Resources from This Episode:
- Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
- What’s Essential? | Podcast
- Greg McKeown | Website
- Greg McKeown | Twitter
- The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo
- Cal Newport | Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World | TJHS 159
Transcript for Greg McKeown | The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (Episode 429)
Jordan Harbinger: Coming up on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:02] Greg McKeown: So here's how it works. Go back to the Silicon Valley companies. You get a few people, small team, focused on the right problem at the right time and they generate success. What comes with success? Increase in options and opportunities. The idea is that even though it's the right problem to have, it undermines, the very focus that led to success in the first place. And so you find a situation where someone is doing the same things they were doing before. They are still driven. They're still smart, still capable, but all of a sudden, they are diffused in their efforts. The reason that successful people and organizations don't break through to the next level is success.
[00:00:43] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people. If you're new to the show, we have in-depth conversations with people at the top of their game, astronauts, entrepreneurs, spies, psychologists, even the occasional arms dealer. And each episode turns our guests' wisdom into practical advice that you can use to build a deeper understanding of how the world works and become a better critical thinker.
[00:01:09] Today, we're talking with my friend, Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. He's also the host of the podcast, What's Essential? with Greg McKeown. You should listen to this show. If you want to learn how you can ensure you prioritize your life effectively. So that other people don't do it for you. In other words, how to live by design, not by default. Also, we discussed how to say no effectively without getting into trouble at home or getting fired from work, setting hard boundaries between work and play or non-work, and why folks who are originally very good at essentialism can end up ruining their career and their sanity by letting these boundaries slip over time. This one's from the vault and I hope you enjoy it.
[00:01:48] If you're wondering how I managed to book all these great authors and thinkers every single week, it's because of my network. And I'm teaching you how to build your own network for free. Usually to get jobs, raises, better opportunities, or maybe you'll meet your significant other because of this. Learn this skill. It is a game-changer. Go to jordanharbinger.com/course, that course is free there. By the way, most of the guests on the show, they subscribe to the course. They contribute to the course in some way. Come join us, you'll be in smart company. Now, here we go with Greg McKeown.
[00:02:18] First of all, what is essentialism, and how it is different from just being a minimalist?
[00:02:22] Greg McKeown: What is it? It's a book about the antidote to the problem.
[00:02:27] Jordan Harbinger: The problem?
[00:02:28] Greg McKeown: The problem is that we are full of the undisciplined pursuit of more. People everywhere can feel this. So it's a cultural phenomenon. It is feeling busy, but not productive. It's feeling stretched too thin at work or at home. It's feeling like other people's agenda kind of hijack your own. Now, that's the experience people are having. And the reason that they're having it is probably a broader conversation.
[00:02:52] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:02:53] Greg McKeown: But that's like the challenge — the undisciplined pursuit of more. Everybody's just being pulled up into this cultural norm. Essentialism is the antidote to that
[00:03:02] Jordan Harbinger: Right, the disciplined pursuit of less as the subtitle indicates.
[00:03:06] Greg McKeown: The disciplined pursuit of less but better. It's about quantity versus quality instead of just trying to always — more and more and more of everything. Like the key to success in fact is doing more and fitting more in. Essentialism says, no, it's about doing less but better, fewer things done better. That this is really the way.
[00:03:26] Jordan Harbinger: This is different from minimalism because minimalism sort of has a connotation that has to do with possessions, physical items. Whereas essentialism is about your working life or about your day to day, your calendar, not intangibles,
[00:03:39] Greg McKeown: I mean, I used the metaphor of the closet to explain the process of essentialism. Your closet is overloaded, right? And eventually, you say, I'm going to tidy it out and you have to become more selective, thoughtful about what you really want and what you don't want. You have to get more extreme criteria of the things you love versus the things that you just like or you might use eventually. And then you eliminate, you get rid of the stuff that you don't isn't as high on your criteria list. There's a question that's been put by Marie Kondo, which is — does it spark joy? We try it on. And does it spark joy? If it doesn't, pass it on. So that's a metaphor for essentialism, but the whole idea is essentialism is doing for your life or what Marie Kondo's whole approach does for your closet.
[00:04:21] Jordan Harbinger: Right. So essentially, instead of saying — no pun intended, I'm sure that happens all the time — taking things out of your closet or out of your house. You're trying to do the minimalist thing. And it's like, "Okay, is this something I'm really interested in? Is there something in me that loves this? Or is it just the anxiety of like, "But I need that serial cable at some point"?
[00:04:38] Greg McKeown: It's fear of missing out, FOMO is really real, and both with minimalism and now with the essentialism, we have to discover the joy of missing out or JOMO. And there really is joy. There really is value in less.
[00:04:51] Jordan Harbinger: How do you make that transition though? Because it seems like FOMO I can do, right? "Oh man, this person got this other thing going on. Should I speak at this event here? Or should I do that one? Which one's going to be bigger? Which am I going to regret missing more? Oh, this person said this event is amazing. I have to go to it. It's really expensive, but if I don't go, I'll be the only one that wasn't there." Right? That I can do. JOMO, joy of missing out, I can't really remember a time where I was like — well, actually that might not be true, but it's rare to have a time where I'm lying on my couch with my cat or binging on Netflix or reading a book, even as much as I love reading going, "I'm so glad I'm not at that boat party that my friend's having." Or, "I'm so glad I'm not going to this event." I mean, it's pretty rare. Usually, I think I hope there's nothing there that I really needed to do. I still have that anxiety in the back of my head.
[00:05:40] Greg McKeown: Yeah, you're saying that you've experienced one, but don't experience the other very often.
[00:05:45] Jordan Harbinger: Right, there's a lot of FOMO. I'm low on JOMO.
[00:05:48] Greg McKeown: Yeah. So this would be consistent with the idea that's our normal culture. Like, I'm guessing that you didn't wake up one day and say, I am just going to really worry about all the other stuff that's going on. I'm going to choose that as a strategy.
[00:06:00] Jordan Harbinger: No.
[00:06:01] Greg McKeown: That's my thing. I want to always worry about what I'm not going to, even when I'm at something great, I want to be thinking — this isn't a deliberate chosen, conscious strategy.
[00:06:10] Jordan Harbinger: No, but it does work 97 percent of the things I worry about never happen. So obviously if it has been effective so far.
[00:06:16] Greg McKeown: So this idea — the question I'm putting to you really is why is it that you and so many people are so tilted so much towards this strategy.
[00:06:27] Jordan Harbinger: It's a default strategy.
[00:06:28] Greg McKeown: It's a default strategy.
[00:06:29] Jordan Harbinger: That you're following.
[00:06:29] Greg McKeown: I'm arguing something about this. I'm saying that we have a culture that's so dominant towards this feeling that it's not just the normal default circumstance of all society forever.
[00:06:40] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:06:40] Greg McKeown: We live in a particularly extreme version of society. So I think we're in a busy-ness bubble now.
[00:06:47] Jordan Harbinger: Like a FOMO bubble.
[00:06:49] Greg McKeown: Exactly. Whatever the name of it. It's a bubble of more. And so what we have all sort of grown up in is this culture. I mean, even over the last 10 years, we've gone from being connected to hyper-connected.
[00:07:00] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Tell me about it. Smartphones,
[00:07:02] Greg McKeown: Smartphones, social media, these things have come together to create a kind of unholy alliance. And so people keep on getting dragged into this cultural norm to find an antidote. We have to understand the environment we're in. Have you heard the phrase? A fish discovers water last.
[00:07:21] Jordan Harbinger: Uh, no, but it makes perfect sense.
[00:07:23] Greg McKeown: Make sense.
[00:07:23] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:07:24] Greg McKeown: We have —
[00:07:24] Jordan Harbinger: Just like - it took you until you were 16 to get glasses. You were maybe one of the last ones to figure out what's going on.
[00:07:29] Greg McKeown: To figure out — it's something that's so normal to you that you don't know that it's even happening.
[00:07:32] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:07:33] Greg McKeown: And that's what's going on. So when you talk about FOMO, you're not just talking about your own experience. You're talking about the norm of today. And I think that that's what makes essentialism have the power of relevancy. The idea is that in this environment, in an environment where not just you, but everybody just about that you know, and everybody that you're interviewing and talking to, and everyone who's watching this, then normal life and all their friends in that environment, you can't just go with the flow. Unless you want all the consequences of this cultural norm.
[00:08:03] So this is the name for this is non-essentialism right. It's just everyone believes that by doing everything, you will be more successful. You'll be happier. You'll have a more meaningful life. Now, if it's true, meaning if that works for people, great.
[00:08:16] Jordan Harbinger: It might've worked up until the '80s and '90s when you literally could no longer do —
[00:08:21] Greg McKeown: Everything, that's coming your way.
[00:08:23] Jordan Harbinger: My dad did everything. You know, an auto worker at Ford, worked his way up the ladder, worked 12-plus, probably 14 hours a day, six days a week, getting everything done, burned himself out. That was without email. That was without cell phones.
[00:08:35] Greg McKeown: Right.
[00:08:36] Jordan Harbinger: That was without social media. That was without being able to be reachable most hours of the day.
[00:08:40] Greg McKeown: And you proposed that at the beginning, that little anecdote by saying, "It worked." Before the end of the anecdote, he burned himself out.
[00:08:47] Jordan Harbinger: It was physically possible. That's what I mean by at work, it was physically possible.
[00:08:51] Greg McKeown: I love the distinction. So you're right, because as the Internet continues to be the news as it affects so much, and it has expanded our options so exponentially. It means it is not even close to being possible. I was talking to a really driven, even successful executive just recently on Sand Hill Road —
[00:09:07] Jordan Harbinger: Where all the venture capitalists are.
[00:09:09] Greg McKeown: Exactly. And he said he was reading the book and he said, he realized that this was important for him because he said, "It's not like if I had two or three hours extra every day, that I'd be okay." He said, "I need like 300 hours a day, and I still do not have enough."
[00:09:23] Jordan Harbinger: You wouldn't even make it through your Twitter feed.
[00:09:24] Greg McKeown: So he just gets that the expectation has expanded so fast, so much. And he's a smart guy. He's a thoughtful person but still, he has adopted a set of expectations that are by his own admission, more than 10 times more than he can possibly do on a daily basis.
[00:09:39] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:09:40] Greg McKeown: So there's been this sea change of expectations, a sea change of choices and options, this cultural norm. And if we just apply the same basic approach, 20 years ago, even then I think we will re-set rewards that are different than what we've been sold.
[00:09:56] Jordan Harbinger: I do agree, but it's so hard to beat it into yourself and it must be really hard to beat it in other people, especially if we don't necessarily know what you're talking about just yet.
[00:10:05] Greg McKeown: Yeah. I think that people, as they get the language for this, don't argue against the logic. So I think the primary value of writing the book of Essentialism was giving language. There is such a thing as a non-essentialist who is just driven, capable, successful, but has plateaued in their progress because they're trying to do everything.
[00:10:25] Jordan Harbinger: You stated in the book that if you don't prioritize your life, someone else will. That's probably been true forever, but now we see it happening when we're home eating dinner and we're on our phone and you see that email — and don't pretend like you don't know what I'm talking about — see that email come in from your boss or your business partner and you go, because you're this happens — "What is it?" That never happened? This is a recent 10 years phenomenon.
[00:10:46] Greg McKeown: That's right. And that little moment of what is it can be so extreme under some circumstances. It is a form of addiction, right?
[00:10:52] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:10:53] Greg McKeown: When we checked email 150 times a day, which is the average right now. The highest level is 900 times a day. So that means every minute on the hour, 16 hours a day. And of course, we have great data on this.
[00:11:05] Jordan Harbinger: Every minute for 16 —
[00:11:07] Greg McKeown: 16 hours a day, someone is checking their phone to the highest levels. Absolutely. And here's why we have great data on it is because all you have to do is just measure how many times someone swipes on their phone. Time Magazine came out with this research. I mean, I don't know where they get their batteries from. I mean, all of that's a different thing.
[00:11:21] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:11:21] Greg McKeown: But it means that when we used to talk about addiction — technology and so on, we were saying it like a metaphor, but it's real. It's a real addiction.
[00:11:29] Jordan Harbinger: Right. This is happening.
[00:11:30] Greg McKeown: People feel it has to do with the idea that sometimes something amazing is going to happen. Sometimes something terrible is going to happen and you never know which. Literally, it's like a slot machine for people. So again, this is the norm, this is the problem. And it's the problem that successful people and organizations and societies face.
[00:11:48] So I'm working with Silicon Valley companies and trying to understand why is it, otherwise, successful people in companies don't break through to the next level of success.
[00:11:56] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, great question.
[00:11:57] Greg McKeown: They should because if you and I would have a race, for example, right? And you won, which you would —
[00:12:02] Jordan Harbinger: I don't know. You got some good running shoes.
[00:12:04] Greg McKeown: That's just a con for making it look like I'm a runner and let's say you won by 50 yards.
[00:12:09] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:12:09] Greg McKeown: So then we raised a second time. And you get to start with a 50-yard advantage right from the beginning. So you win again.
[00:12:17] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:12:17] Greg McKeown: This time with another yards. So now you're a hundred yards ahead and we race a third time. So just give me an average approximate percentage chance you'll win the third race beginning with a hundred yards, give me a number.
[00:12:26] Jordan Harbinger: 99.9 percent.
[00:12:27] Greg McKeown: It's a little bit rude.
[00:12:28] Jordan Harbinger: Barring any injuries, 100 percent.
[00:12:30] Greg McKeown: You're going to win, right?
[00:12:30] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:12:30] Greg McKeown: Of course, this is what's going to happen. So here's the question. That's kept me up at night, all through these years of trying to understand. Is this why doesn't that happen? When you look at the data as I have of the successful people and organizations, they don't continue in their success and they don't break through to the next level, which they also ought to do because they have all the benefits of momentum. They have all the benefits of having won the first race and the second race and they don't continue to do it.
[00:12:55] Jordan Harbinger: Why? Is it our wiring? Yeah. Why?
[00:12:57] Greg McKeown: Why? So here's what I learned again, it was sort of this fish discovers water last. It was hidden in plain sight. The reason that successful people and organizations don't break through to the next level is success.
[00:13:07] So here's how it works. Go back to the Silicon Valley companies. You get a few people, small team, focused on the right problem at the right time. And they generate success.
[00:13:14] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:13:15] Greg McKeown: This is natural to be expected. What comes with success? Increase in options and opportunities.
[00:13:22] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:13:22] Greg McKeown: Now, that sounds like the right problem to have.
[00:13:24] Jordan Harbinger: Except those opportunities look like email, Twitter, and Facebook.
[00:13:27] Greg McKeown: It might be emailed. It might be Twitter. It just might be more opportunities. The idea is that even though it's the right problem to have it undermines the very focus that led to success in the first place. And so you find a situation where someone is doing the same things they were doing before. They are still driven. They're still smart. It's still capable, but all of a sudden, they are diffused in their efforts. And they're trying to do way too many things.
[00:13:51] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:13:52] Greg McKeown: And so you can see this in organizations all over the place. I mean, I often ask people to think through what organizations they know themselves that were once successful and that somehow. They became averagely successful if we failed entirely through it. Can you think of any?
[00:14:06] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, actually there's a couple of businesses that failed recently, like Zirtual, for example. Or was it Zirtual?
[00:14:12] Greg McKeown: I don't know much about Zirtual.
[00:14:13] Jordan Harbinger: I feel bad if that's the wrong one. You know, there was one that failed miserably that had a ton of clients. There are some that have problems even now with scaling and like what they're doing culture-wise — Zenefits companies like that, that you hear about. Rumors on the Silicon Valley startups in.
[00:14:28] Greg McKeown: And if you take some that are more established, you could take Yahoo, for example, that's very well established despite best efforts to turn this around. One time, it was like five CEOs of two years. Then they had this whole everyone coming in, smart, driven, trying to solve a problem. What's the problem? The problem was success. Early day success Yahoo was getting off the consumer web. So they are the web for the consumer in the early days. They could do it all. And so they kept on trying to do it all and that's it. That's the era right there.
[00:14:57] So as soon as Google comes along it specializes well. Now Google is going to be better at search. Yahoo could be at that. They can't be great at everything.
[00:15:05] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:15:05] Greg McKeown: And so Yahoo has been trying to correct that problem. And it's a very, very tough problem for them to solve because they've gone from what we feel like a five percent problem, which means all of their consumers only use five percent of their services but it's not the same five percent.
[00:15:19] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:15:20] Greg McKeown: So there's no easy solution for it because it's been built to almost generation on generation of leadership with the same challenge. So here's an example. It's true for companies, but it's also true for the individuals inside of these companies. That's what I found was that you have also individuals who start off — they're very driven. I remember an executive I worked with, he was doing award-winning work, partially as a result of that purchase by a larger and as it turns out more bureaucratic firm. It goes into the new regime. He wants to be a good citizen, which means loosely speaking, he starts saying yes to everyone and everything —
[00:15:53] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, man
[00:15:54] Greg McKeown: — without really thinking about it.
[00:15:55] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:15:55] Greg McKeown: So what happens to him? What happens to his stress?
[00:15:58] Jordan Harbinger: Through the roof?
[00:15:59] Greg McKeown: What happens to the quality of his work?
[00:16:00] Jordan Harbinger: Down the drain.
[00:16:01] Greg McKeown: So here is someone who is a high talented individual who all of a sudden is — I don't know — overworked and underutilized. They're not top talent anymore because of their strategy. Now what happens in the end, they decide because of some counterintuitive advice, he should retire in the role, which is different than stay, quit, and don't tell anyone. It's not that, but he realized, "Look, this isn't going to work. I've got to act as if I'm only going to be paid for the value I create, not how many emails I respond to. How many meetings to go to?" At the end of all that experience, he said, "I got my life back." He was able to eat dinner with his wife at night. Go to the gym every night. So that was good on a personal level. But then on a professional basis, he said, "I found space again on my schedule. And in that space, I found my creative freedom," and in his creative freedom, he found his ability to contribute better. So by the end of the year, he got one of the largest bonuses of his whole career, performance evaluation went up. And is this a success story? That's, what's at play between non-essentialism and essentialism.
[00:17:01] Non-essentialism promises if you can just fit it all in, do it all say yes to everyone, you will succeed. Essentialism says — it doesn't say essentialism doesn't say, say no to everyone at everything. I didn't write a book called no-ism. Essentialism says, figure out what's really essential and put your energies into those less but better. Fewer things done better is a better strategy for breaking through to the next level.
[00:17:25] Jordan Harbinger: And if we're on Fox News, this is where I would say thank you. And we would wrap their little sound bite right here.
[00:17:29] Greg McKeown: Right.
[00:17:30] Jordan Harbinger: But —
[00:17:30] Greg McKeown: Now we're going to go farther.
[00:17:31] Jordan Harbinger: See, as soon as we exhaust the stuff, you've said a hundred times, that's when it gets really, really good.
[00:17:35] Greg McKeown: Let's do it.
[00:17:38] Jordan Harbinger: You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guests to Greg McKeown. We'll be right back.
[00:17:43] This episode is sponsored in part by Grammarly. This is something that I find myself using every single day. So Grammarly Premium, it gives you real-time feedback and insights when you're writing, not just spell check, but it goes through tone, word choice, clarity. I can even show you that there are better words to use and sort of what type of message you're writing. Again, tone but it will be like this is professional or this is overly friendly or this is friendly. So you can kind of gauge who you're writing to and the way that you're writing and your word choice and everything. I just love it. I think it's so useful. And I think if I had it in school, I would have been a better writer. They also have vocabulary suggestions. So it's not just fancy words to make you sound smarter, but help avoid overused words and redundancies so that people who are reading your email or whatever you're writing, stay engaged. You can also expand your vocabulary, replace bland words with more exciting and effective words. And this one works on web forms, documents, emails. It works in pretty much everything that you're typing in on your computer. So it's not an app you have to run. It just kind of runs in the background in your web browser and sits on top of everything. I love it.
[00:18:47] Jen Harbinger: Elevated you're writing with 20 percent off Grammarly Premium by signing up at grammarly.com/jordan. That's 20 percent Grammarly premium at G-R-A-M-M-A-R-L-Y.com/jordan.
[00:19:00] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is also sponsored by Harry's. I love this stuff. I've been shaving with it for a while. My face is as smooth as Jayden's butt. No sandpaper faces. I was going to say a baby's butt, but why not pick a specific baby? Right, Jen? Anyway, what I also like about Harry's is that every blade stays sharp forever. I shave probably every other day and each blade lasted me like a month, no exaggeration. And the blades are two bucks. They stay sharp for a really long time. As low as two bucks per refill. So that's like a cup of coffee, not even like one of those hipster coffees, just a regular cup of coffee. They've got a blade factory in Germany. These are high-grade steel blades. Some of the sharpest since 1920, apparently. The five-blade Harry's razor is superior to the other three blades on the market that we don't mention. We don't talk about them.
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[00:20:07] Jordan Harbinger: Now back to Greg McKeown on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:20:10] And I think it is kind of epidemic level. I mean, people are doing this with jobs, careers, school, whatever it is. I see this in college. I remember for me, at least, I saw it in college where I had to do everything. I had to do a little bit of this, a little bit of that. And I remember even in law school, asking a professor, which classes we should be sure we take. And he listed out what would take about five and a half years of a three-year program —
[00:20:36] Greg McKeown: Right.
[00:20:37] Jordan Harbinger: — if you had a really ambitious class schedule. "You need to take all your core classes, but you know, tax law is a good one, then a corporate law and then international law, for sure, at least one or two of those. And then this one and then some other extra." And it was just like, "How are we going to possibly specialize in anything?" And his advice was don't do that, which is terrible advice in my opinion. But we see this at home, even in our careers saying yes to everything, but even in our personal life at home and our family life, people over-commit themselves because of a little bit of FOMO, but also this sort of thought that if we don't say yes to everything, we're letting somebody else down. Do we have to just become okay with letting other people down or are we actually not really letting them down long-term? What will you learn about this?
[00:21:16] Greg McKeown: Well, one of the things I've learned is that there's a trade-off here, which is, do you want short-term popularity or longer-term respect? And if you just are going for popularity all the time, then you'll just end up being very reactive to every request. Every possible thing that you could be doing, anything anyone is doing. That strategy is not the same as service. It's not the same as loving people. It's not the same as making a contribution. It's just being pulled into the social pressure to do everything. On the basis that by doing everything, you will be successful with people and successful in your life and make your best contribution.
[00:21:51] If that's true, this is the way I'm saying it, people should do it. If it's working for them, if it's getting them what they want, and if it's making a difference in the world, don't listen to me, keep doing it. On the basis that it might not be, on the basis that it might be a bit of a con underneath, like malware that it sorts of is pretending to be true, but actually isn't true. Then maybe we ought to look at something else. Look at an alternative approach. And the alternative approach isn't being less helpful to people, it's being the most helpful you can be. But you get to be the most helpful by being more selective, by being more thoughtful by saying yes with these constraints, yes under these circumstances.
[00:22:35] And so you start to be able to utilize yourself, your own resources in a way that makes the best contribution in the world. I'm really eager that one of the drivers for writing essentialism was that I could, and others could live at the highest point of contribution. And you simply can't be utilized at your highest point of contribution if you say yes to everyone and everything that anybody's doing in this environment. That isn't what is produced.
[00:22:59] Jordan Harbinger: Have you seen Cal Newport's Deep Work?
[00:23:01] Greg McKeown: I have, yeah.
[00:23:02] Jordan Harbinger: So that's these kinds of dovetail really nicely. And for those of you, who've heard the show with me and him, it's all about getting rid of some of these extraneous things. So you can focus on what really matters and move ahead because of that. It sounds like you learned this stuff the hard way. I mean, I went to law school in part, because if you have an opportunity, you have an option, you better take it. That was the wisdom when I was growing up.
[00:23:22] Greg McKeown: You know I went to law school
[00:23:23] Jordan Harbinger: I do.
[00:23:23] Greg McKeown: Oh yeah.
[00:23:24] Jordan Harbinger: We're both culpable of making that decision.
[00:23:26] Greg McKeown: We made the same mistakes. I mean, this conversation is about 17 years almost to the day when I was visiting a friend here in the United States. I was at law school in England. And somebody said in passing to me, they said, "If you do decide to stay in America, then you should come and help us on this project." And I never did help him with that, but the question gave me permission to rethink. Permission to say, "Well, what if I didn't do what I'm doing? What if I didn't stay committed to what I've currently committed to?" And so I made this 20-minute brainstorm. What would you do if you could do anything? And when I was finished, I was really struck by the idea. Not what was on it by, what's not on the list, and law school wasn't on the list.
[00:24:02] Jordan Harbinger: Of course.
[00:24:03] Greg McKeown: So here I am at law school suddenly with this awareness and also the geographical space to really wonder. "Well, what are you doing? Maybe you don't have to." And really from the moment that thought came, I never went back, never psychologically, never even physically back to the law school. There's a different thing that's inside of me — a different burning and it was right about that point, I remembered I better call my parents.
[00:24:25] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. "By the way, you're still going to help me out with these tuition loans, right?"
[00:24:30] Greg McKeown: Yeah.
[00:24:31] Jordan Harbinger: It reminds me when I went to North Korea — actually a few times on a vacation, tourism — and I remember asking one of the guides who lived in North Korea, where would you go if you could go anywhere? And she said, "Oh, Mount Paektu up in the North of Korea." And I thought, "Is this just like hyper patriotism? Or what are we talking about?" I said, "No, no, no, no, anywhere in the world." And she goes, "I don't know, maybe somewhere to practice my English." And I was like, "Anywhere in the whole world, maybe like Africa or something." And she goes, "Whoa, Africa?" Like it never had crossed her mind that you would ever be able to go there and see giraffes and things like that. And we were talking about animals and things like that. And she was just like — it was like saying, "Where do you want to go on vacation?" And someone's like, "Let's go to Mars." And you're like, "Hold on a second." But we're thinking Disneyland or SeaWorld.
[00:25:16] Greg McKeown: I think the way you're saying is such a great example because the number of choices has expanded so fast. But our out-of-date way of dealing with it maybe got us through. In previous generations, it is discombobulating under the pressure of these options. And the irony is that in an era of so many options of so many cool things that you could do instead of being able to select that one thing that goes to some different continent. And instead of doing that, we're just consumed with a bunch of okay things. Things that aren't great to us. They don't spot joy for us. They aren't the highest point of contribution. In this environment with all these options we ought to be able to with the right level of selectivity design a life that really matters, that really inspires us and blesses other people. That's what essentialism is about. So essentialism isn't really about centralism. It's not about it as a subject. It's about trying to challenge and inspire people that they have permission to design a life that they really want to pursue.
[00:26:14] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I like this. You didn't always follow these rules. Right?
[00:26:19] Greg McKeown: So I received an email from my boss at the time and they said, "Friday would be a very bad time for your wife to have a baby." She was expecting at the time, of course. Otherwise, that would have been even an odd email. "And the reason was because I need you to come to this client meeting and so on." And so Friday comes, we're in the hospital. That is when my daughter's born. And instead of being able to be focused on that priority event, that clearly important moment, I'm feeling torn. And my question, I wasn't consciously asked at the time, is how can I do both? How can I somehow be here, support my wife, make that okay be there for my daughter and how can I also be there? And in the end, to my shame, I go to the meeting.
[00:26:59] Jordan Harbinger: Oh God, it's so painful to hear. When I read that, I was like, "Oh man, this must burn even now."
[00:27:05] Greg McKeown: Yeah. Right. It does. And you know, so I go to the meeting. I remember afterwards, they said to me, "The client will respect you for the choice you just made." That was that summary. And I don't know about that.
[00:27:15] Jordan Harbinger: I think they probably would have respected you more if you'd gone to your daughter's birth
[00:27:19] Greg McKeown: instead, I think that's probably true. And that look on their faces did not evince that sort of confidence anyway. But even if he did, and even if some amazing thing could come from that meeting, clearly you can see it — it's obvious in hindsight, I can see it, of course, I'd made a fool's bargain. And so I was left with this question of why and also the learning. If you don't prioritize your life, someone else will. That's really where I learned that single idea. And now, I have to keep holding onto it. Now, I have to keep coming back and coming back to that discovery. What's really most important now and how can I construct my life in such a way that I'm focused on that thing one at a time?
[00:27:57] Jordan Harbinger: I agree. Yeah. I mean you, right, don't major in minor things. However, how do we decide what's important? It's not always really obvious. And sometimes everything looks important.
[00:28:08] Greg McKeown: Well, that's really what the non-essentialist believes. Non-essentialist believes that everything is essential.
[00:28:13] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:28:13] Greg McKeown: And the essentialist believes that almost nothing is essential. I think that the reality is more likely than the essentialist sees it. That's why it's a powerful idea. It's not just a mind trick. It is the idea that most stuff is noise. Most stuff is just stuff. It doesn't matter one way or another. So the trick of life is to create enough space to figure that out. I think that when people create space, it becomes very clear to them.
[00:28:37] Jordan Harbinger: By creating space you mean to get off the hamster wheel of busy crap for a second to realize that all the stuff you're doing is you on the hamster wheel.
[00:28:45] Greg McKeown: Yeah, that's right. I mean, practically, I think about it being every quarter course, as someone should hold a personal quarterly offsite.
[00:28:51] Jordan Harbinger: I like this.
[00:28:52] Greg McKeown: You schedule somewhere between a half a day and a day. I tend to take a full day and you're asking all the big questions. So what are my three to five most important life goals? Actually, I've gone even further than that. Sometimes I'm asking what my three to 100-year vision goals.
[00:29:08] Jordan Harbinger: Hundred-year vision.
[00:29:08] Greg McKeown: Yeah.
[00:29:09] Jordan Harbinger: Like legacy, you're already gone type stuff.
[00:29:12] Greg McKeown: Yeah, definitely beyond oneself. What do I want my grandchildren's life to be like? What do I want their learning to have been? And when I can think in those very, very long-term perspectives, it helps to distinguish between the vital few and the trivial many. That on a daily or even minute-to-minute basis can be very hard to discern between because it's all just coming at it. So a hundred-year vision really pushes one to think clearly.
[00:29:37] Jordan Harbinger: Can you believe your grandpa wore this crap on camera?
[00:29:40] Greg McKeown: Exactly. Right. I want that. I want that moment for them to be, and me to be thinking about my own role within a much longer intergenerational story. And so that's the first thing. The second thing is that you break that down, as you can imagine, right? So like, okay, what are some of the three to five goals you want to achieve this year? What do you want to do over the next 90 days? A chance to celebrate? I definitely always take the time to go through a list of gratitude. Like what has happened, what have been the biggest wins over the last 90 days. So I'm reviewing the last 90, planning for the next 90. And you come out of that session with a clear sense of here or there are just a few goals that are ones I really want to achieve at this next 90 days.
[00:30:16] Jordan Harbinger: Do you then outline those goals, like how you're going to do that or is it more of a broad overview?
[00:30:21] Greg McKeown: No, there's a whole set of different things I've done on this. I don't do the same every time, but I normally go through those goals and then say, what are the obstacles and not, how do I work around those obstacles, but how do you learn from every obstacle? Because an obstacle is really just your brain's best effort to articulate the problem that must be solved to achieve your goal.
[00:30:40] Jordan Harbinger: I think this is a really important thing to do. It's so easy to skip it thinking, "I've got this."
[00:30:45] Greg McKeown: Right.
[00:30:46] Jordan Harbinger: It's like using a calendar. "No, I can remember everything I have to do next week," but you really, you're not able to do that.
[00:30:51] Greg McKeown: And actually, is a great segue because I think the second thing people need to do to create space is a weekly design session. So every week you're using each week as a perfect design period. I have a preference per week, over a day, or over a month. If you're doing monthly planning, it's still quite a long term. You're not dealing with decisions. You're about to really have to do it. If you're doing it daily only, then I think your life will become reactive. I've noticed that myself anyway. If I'm just doing it a day at a time and it's just hitting me too randomly.
[00:31:21] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:31:21] Greg McKeown: "Okay. What's on my calendar? Oh, that's on my calendar." So weekly design sessions, you're really now translating the work you've done quarterly offsite into this week's essential plan and you're trying to remove things that are no longer relevant and no longer the most valuable things. I think those combinations, those two things work quite well in starting to move life from a non-essentialist reactive life to an essentialist proactive life.
[00:31:45] Jordan Harbinger: This is a really good idea. However, a lot of people are thinking right now, "Great. Okay. Tell my boss, I'm going to do an offsite where I'm going to remove parts of my job and then not somehow get fired," right?
[00:31:56] Greg McKeown: Yeah. So it doesn't feel realistic.
[00:31:58] Jordan Harbinger: Right, it's easy for like two essentially self-employed guys to see it, talk to everybody about how they should remove duties from their life that they feel are not essential.
[00:32:08] Greg McKeown: Yeah, for a lot of people. It's not like that.
[00:32:09] Jordan Harbinger: Right. How do we even start to say no to things without just getting straight-up fired?
[00:32:13] Greg McKeown: So we've been talking about non-essentialism on the one hand and essentialism on the other. And you could walk all the way from being very undisciplined, more, very extreme on one side to very disciplined on the other. That's one continuum. There's a second continuum. And that is between things that we have no control of at the bottom and things that we have total control at the top. And so what I always say to people is, yes, you want to be moving towards the essentialist side, but you've got to start with the things you control. What often I hear people hear when they hear essentialism, they get that continuum. But they stopped thinking about the things they have almost no control over. So they start by saying, a little bit like your question, "How could I say no to my boss's boss?" If they come to me directly ask, "You need to do this." And I say, "No," that's a career-limiting move. That's a fireable offense, almost. I am agreeing with that. Right. This is the nature of hierarchical institutions. So don't stop that. Don't stop by saying no to your boss's boss. What is something you have complete control over?
[00:33:11] For example, what about the first three to 10 minutes of your day? Surely, we have higher control over that than we have over our boss's boss's decision. So start there, start moving towards the essentialist and the things you do have control over. Build your essentialist muscles there. So slowly over time, as you start to understand better your own decision-making process, you can add to it skills of how to negotiate non-essentials and influence those things that you don't have control over, but maybe can start to influence.
[00:33:42] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Greg McKeown. We'll be right back.
[00:33:47] This episode is sponsored in part by Butcher Box. You all know Thanksgiving is coming up. Some of you are going to see your family, others of you, not so much. I remember my Aunt Pam's casserole, my Uncle Steve who can't stop or just won't stop talking, and running out of whipped cream for the pumpkin pie and going all over town and finding out that only those weird flavored ones left. That's actually — I don't know why I remember that, but you know, you know me Mr. Positive. This Thanksgiving, Butcher Box is giving you something extra to be grateful for. Butcher Box meat just shows up at the door, you're never going to be without something to cook for dinner because there's always meat in the freezer. One less trip to the grocery store and a better, more affordable selection too. All the meats are free of antibiotics and added hormones. Each box has nine to 11 pounds of meat, which has 24 individual meals. And you can customize the box you can go with one of theirs. Options, like a hundred percent grass-fed and finished beef, free-range organic chicken. You get the idea. For me personally, I like their sugar and nitrate-free bacon. There's something about bacon by mail. That just is just magical.
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[00:34:58] Jordan Harbinger: That box must be huge if there's a freaking turkey in there.
[00:35:01] This episode is also sponsored by Vuori clothing. Vuori is a new perspective on performance apparel. It's great if you're sick and tired of traditional old workout gear. And everything is designed to work out in, but it doesn't actually look or feel like it. So I wear these button-downs. You've seen me on camera wearing it, and it looks like a regular button-down, but it's one of those things like if I were traveling, I could wash that thing in a hotel sink, hang it up, and it's made out of that material, almost like that dry-fit type material. And they've got colder weather stuff, which is great. Even in California, I'm wearing my men's ponto pants. They've got some joggers. It's beginning to look a little bit like Christmas, even in California, at least pretty soon. It's incredibly soft, incredibly comfortable. I'm a fan. I've been living in this stuff recently.
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[00:36:11] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is also sponsored in part by Better Help online counseling. Love these guys. A lot of you have told me you've had a great experience with them. They will handle pretty much anything, and there's a lot of stuff going on right now — family stuff, self-esteem stuff, anger, trauma, sleep, depression, relationship, work, stress. You simply fill out a questionnaire, they'll assess your needs. They'll match you with somebody in under 48 hours. Secure video or phone sessions and unlimited messages. So you can chat or text with your therapist. Everything is of course confidential. You don't have to drive. You don't have to park. You can do therapy from the bed where you want to be right now anyway. And if for any reason you are unhappy with your counselor, you can request a new one at any time, at no additional charge. Over a million people have taken charge of their mental health with the help of an experienced Better Help counselor.
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[00:37:08] Jordan Harbinger: Thank you for listening and supporting the show. Your support of our advertisers keeps us going. To learn more about who supports this show, so you can support them in turn, go to Jordan harbinger.com/deals. We keep all the deals, all the codes there. Please do consider supporting those who support us. And don't forget, we've got worksheets for today's episode. Those worksheets have some of the takeaways, some of the drills and exercises. So you don't have to write them down. That link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast.
[00:37:34] Now the conclusion of our episode with Greg McKeown.
[00:37:39] This is great because otherwise what happens right is instead you face this insurmountable wall. And you're just thinking, how am I going to climb this mountain? All right, the first step, go to my boss's boss and tell him, "Np more TPS reports."
[00:37:51] Greg McKeown: Exactly.
[00:37:51] Jordan Harbinger: It's just not going to work.
[00:37:52] Greg McKeown: It's non-essential for me.
[00:37:53] Jordan Harbinger: But if it's kind of like, well, I can get up in the morning and just not check my social media and maybe look for urgent emails or even put an autoresponder. This is only checking the afternoon or whatever's acceptable in the office.
[00:38:05] Greg McKeown: You start small on the things you can control. Get the phone out of the bedroom, get it out.
[00:38:09] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:38:10] Greg McKeown: Get one of these old —
[00:38:11] Jordan Harbinger: Timex clocks.
[00:38:12] Greg McKeown: Right light clock and get the phone out of that. Get your computer out of there. You have control over that space. If you don't create boundaries there, there won't be any, you know, this.
[00:38:21] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:38:22] Greg McKeown: If you have your phone by — I'm not going to ask you. I can put you on the spot.
[00:38:25] Jordan Harbinger: No, you can.
[00:38:25] Greg McKeown: people have their phones right there by their bed.
[00:38:27] Jordan Harbinger: Hell yeah, I got my phone next to my bed.
[00:38:29] Greg McKeown: This allows —
[00:38:29] Jordan Harbinger: Airplane mode.
[00:38:30] Greg McKeown: In airplane mode, okay, good for you. This allows other people to always be in your spec.
[00:38:35] Jordan Harbinger: It totally does, yeah.
[00:38:36] Greg McKeown: And the risk of that is that our whole life does become a function of other people's agenda for us, add to that our own anxiety around checking a phone and being connected. That's not other people doing that to us. Sometimes it's just our choice. Stop where you have a bit of control. Put the phone away, get rid of it in that morning. Those first 10 minutes. I recommend people when they wake up in the morning. It's the first few minutes. What are you grateful for? What are the important things —?
[00:38:59] Jordan Harbinger: Right, the gratitude factor.
[00:39:00] Greg McKeown: Number two is what are the two or three goals you've identified as being really important to you over the next quarter or more so that you just get attuning yourself to that.
[00:39:08] Jordan Harbinger: So not the day the —
[00:39:11] Greg McKeown: Longer-term, so you're now moving into things that really matter to you. And then third is like, how can I make my best service today? How can I love the best? How can I serve the best? Essentialism has nothing whatsoever to do with being more selfish. It just has to do with more essential things.
[00:39:28] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:39:28] Greg McKeown: To me, that practice is so much better than just first thing, "Okay. Check my phone." Now I'm into that reactive mode already and it's the start of the day. I'm priming myself for distraction. If I spend the first 10 minutes on the phone.
[00:39:43] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Going through the long-term goals keeps you away from the shorter-term stuff. It's hard to think about going through your inbox if you're trying to knock down a book proposal.
[00:39:52] Greg McKeown: Oh, it's interesting, you mentioned a book proposal because that's just the kind of thing that people aren't emailing us about. You have to act upon those things. And these goals — this is what helps us then move a weekly planning and our daily experience from this very reactive non-essentialist norm. And what's the result of that? What's the reward of that? You can actually do something that matters. You can actually move forward on a goal that you feel will make a big difference in the world. That's the right trade-off. You can do a bunch more email, just reactive constantly. And it's not just even email, it's social media. It's just endless like cycles. It's being a news junkie. It's whatever we get sucked in on the phone versus achieving something that we have identified as meaningful.
[00:40:36] Jordan Harbinger: Basically, we have to live by design and not by default, which I think is so written explicitly in the book. And that's kind of a novel concept. It sounds so simple. Like, yeah, okay, whatever. It's really easy to brush it off. But when we look at our day and we ask how much of it we actually have designed, it's usually a pretty small percentage, even for those of us that are self-employed. We think we've designed our whole day.
[00:40:56] Greg McKeown: Again, about the idea of being self-employed. You have control of your schedule only if you choose to.
[00:41:01] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:41:01] Greg McKeown: You can still be as reactive in any environment. In fact, one of the funny things about essentialism is that sometimes people will say things like, "Well, this is okay for the CEO, but not for me."
[00:41:11] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:41:11] Greg McKeown: But that's only true until you talk to the CEO. And the CEO says to me, "Well, it's okay for everybody in the organization, but not for me. I've got so many people expecting things from me. It's easy for them, but not for me." Everyone has a set of reasons. That they have bought into non-essentialism. But what I think it all comes down to ultimately is that people don't know they have chosen non-essentialism. They just have adopted it.
[00:41:36] Jordan Harbinger: They got washed into the drain.
[00:41:37] Greg McKeown: Completely because it's such a monopoly view right now.
[00:41:41] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:41:41] Greg McKeown: Until we sort of wake up almost like a Matrix moment to, "Oh, wow. This is not the normal state of things. This is just the state of our culture at the time we happen to be here." And so when would people wake up to it? It's almost like what I want for people is to discover how revolting non-essentialism actually is.
[00:42:00] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, of course.
[00:42:01] Greg McKeown: And we're swimming in this —
[00:42:02] Jordan Harbinger: Cesspool.
[00:42:03] Greg McKeown: Yeah. It is this thing that is alive with swimming it and it's having such a cost. I mean, sometimes I joke about all of this, but sometimes it makes me furious to think of the cost in an individual's lives as to what they wish their life could be. What it could be, in fact, if they made different trade-offs and what they've been conned into believing. I mean, we've been sold a bill of goods and the consequences are serious and significant.
[00:42:29] Jordan Harbinger: Do you see this as being primarily caused by technology, or is there a greater sort of culture that has crept in and now is being exacerbated by that?
[00:42:36] Greg McKeown: I don't think it's been created by technology. I mean, that sounds like a contradiction, but I don't think it is the idea of non-essentialism that has been with us for a long time. I think we can trace it back with a little history lesson. If you go back to 1500, the word priority came into the English language. What does it mean? The prior thing, meaning the very first thing. I mean, it is by definition singular, the first thing. And for the next 500 years, it stayed singular which is pretty amazing. That means that nobody in the English-speaking language, no one talking like we are today for half a millennium actually uses the term priorities because there can only be one by its own definition. So why did it change? What happened? And I think it was in response to the Industrial Revolution where you were throwing out the baby with the bathwater, lots of change for the better, some changes not for the better.
[00:43:26] And so as we started talking about priorities, so now we're sort of the 1900s, you can see they've been faced with non-essentialism ever since then. So waves of it. So the Industrial Revolution was the first. Post-second World War was the second phase where we come back from this most discombobulating experience the world's known — the industrialized world has ever known. And what do we do? Like when was the morning period? When did we take the year or the decade to adjust to this experience, to go through a sort of cathartic process? We didn't do a thing. I mean, we didn't take a year. We didn't take a month. We barely took a minute.
[00:44:02] So what did we do instead of dealing with that? We followed what the Romans called a Panem strategy. Panem is Latin for bread and circus. Panem was a strategy that was deliberately used in Rome. And as part of the Roman empire to distract the masters from the problems that were starting to be addressable in this society, certainly, there was so significant.
[00:44:23] And so instead you just distract people, right? You build the Colosseum; you have people distracted by bread and circus. That's what we did after the Second World War. So everything became about — and this is when we became consumers for a start and we weren't consumers. The founding fathers didn't build a constitution for consumers. They weren't thinking of themselves as consumers and they thought of themselves as citizens. So a fundamental change took place in the post-World War. So this is the second wave of non-essentialism. And the third is the one we've all lived through the last 10 years.
[00:44:51] So what I'm saying is the technology has exacerbated the challenge. It's been built on top of a non-essential list assumption, but the assumption that malware is still the problem it's been with us growing. And now it's at a sort of fever pitch. But it's actually been with us all the time slowly taking its toll on individuals.
[00:45:12] Jordan Harbinger: If we start to create different habits, we start to edit things out. We start to — as you outlined in the book — make suggestions for our employer, rather than telling them I'm not doing this.
[00:45:21] Greg McKeown: Right.
[00:45:21] Jordan Harbinger: First of all, how do we get our family, maybe to do this with us? Because I feel like it could be one of those issues where if I solve it, but my wife and three kids and mother-in-law, they're still doing things the old way. I'm just getting sucked into it. It's like a Scarface. Every time I try to get out, they stuck me right back to their non-essentialism.
[00:45:39] Greg McKeown: Yeah. So what I've learned is this. I've learned that essentialism is either done collectively or not at all.
[00:45:44] Jordan Harbinger: Ah, interesting.
[00:45:45] Greg McKeown: Okay. So I've learned that you have to do it with other people. In fact, I recommend people that the most realistic step, the very first thing to become an essentialist is probably to read the book. Get the language itself so you can start seeing non-essentialism for what it is because it starts to name it. And then you say, "Okay, who is somebody else who I want to take this journey with?" And you read the book together. So now there's two people that have a new language and, in the language, — the language is such an important thing because, without language, you can't talk about problems with language. You can talk about this; you can actually start to address it.
[00:46:18] And so that's where I'd start with next. So maybe your whole family does it. And then it worked the same. Who's someone who is safe? Maybe your boss is safe and you share it with them. Maybe the whole team is safe. You all read it together. Don't even worry about changing a thing. Just read it together. The language itself is a change. And allows you to slowly over time as the journey is definitely a long journey that allows you to have different conversations. And if you can change a conversation ultimately, you can change decisions and the culture, but you can't change decisions or culture if you don't change the language. So don't read the book and then try to execute it on your own because everyone else is still swimming in a different logic.
[00:46:56] There are people that contact me all the time. Now they've done it. They've read it. They got the people in their organization to read it. They've got their family to read it, and then they're able to make a tremendous cultural shift in how they operate, how they work together. Breakthrough to the next level, personally and professionally. Really amazing success stories come along. But you just got to do it together.
[00:47:16] Jordan Harbinger: What about boundary setting? I mean, you may kind of a big deal about this in the book. Personal life, work-life, there needs to be a hard stop, a hard line between that. Why does that work? Why is that important and how do we do it?
[00:47:28] Greg McKeown: Well, because boundary-less living, which is centered in non-essentialism believes something that's not true. What it believes is that there are no trade-offs. If there were no trade-offs, just be a non-essentialist. In fact, if there's no trade-offs, we all. Because if there's no trade-offs, you can just do everything all the time and therefore will achieve everything you want. That's what non-essential is going to keep saying is true. If it's true like I keep saying to you, if it's true, if it works, keep doing it. If it doesn't, then you have to stop accepting, well, there are trade-offs I'm making. Every time I make a choice to check my phone at home. Every time I do that, I'm not paying attention to one of my children. Every time I'm talking to my wife and I suddenly get pulled into an email or a text, I'm suddenly disrupting the experience there. So I've got to start facing the trade-offs that non-essentialism lies about. Start seeing what actual costs are to the decisions I'm making.
[00:48:28] And look, you can multitask, right? That's really proven. You can definitely multitask but you can't do is multifocal. And so if I care at work or at home about focusing, if I believe that my relationships are better when I focus on them and aren't distracted, then that will be a benefit to doing it. And there'll be a trade-off to not doing it. The longest I think I've been without my phone at all was like two and a half weeks on a family vacation in Costa Rica. We get out there into the jungle. My children still talk about that trip. They still noticed what difference it made to have the dad totally unplugged from this just constant tapping.
[00:49:10] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, it must make you feel a little bit bummed that you didn't do it earlier. That it's difficult to do even now
[00:49:17] Greg McKeown: We're going to be off track 90 percent of the time. You're just like any flight that you're on. You go from San Francisco to New York; your flight is off-track 90 percent of the time. It gets to where it's supposed to get to when it's supposed to get because it keeps coming back on track. And that's key for essentialism to try and be an essentialist like with a perfectionist mindset. Is trying to be an essentialist with a non-essentialist approach. Does that make sense?
[00:49:43] Jordan Harbinger: It does. It's like trying to row a boat in two directions at the same time.
[00:49:45] Greg McKeown: I like that metaphor. It's trying to say unless I can be a perfect essentialist meaning unless I can do everything perfect now, then I shouldn't even bother. An essentialist doesn't see that or say that at all.
[00:49:58] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:49:59] Greg McKeown: They say there's a few things that matter. I'm going to get off track. I'm going to keep coming back on track. There's a lot of stuff I'm going to get wrong, not going to get this perfect. I'm going to keep coming back. And so I have all sorts of things, built into the routine and structure of my life. It keeps me coming back. So every Monday night as a family night. No matter what, no matter what that night is already siphoned off.
[00:50:19] Jordan Harbinger: How old are your kids?
[00:50:20] Greg McKeown: So I've got four children and not a very essentialist.
[00:50:24] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:50:24] Greg McKeown: 13, 12, 10, and seven.
[00:50:27] Jordan Harbinger: So right now, you're in the point where you can still say Monday night is family night.
[00:50:30] Greg McKeown: That's right. I did the same thing as well. Right? So this was a church recommendation. This was 40 years ago. And so my family all growing up did this, we weren't perfect in our family by any means. We are off track 90 percent of the time, same, but every Monday is sure as I was going to eat on Monday, we were going to have a family dinner.
[00:50:46] Jordan Harbinger: That's great.
[00:50:47] Greg McKeown: And so there are things that you can build routines and structures that make the execution of what's essential easier. And so while you're not going to get it right while I know I don't get it right. I'm trying to build a system that supports the things that matter most.
[00:51:01] Jordan Harbinger: You mentioned in the book that essentialism has to be at the center of every decision that you make. So it sorts of seems like I'm trying to reconcile the off-track 90 percent of the time with every decision you make has to have essentialism at the core. Why can't we just be kind of weekend warriors?
[00:51:17] Greg McKeown: Well, I think that the idea that I'm trying to explain in the book is that it needs to be a mindset shift. So sometimes when I'm teaching about essentialism, someone will come up to me afterwards and I say, "Look, this is so great. This was a great reminder of one more thing I need to do." As if essentialism is just one more thing that becomes an irony. It's not one more thing. It's not another thing to add into the overstuffed closet of our lives. It's a different way of doing everything. So it's not that we're going to have our behaviors correct every time, all the time. Well, what we can keep coming back to is a mindset shift when we start to think about the world differently. We start to think like an essentialist. Then over time, the behaviors come instinctive, spontaneous, and then we start to build new routines around that new insight. So the work itself, real work, is the mindset to get the mindset of an essentialist.
[00:52:11] Jordan Harbinger: Making it something that you are instead of something that you just do —
[00:52:14] Greg McKeown: That's right.
[00:52:14] Jordan Harbinger: — sometimes.
[00:52:15] Greg McKeown: Something you become, not something that you are adding on top of a non-essentialist mindset, because that won't work. That's the problem. If you think like a non-essentialist and try to behave as an essentialist, you're still going to end up trying to efficiently do way too many things. And so you're still going to get the same results. The mindset has to shift.
[00:52:34] The tools, for example, we've been talking about technology. I'm not a Luddite, I'm not anti-tools. I'm not anti-technology. I work and spend a lot of my life in Silicon Valley, but it makes a very poor master — good servant, poor master. That's why the mindset shift is the one that has to happen first.
[00:52:51] Jordan Harbinger: I've got some thoughts on this episode, but before I get into that, I wanted to give you a preview of my conversation with the legendary Dennis Quaid. We got into rejection, both in Hollywood and outside, and how he brings his characters to life on screen. This is really a fun episode. I think you're going to dig it.
[00:53:07] Dennis Quaid: I didn't know at the time if I wanted to be an actor. That was back during the time where I wanted to be a veterinarian and/or a forest ranger — forest range.
[00:53:17] Jordan Harbinger: You'd be fighting fires right now.
[00:53:18] Dennis Quaid: Yes, I would. Matter of fact, I evacuated from my house right now.
[00:53:20] Jordan Harbinger: Are you really? I saw the smoke when I flew in this morning. You know our flight originally was canceled and I was like, "You got to give me the LA. I got Dennis Quaid coming here and can't stand them up with this bullshit fire."
[00:53:31] You use a lot of different accents in many of your films. I'm curious how you learn and practice those.
[00:53:35] Dennis Quaid: My brother and I grew up doing impersonations like Ed Sullivan and John Wayne and you know, everybody that was around us. So I picked up all the accents badly even. You know, like in India, I will be talking —
[00:53:49] Jordan Harbinger: Oh man. Are you the guy that hears one on TV and then spends the rest of the week annoying everybody in the house?
[00:53:55] Dennis Quaid: I prepared in secret.
[00:53:56] Jordan Harbinger: So like you're in the shower going, "One more Jimmy. One more, Jim."
[00:53:59] Dennis Quaid: I can't give her the gold, captain.
[00:54:04] Jordan Harbinger: That one is awesome. That's definitely good. There's a reason you get paid the big bucks for these and I don't. That's for sure.
[00:54:11] I know music's a big part of your life. You wrote a few songs for three of your films. Been in a band for like 20 years.
[00:54:17] Dennis Quaid: Same guys.
[00:54:17] Jordan Harbinger: Same guys
[00:54:18] Dennis Quaid: For 19 years this Halloween.
[00:54:21] Jordan Harbinger: Well, happy band-versary.
[00:54:24] Dennis Quaid: Wow. That's really good.
[00:54:26] Jordan Harbinger: You can steal that. I definitely think I just made that up just now.
[00:54:29] Dennis Quaid: Really?
[00:54:29] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:54:30] Dennis Quaid: I've never heard it.
[00:54:30] Jordan Harbinger: I've also never heard.
[00:54:31] Dennis Quaid: Well, it just came out.
[00:54:33] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:54:33] Dennis Quaid: See what happens when you relax.
[00:54:35] Jordan Harbinger: Is it true that you play with your band bare feet?
[00:54:38] Dennis Quaid: Yes. When we first started out, the Beastie Boys, they don't wear shirts. I won't wear shoes.
[00:54:45] Jordan Harbinger: For more with Dennis Quaid, including how he uses fear to stay motivated, check out episode 279 right here on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:54:55] Thanks to Greg. Don't forget he's got his own podcast, What's Essential? with Greg McKeown. That's the name of the pod. We'll link it in the show notes. Greg also has some really interesting writing. If you haven't read Essentialism, I do recommend it.
[00:55:05] One concept, for example, is the endowment effect. You've got to get things out of the closet of your mind. We value things more because we have them. So that leads us to overvalue things we don't need. There's a story he tells that's quite humorous. He almost bought a full-body, like a life-size stormtrooper suit, because he thought it was cool and he didn't have one and he would've loved it as a kid. And he's like, "Wait a minute. What am I doing here? Are you pursuing stormtroopers in your own life?" Don't go after things you think you once wanted. So, how do we identify stormtroopers in our own lives? Think about this. This will be in the worksheets as well. What do we do about those stormtroopers in our own lives? How do we identify them and how do we get rid of them?
[00:55:46] Also when we're faced with opportunities — and this is something that I deal with a lot just dealing with — do I do this? Do I have FOMO about that? Don't ask, "How will I feel if I miss this opportunity?" Instead ask, "If we didn't have this opportunity, how much would I pay to get it?" This is a great reframe. So instead of thinking, "Oh, I'd be disappointed if I didn't get to speak at this free Internet summit." It's like, "Well, okay. Would you? All right, fine. Fair. You're going to have a little FOMO. How much would you pay to speak at that Internet summit? Zero." Then you don't really want to do it. Okay. And that's the same thing for any meeting. It's the same thing for any opportunity. You want to write a book, or do you? How much would you pay if you had to pay to write the book? Nothing. Okay. You don't really want to write a book. This is a really, really useful reframe if you've got too much opportunity and, you know, bless you. If you're one of those people, then this is a great question to start asking yourself.
[00:56:40] And if you feel like you lack opportunity, I still think you should use this and get into the habit of it because it will keep you from doing a bunch of stuff that you don't want and that you later resent. Kind of reminds me of Dan Ariely, how he said, "Don't agree to something just because it's far off in the future. Imagine that it's next week or even this week, and you have to rearrange your whole life in order to do it. Do you still want that opportunity?" The answer is almost always no.
[00:57:04] Another technique, I thought was great from Essentialism, flipped the script so that when people ask you for things, flip it so that they have to do something instead. So for example, if you say, "Hey Jordan, can you write a blurb for the back of my book?" I'll say, "All right. Why don't you write the blurb for your book? And then you send me a couple of options and then I will pick one that's in my own voice." This is much more useful because otherwise, people can say, "Hey, can you review this? Can you do that? Can you do this for me?" If you flip it around on them, a lot of those people will sort of fade away. And that becomes very, very useful because people are asking you for stuff all day. And if they have no skin in the game, then it costs them nothing to ask you for it. If you make them jump through a hoop or two, just a small little hoop or two, and they do it. Good. Okay, you can do what they ask if you want to, but if they won't do that, then you're off the hook. So you put the monkey back on their back. It's extremely useful. I find myself using this a lot in my business and in my personal life.
[00:57:58] Last, but not least remember every time you're doing something that isn't essential, you're giving up something that is essential. That goes for your time with your family. That goes for everything at work, everything in your business. I really love Greg McKeown's book Essentialism, of course, his book will be linked in the show notes along with his podcast. I hope you enjoyed this. Those links by the way, on our website, in the show notes, please do use those to buy books or whatever is that does help support the show. I know a lot of people just want to go directly to Amazon. It would be great if you would click through on our links.
[00:58:29] The worksheets for the episode are in the show notes, all those drills and exercises you just heard throughout the show throughout the close. Those will be in the worksheets. The transcripts are in the show notes as well. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram or just hit me on LinkedIn.
[00:58:43] I'm teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships using systems and tiny habits over at our Six-Minute Networking course and that's free. Over at jordanharbinger.com/course. Dig that well before you get thirsty. Most of the guests on the show, they subscribed to the course in the newsletter. Come join us, you'll be in smart company.
[00:59:00] This show is created in association with PodcastOne and my amazing team. That's Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Ian Baird, Millie Ocampo, Josh Ballard, and Gabe Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for the show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. If you know somebody who's into productivity or needs to be more productive or set boundaries that they actually keep, share this one with them. Hopefully, you find something great in every episode of the show. So please share the show with those you care about. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on this show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
[00:59:36] Oh yeah, another quick little blurb here before I go, this podcast is sponsored in part or was sponsored in part by the Future Hindsight podcast. I want to give them a quick shout out because a lot of you have been checking that out and asking me about it. It's called Future Hindsight, which I think is a great name. They talk a lot about democracy, elections, politics, but it's not partisan. It's actually quite interesting and intellectual. You can find that in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever fine podcasts are sold.
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