Wow wow wow! Let me say that the first book I read while in stroke recovery, and a book that changed my life, is “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by New York Times Best-Selling author, Greg McKeown.
So when Greg agreed to be on the podcast, it was a dream come true for me and my husband Ron, so for the first time Ron sat in on the interview.
I am so proud of so many of the episodes on this podcast, but I believe this one has one of the best chances to change so many lives for the better. It. Is. A. Must. Listen.
From the book jacket of Essentialism:
Have you ever found yourself stretched too thin?
Do you sometimes feel overworked and underutilized?
Do you feel motion sickness instead of momentum?
Does your day sometimes get hijacked by someone else’s agenda?
Have you ever said “yes” simply to please and then resented it?
If you answered yes to any of these, the way out is the Way of the Essentialist.
I believe this describes most of the adult population in our society, including probably you and me! But there is a way out from the overwhelm and into meaningful productivity, and it is not as complicated or difficult as you may think.
Please listen to this podcast episode as many times as necessary to start applying the message.
And make sure to also pick up a copy of the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown as well, it could be one of the best investments you ever make in yourself.
Where to find Greg McKeown: essentialism.com
There you will find his podcast, his newsletter, his next book when it comes out, and his social media handles.
Elaine Comeau: 00:00
Hi, welcome to Elaine's Kitchen Table, where we talk about how to create better family, better health, better business, better self. And it was a no brainer to have this guest that we're about to invite onto this podcast. And I'm very excited to share that my co host today is Mr. Ron Comeau, my husband, say hello, Ron.
Ron Comeau: 00:22
Hello. See I didn't say "Hello, Ron".
Elaine Comeau: 00:25
I know you wanted to. Now, this guest of us of ours sorry, is someone who he has no idea how his book called Essentialism. And you can see it right here. If you're watching the video. Totally changed the way I do things. And it was at a time when I really had a big wake up call. This book Essentialism is actually the first book that I read while I was in stroke recovery. I had seven months of stroke rehab, and my husband gave me this book and said I had to read it. And I cannot wait to share some of the truths that really kind of hit me like a brick wall. And just changed my path. And I was on this freeway of thinking, I have to do that at all. I am this mom, multiple business owner. Crazy. I don't know, I'm definitely not a superhero. But sometimes I felt like I had to be a superhero. But that's something I want to share about what I learned. And through this book, Ron is actually gonna introduce our guests because he's just incredible. Ron, what would you like to say?
Ron Comeau: 00:25
All right, well, I think, we just finished the interview and I know it's going to be a great interview that you'll learn a lot. He basically speaks for himself, but like we said, his name is Greg McKeown, author of "Essentialism, the Disciplined Pursuit of Less", and a New York Times bestseller. We had a really long bio for him here, but I'll just give you the highlights. You'll hear that he speaks the delightful British accent. And born in London, England.
Elaine Comeau: 02:15
Everything sounds better with the British accent. Yes,
Ron Comeau: 02:17
Moved to America and graduated with an MBA from Stanford University, where he now lives in the LA area with his wife and four children who happen to be the same age as our three children.
Elaine Comeau: 02:29
Yes, between 11 and 17
Ron Comeau: 02:31
and that reminds me I wanted to share a joke with Greg but forgot the joke that Jim Gaffigan has about having four children. And someone asked him what it's like to have four children. He said, Imagine you're drowning and someone hands you a baby. So somehow, Greg manages to be an essentialist with all that going on. He has worked with companies that you may have heard of, such as Apple, Google, Facebook, and Pixar and Twitter and etc. These are all companies that have brought him in to help improve their culture and become more essentialist. So without further ado, I think we'll get into the interview.
Elaine Comeau: 03:08
Yay! So excited.
Elaine Comeau: 03:15
Oh, my goodness, this is one of those moments where it's a dream come true that we have Greg McKeown on this podcast. Greg, Welcome. Welcome. Welcome.
Greg McKeown: 03:30
Nice to be with you. So, with both of you. I'm looking forward to this conversation,
Elaine Comeau: 03:34
Yes. So it is a different podcast on here's my husband, Ron, Ron, say hello, hello. And ... I I'm speechless, and I'm rarely speechless. And I if I could take a moment where you know, you say okay, I have a bucket list. I have a wish list and this is one of those moments. When, I don't know, I know you're listening and you think, okay, I've read some great books. I wish I could meet Oprah or I wish I could meet, you know, Amy Tan or? Well, I have always wanted to meet Greg McKeown. And I'm going to dig a little deeper here. We are just launching this new season of our podcast because it had been on pause. And some of you had wondered why why was it on pause and I'm so grateful for you that you've been listening faithfully during this time of pausing of new episodes. But the reason is, I had a stroke two years ago. So we just celebrated that anniversary and seven months of stroke rehab, I had the worst stutter. I still can cry at the drop of a pin. And I will say that the first book that I read during my stroke rehab was a book that my husband gave to me. I didn't know that, you know he's had this for a while because it's one of his favorites. But he gave it to me.
Elaine Comeau: 05:11
And it was the first book I read during that time of crazy relearning how to hold a pen, relearning how to brush my teeth. I told myself not to cry. But yes, here I am. This book was life changing. These are happy tears of gratitude. And I know that those who know me they know. Of course she's crying. I should have bought stocks in Kleenex a long time ago because I think I've funded half of their, their gross profit. But Essentialism. You know, during my stroke rehab I, I learned so many valuable lessons. And I'm not talking about just learning how to hold a fork and how to brush your teeth again. I'm talking about learning to put your time and energy where your heart is. Learning to be that person who wants to live a life by design, and not by default. Learning to be a person who says I choose to, rather than I have to, you know, all these great things that I've learned that I'm saying, I'm actually quoting, I'm quoting from this awesome book Essentialism written by this person who's on our podcasts right now. Greg McKeown. He probably thinks I'm a little crazy right now. Who cries over a book? I do!
Greg McKeown: 07:09
Well, I've cried over it too, but for different reasons.
Elaine Comeau: 07:14
Greg, I want to start. I want to start by saying please tell us tell us about your family. Tell us more.
Greg McKeown: 07:21
Oh, I want to ask you more.
Greg McKeown: 07:26
I'm married to my of course best friend Anna. We've been married 20 years this August. We have four children, aged 11 to 17. These are the people who matter most. These are these people epitomize everything that's essential to me. And we live in Southern California, between L.A. and Malibu in the hills and I'm just delighted to be able to, to be with you today and with Ron and I'm delighted to be able to continue the conversation that is essentialism. It was always designed, intended that it would be as I was writing it, because I wanted to start a conversation with people. And I've been surprised, delighted to see people all over, react to the ideas. Really, I think somebody just said it to me recently - a surgeon, an eye surgeon who his wife told me that he used to sit and with his head in his hands and just say it again and again, I cannot do it. I can't do it oh I can't do it. And then exhausted he would stand up and just be like, Well, I have to. Let's get going. And then he got, I mean, it's not it's not the same as anyone else's story, but there's something similar in the story that you shared. But he had some things start happening to his hands and he is a surgeon. He is he needs his hands. But he doesn't even have time to go and check it out becasue he's so, what he needs to do about it.
Greg McKeown: 09:28
And they went on a long road trip, and they while they were there, she read him the whole of Essentialism. Wow. Okay, as they're on this road trip, they make notes and they just make sort of a couple of decisions. They're going to do differently, two or three things. One is that he's going to actually start exercising so he's going to protect the asset that's him physically and spiritually and emotionally, mentally just put that first and not think that that's selfish.
Greg McKeown: 09:57
Second thing he does is he goes and he reaches out to work and he says, Look, I've got to start just working with only the customers that only I can work with the patients that only I can serve, if someone else can serve them, let somebody else serve them if one of somebody else in the office can help them. One of the other medical stuff. It's got to be delegated. It can't be that everyone comes to me just because I'm wanting to serve and care. And then and then actually he negotiated where he was on the Elders' Board of his church and he renegotiated that too which I think didn't go so smoothly, because no one had ever done it before. And no one had ever seen it as a discussion item and something they could counsel about. And so at first they thought something terrible must have happened to him or he could be willing to serve something and he had to say to No it's okay, I just I'm trying to get my things in order so that I could look after myself properly so I can look after my family properly and come be a good surgeon sustainably. Well, That that continues the way that he shared that story with me. Recently, I was interviewing them as part of a new podcast launching on essentialism.
Greg McKeown: 11:11
And they were, as they were telling this they're sort of interrupting each other. It's delightful actually hearing them all talking. They said, they said, Well, what happened is that, that his business partner in the office suddenly, I don't know if he quickly gave just a month's notice. And suddenly, all of those patients had to be served. And they said, if that had happened without these new changes in place without this new plan in place, he said, they said, this wasn't just life changing for him. They both believe it was life saving, because of where he was at physically, and mentally, and so on before. Well, if I hear a story like that, so of course the story you just shared, of course it's humbling.
Greg McKeown: 11:49
But it also reminds me of the fact that most people are choosing non-essentialism, the enemy of our story by default, they do not know they're using it. In fact this this surgeon said to me, I mean, I just didn't know there was another way to do life I didn't allow I did not know that was another alternative. So he was down one path, not because he was choosing it just did that's the only path that's life. Wow. And so I'm, I just love being part of initiating this conversation one person at a time to be able to say, look, there's a different way, you can choose a different life. One where you're making trade offs between the stuff that doesn't matter and the things that only you can do that are uniquely yours, your essential mission, something that you know what you came on earth to do, and you can start making these trade offs. So to me, this is what I'm so excited about with essentialism.
Elaine Comeau: 12:47
I love how you just worded that that you know, some people have no idea. Me I had no idea that there was another choice and I think offline when we were talking just now, I was saying that even when I was in the hospital for eight, nine days, whatever it was, that, you know, my physical body had changed because of the stroke. But my mindset had not right? I was thinking, what did I think I wasn't thinking anything else. But my goodness, this stroke is completely inconvenient. I was thinking I had this mass, this huge test order that I'm doing with one of the largest mass retailers in the United States, I was launching a book. I have three speaking engagements. I'm supposed to be at a nationals tournament in Edmonton with my 16 year old daughter, I cannot be having a stroke. How am I gonna do?
Greg McKeown: 13:44
How am I still going to do everything? Yes. How can I do everything? Plus, just deal with the stroke?
Elaine Comeau: 13:51
Exactly. It's like is that heart surgery portable. Can I do it like on the flights by YouTube? There's gotta be a way right, we're resourceful we can figure this out. But no, that is there is a choice. There is a choice. And as you were talking, Greg, I'm like, I need a T-shirt saying "I choose essentialism". I will make it and I will send it to you.
Greg McKeown: 14:17
I love it. Tell me more. What did you learn? Then, like, what changed for you? I mean that that is a very powerful image of you being in the hospital you just had a stroke, the body has all changed but the mind hasn't changed. That's such a great description of something. Maybe we haven't, you know, maybe everyone listening to this hasn't gone through exactly that. But we've had moments where reality changed but our mindset's still trying to hang on to an old an old situation or old expectation, and we need to unlearn. So what did you unlearn and then learn.
Elaine Comeau: 14:59
Absolutely, and, you know, I'm gonna have to say this is retrospective. And and of course, I didn't know I was learning these lessons as as going through them, but I do remember moments for sure. And one of those moments which was confirmed when I was reading the chapters of your awesome book, was it does begin with making those small decisions in our daily life that are hard ones to help us choose the right choice. And I remember being in the hospital and I don't remember if it was day three, day four, whatever, it was all a blur, just like those hospital meals were all a blur. But, I remember begging the, the neurologists, the cardiologist, especially. What had happened is they gave me a flight ban for three months, so I wasn't allowed to fly. And I said to them, You know, I really need to go to my, I need to be there for my daughter at her nationals tournament in Edmonton. I live in Vancouver. It's only a two hour flight. It's all good. And he said no. And I'd asked him again, I'd say, Come on. It's already booked it's like, no big deal. I have to be there for her. And he said, No. So I every day I asked, and then, finally and I don't remember if it was day four that I asked and he turned and he said to me, Okay Elaine. He goes, you could go to your daughter's tournament, or you could go to her wedding.
Elaine Comeau: 16:31
And I thought, Wow, he's mean (laughter). What kind of cruel bedside manners is this? No, but he spoke truth in that one statement. And you know, my daughter heard me say this on a stage and she saw a recording of me saying that and then she she like belted out from the kitchen, choose the wedding mom, choose the wedding!
Greg McKeown: 16:31
Greg McKeown: 16:54
Ha ha! Right. That's a powerful moment. Powerful question.
Elaine Comeau: 17:00
Yes. And every day we make those choices and I have been a Yes girl for a long time my husband can attest to that. I am a recovering people pleaser. Which means I am a people pleaser but I make a conscious decision every moment of the question that I decide yes or no to, to make the right choice because when you say yes to something, you're saying no to something important, which is time with your children, time with your family time on working on your business and, and so your book woke me up. And it it rattled me and when you said when you were talking about that has that surgeon who said you know it wasn't, how did you say it was life changing? Life saving. Life saving! Sorry, yes. Yes. So I'm going to say that resonates for me that it is a life saving book.
Elaine Comeau: 18:17
But, but yes, it does. You have a choice. And you have a choice. I can say that one more time - you have a choice. I say that because I know that the women, our listeners are primarily female. And they have family, they have a small business. They have multiple businesses. But we have choices that we can make that can save our life, that could save our time together with our children, our family. Because I have learnt that there's an importance in mastering this art and that art is the mastering the art of single tasking because we live in this crazy world of glorified multitasking right? You'll see it on social media, you'll see women juggling diapers and briefcases and laptops. And it's okay to let them all drop and catch the baby always catch the baby!
Elaine Comeau: 19:18
But what is important is, is learning to do one thing and doing it really well. I'm not saying you have to single task all the time, just the times that it matters most, right? Because that's when our, our children, our husband, our spouses, they won't remember our multitasking moments but those single tasking moments with them. And same with our, the client that you're working with. Right? They want to feel like you're, they're your only client. And and I just want to say thank you, Greg for, for reminding me that I have a choice. And that life is not just the fast paced, multitasking world that that we all seem to get trapped On this freeway of if that makes sense.
Greg McKeown: 20:04
Absolutely. And you know we want all of us want to get beyond someone said it this way to me recently, we want to be more than the smartest rat in the room. You know we don't want to just be in the rat race. We want to choose a different life a life that is full of meaning it's full of joy. And this idea that we have a choice is, is at the very heart of what it means to come an essentialist. The non-essentialist thinks I have to and even says that "I have to", where the essentialist says I choose to well what does that really look like? Because you can actually change that language next time you find yourself saying well I have to do this today I have to do whatever it is. Fill in the blank. I have to do this. Just change it to I choose to, because. Now, why? If you say I have to, I have to, I have to respond to this email. Okay. I have to in our life, it was a situation we had where we had our son signed up for baseball season. And as the season approached, we were like, Oh, this is so much more work than know when it's going to be. And it's just going to add so much extra time and travel and, but we have to, oh, okay. We catch ourselves saying that, I have to so we say it differently where we choose to do this, because we fill in the blank, well because, Jack will be disappointed if we don't do it.
Greg McKeown: 21:43
See normally, if you say I have to, it's the end of the sentence I have to take him, we have to do it. That's the end of your exploration of your thinking. If you say I choose to, because of this, because it will be responsible. Well, now you know why you're doing it. And you can also go prosecute that assumption. You've got to find out if that's true. Jack, we did it. Son, come in here, we're thinking about not doing baseball season. But we just want to know what your thoughts are. How do you feel about that? Instantly - Oh, that'd be fine Dad. No, problem. That was it, there was nothing. There was no cost to him. There was no disappointment in him. There was no moment of sadness there was nothing we saved three months of our lives, and all the sanity that goes with that, because we just tested our own hypothesis. So I choose to because blank, and then go see if that's true. Go see if that's right, because this is one way to live in the "I choose to" space.
Elaine Comeau: 22:47
I think, if we apply what you just said, we as listeners, we just gained about three hours in our day or three months in your case. I know, that's incredible. And we understand because we have three kids between the ages of 11 and 17, as well. And during this COVID season and of course our hearts go out to all who are affected in such negative ways. We have seen a lot of brightness and light to like just having conversations with neighbors who are so grateful like there's one neighbor who has grown up children who are in their late teens, early 20s who are never home because they're out with their friends and she's always been sad by that but now she's beside herself so happy that she's playing Scrabble with them and Pictionary and they want to be with her and spend this time because all that other noise and distraction and not that friendship is distraction, but family time is often left behind. And for us too like with all three of our children are volleyball players, and oh my we aren't driving to three different
Greg McKeown: 24:02
you live on the road normally.
Elaine Comeau: 24:05
Yes and, and you know, and all this fast food places are probably missing out on our family right now. But we are so happy to have this time with family.
Ron Comeau: 24:16
Well, it's been nice. One of the nice things about the COVID times has been forced essentialism in our society, I'm really hoping that will come out the other side and people will say, I didn't have to do all that stuff. And likewise with Elaine, when she had her stroke, there was a bit of forced essentialism there. We would like to help you spread the good news of essentialism so people you know, we don't need a life changing situation to start to explore it and just just to touch back on on Elaine's journey. Much like yourself, she she created a product like you created a book she created a children's product. And they were they were both quite successful. In your case, you may have thought it was surprisingly successful in hers it was. And her product actually helps children become tiny little essentialists. It helps them develop routine and have good habits and whatnot. And so while she was out there helping the children of the world become little tiny essentialists she was injuring herself in the process. And that wake up call came along, and I was so thankful that we had this we've been doing, you know, personal development stuff for a couple years before that. I picked up this book, I think in 2016 and I had read it highlighted it, which I don't normally highlight books and applied it in my business almost immediately, and I was trying to hint at it to Elaine, but she was too busy. So this wake up call that you got really helped and so I think if we could dive more into the concepts in the book, now we can we can help a lot of people.
Elaine Comeau: 25:48
I was gonna say I didn't just read the highlights.
Greg McKeown: 25:56
No, I something you just said though, I want to just riff on for a moment. The idea that ideas come to people when they're ready. You know, when when the student's ready the teacher arrives. And it reminds me I once invited Clayton Christensen to come speak at an event. He's passed away now. And you know, years and years before we'd imagined or hoped we'd have him for a lot longer.
Greg McKeown: 26:27
But he began his speech with a really amazing story about a dream he'd had. And so this is Clayton Christensen, who of course, wrote the Innovator's Dilemma, many others significant thought leader in the world, arguably the number one thought leader in the world, before he passed away and the story tells this dream he in his dream, he goes up to basically to heaven in his dream, but it's to a place up there and some someone meets him I can't remember who he said whether it was an angel or God but somebody meets him and is taking him around and showing him around. And they show him to this warehouse. But it's an unusual warehouse because what lines all the walls everything is packed full not of artifacts of you know, gold and silver will tell but each artifact is knowledge. Each artifact is some important truth, someone's mental model, some insight, something that would solve an important problem. Clayton looks at this whole situation. Not delightedly, is sort of aghast at it. He says How is it that you have all of this here, when down where I am, these problems are everywhere? And these truths would solve these problems instantly. It is just what we need. Why haven't you given them to us?
Greg McKeown: 27:55
And the person who's guiding around his guide says, well watch this and he takes off artifact, 37a, whatever. And he says, Well this is this is meant for, you know this is meant for Greg down there and he throws the artifact out of heaven down on to earth and down to me and it goes straight through me it just either bounces off or goes straight through, I can't remember and the guide says to him, Look until Greg is asking the right question, until he wants the answer, it doesn't matter if I give it to him, I can put it in front of him, I can throw it at him I can put it in front he will not see it, he will not absorb it he will not be interested. And this was the sort of the gist of this as he wakes up as he discovers like it, our job is to ask the right questions and to be ready and open. And whether that's because you know you're a surgeon and suddenly your hands are threatened or whether it's a it's a stroke or whether it's just concerns at the business and you want to go to the next level and you don't know how to do it, or you have a relationship that's strained, you desperately want to improve whatever the reason is that causes us to pause and to say, Well, whatever my current mental models are not sufficient to this task. Because I'm having experience. This is a failure, expectation failure. I'm having expectation failure. I expected it to be like this, but it's not. When those moments come if we choose to be humble, then we asked a new question. Absolutely. And as we ask a new question suddenly, we are open to more that comes along.
Greg McKeown: 29:40
I think there are just two kinds of people in the world. Not to oversimplify or anything. There are the people who are lost. I call those non-essentialists right, and then, and then there are people who know they are lost. And I call them essentialists. People know that lost, our people who wake up in the morning. They don't they do not know the answers, they do not have it all laid out. And because they're humble enough to admit that, then they do the stuff we all actually probably know how to do, which is okay, well, what are the goals? And what did I get done yesterday? What should I what's really important to me to get done today? And you go through the process daily, weekly, monthly, or ongoing, because, you know, you don't know what you're doing without that. So that's like the beginning of this journey to becoming an essentialist. This is, it's a problem with the heart where you have to get humble and admit, I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know why I'm so busy. I don't know what I'm racing towards a race to nowhere. When you wake up to that every time you wake up to that you are 50% you know, in your journey to becoming an essentialist in that moment.
Elaine Comeau: 30:49
I love I love how you said it. It is that choice begins with humility. It does begin with acknowledging that I don't know anything at all and to admit it and to embrace that, because, you know, when I was reading your book, and I actually made a checklist, and you have several of those within your book, and about, you know, even the value and importance of how we view sleep, like, you know, the non-essentialist would say sleep is a waste of time, because there's so much you know, I could be doing in that extra hour. And I'm guilty, guilty, guilty of having fallen in that category and devaluing sleep and now I'm the preacher of the opposite thing. Don't be like me. Do value your sleep because it affects so much in your life. Like even getting that extra hour sleep will give you hours more productivity. And it does begin with that choice, I mean that acknowledgement of I do know that I don't know everything and I need help.
Elaine Comeau: 32:00
And earlier you had said, you know, a book is it's like a life on its own, it's a living thing. But if it sits on the shelf, if it just sits there and does no impact, just like how we could preach to our children, that broccoli over there is so good for you. And just because we have it in our house doesn't mean you're healthy, unless you make the choice to eat it and put it inside your body so that you actually will get those nutrients and vitamins and minerals. And same with learning. Right, we can have a shelf full of awesome books like my husband had this years before I read it before I'm sure I knew that it existed. But until I read it and applied it and your book is one of those books where I didn't just read every page, I had to put it down and apply and take notes and write it down. And make choices and I did I made big choices in the process of eliminating things in my life. Learning to say no and yes to the right things and that it was okay to not do all the things that I was doing because I did want to choose - make choices so I could be there for the wedding and not for the next sports event. And whether it's kicking a mom guilt to the side or, or like I said, I'm a recovering people pleaser, itis small choices every day, that lead to the right way of doing things. I think.
Greg McKeown: 33:46
I love what you just said there. There's something that you said I want to build on which is go smaller. When people read Essentialism one of the things that sometimes happens somebody said to me once they said Oh, it should come with a warning, this will be the hardest thing that you will ever do. And for a while, I just accepted that as true. Like ahh they've named something that's right about essentialism, it's just so hard. And actually, it's probably the number one thing that I now refute and reject about essentialism. But it took me a long time to recognize the underlying assumptions that led me to that conclusion.
Greg McKeown: 34:25
I think that not just this reader that said that to me, but, but maybe almost universally, people hold the idea that doing really meaningful things are, by definition, take enormous effort. They are really challenging. And anything worth doing is take this super hard thing to do. And so as a result of that, we often abandon the essential things for the trivial and easy things. And so sometimes we abandon what's important before we've even begun it. It's the self improvement equivalent of watching, you know, you know, and somebody has a slide deck, and there's way too many words on the slides. You know, like, maybe there's 500 words on the slide or something. And, what happens is that you don't read 300 of the words, and then give up, you just do the pre scan. Am I ever going to read this? I'm never going to read that book. I mean, I'm never going to read that slide. And I think in life to the essential things that people assume and see as being enormously hard on and therefore they don't even bother, they do the pre scan, am I ever gonna, I'm gonna repair this relationship with that family member, am I ever gonna build that family that really mattered to me. I'm ever going to launch that business that's deep in me am I going to develop those talents, am I ever going to protect the asset and actually get good sleep, it's all too overwhelming. So they just put it aside, they barely even begin.
Greg McKeown: 36:10
And what you just said, which I just have come to have a great conviction of is you go smaller, so much smaller until you arrive at something that you have a physical reaction to where you whether you say or not this the spirit of is, I can do that. I could do that. I imagine that, and it creates like a burst of energy I can I can go after that. And just this morning, I read a story of a woman who needed she was with her doctor, and she wasn't well and part of the reason she wasn't well, she needed to lose some weight and so on. There was a variety of things. And there were two doctors together with her. One of them said, Well, look, you know, you probably should start exercising a half an hour day, maybe an hour a day and he went to say this and the other doctor that was writing this story said as soon as he saw this, he could see in the eyes of the patient is just exhaustion, there was no way they were going to do it. It's not like they didn't know that would be good. It wasn't like a knowledge gap. It just they couldn't imagine doing it. It's just overwhelming with all they already had going on. And so he said, instead, he interrupted and he said, Look, actually, what I think you should do is for one minute a day, jog in place while watching TV, like march in place, not even jog, excuse me just march in place, while watching TV for one minute. And he said he saw her eyes light up because she knew she could do that. So she knew she wasn't going to say yes to something she knew immediately. She wouldn't do she wasn't going to break her integrity, because she felt like she had to capitulate to this authority figure telling her what to do, but know that she's immediately going to break it afterwards. One minute per day. So by the time they have the next visit, she was full of energy for like, okay, she actually asked what's something else I can do in one minute a day. Part of it within a year she had lost 30 pounds, just because the incremental things. I think all change is easy. Really, really. We say it's hard, but I think the emotions around the change are hard, the feeling that it's hard, the feeling that we might fail. All of those things are hard. But the actual change is just one physical step at a time. No change can't happen any other way you have you do a small thing. So I think it's a great myth that becoming an essentialist is so hard. That's like a non-essentialist way of becoming an essentialist.
Elaine Comeau: 38:44
I like how you said it. It just takes one minute a day to make a huge pivotal change in anything, whether it's your health, in your family relationship and your business, in your business relationship. And you know what I can hear the thoughts right now of some of our listeners who are like, you know, I'm an entrepreneur, I wear all the hats in my business. I'm like the seller, the shipper, the marketer. Right. I like how on earth do I start essentialism as an entrepreneur, like I wake up, and I don't even know which hat. They're all layered on my head at the same time. So what would you say.
Greg McKeown: 39:28
Well, I want to just take on that metaphor for a second, right? Because I mean, first of all, I relate to it. So I work from home, we homeschool, three of our children. I'm an entrepreneur. So I'm a writer, like I live some of what you're describing there. I'm not gonna say it's exactly the same for everybody by any means. But let's just - hats. You cannot wear all of the hats at one time. You cannot. It's neither necessary nor possible. So this I have to wear all these hats at once is, is that that feeling is part of what makes life harder than it needs to be. It's a belief that makes - we live with a burden that's not possible. Anytime you have the belief I have to, but also the belief, I can't, what you produce is not greater productivity, just stress. Yes, it just produces emotional heat, stress. And the longer that exists, the more impossible it feels. And therefore the stronger the emotion but stronger not in terms of anger. Eventually, you become depressed. And so the emotions are dragging you down. So change feels really desperately hard. Maybe it feels literally impossible.
Greg McKeown: 40:59
And that's because we're thinking we have to do things, we actually just can't do. So we're trying to do change the wrong way. Now what I want to say is that change can be enjoyable, it can be easy becoming an essentialist is either enjoyable, and easy, or it's nothing, or it's impossible. It's like, it's, it's just not going to happen. That's the only path to change. It's no forcing your way to it, killing yourself night and day, damaging all of your relationship with that isn't going to work, it's not going to happen. So the only viable path to becoming an essentialist is easy and enjoyable. It's fun, you do it in small and simple ways. You start it, you know, I spoke to somebody the other day and I don't know that this is that essential to be honest, but he'd written a book all about how to become like superhuman and, and I think that might be the title of this book. And I was interviewed, being on his show and, and I said, Well, what's something that's essential for you that you're under-investing in? Nice. Well, it's cold showers, which for me, I'm not no interest in cold showers. But for him, it was essential. I said, why does it matter so much, but he had this whole plan a seven year plan that was all about how he would achieve this dream version of himself and what his life and and this was a part of the process each day to get himself psyched up. And his goal was half an hour every day. I said, What does success look like? He says, nine out of 10 days I get one day off in 10. I said, how you doing with it? He says, I'm not doing it. I mean that's the gist of it. How do you feel about that? Terrible! I mean, he just feels terrible about it, because I have to do it. But for some reason, I cannot do it. So it just produces stress, and eventually discouragement and eventually, even depression. I don't know that he was depressed, but I'm just saying, right? Absolutely. I said what if what would be easy? We do easy. How can we make it easier? First, I said, Well, what if we did one minute per day? Okay, well that definitely seemed more achievable than 30 minutes, I said, Now hold on, I've reduced it. What if it is one minute per week?
Greg McKeown: 43:11
You have to do it one time in the whole week. You can you can fail six times out of seven and still be successful with the goal. And all you do is for one minute one time. So you know, when you finally feel like it on one of the days you go it's no big deal. I mean, it's one minute, so we'll do it. And he you could see again, this physicality, this changed, like, Yes, I can do that. I'm going to do that. Yes, that's what we want. That's what I want for people who are trying to become essentialist. I'm not sure I did a good enough job on it with Essentialism. I'm trying to trying to write something right now, actually, that hopefully will correct this other core assumption. I didn't know it when I wrote Essentialism, which is that people just think everything has to be hard. If it's, if it's worthy. It has to be hard. I have to sacrifice myself, body and soul if it's something important, and I think that whole thing, that whole Puritan idea keeps a lot of good people from doing the most important work of their life.
Elaine Comeau: 44:14
And I'm going to say, I didn't see that as like that. What you're saying about you know the Yeah, the weight of the challenge and difficulty of being an essentialism, being an essentialist. I don't see that I
Greg McKeown: 44:31
It was doable for you. Yes!
Greg McKeown: 44:35
That's what it was meant to be.
Elaine Comeau: 44:36
It is it absolutely is. It is a choice and who doesn't like choices, right? It's just remembering that you have one, right? Yes. When you get caught up in the craziness of having to have to do this have to do that. You forget that actually, I don't have to. I have a choice. And sometimes yes, it may look not so good to somebody else. Because I'm saying no to them. But I'm saying yes to my health, I'm saying yes to my family. And that is okay. It's not being selfish because there is only one of you. That can be that mom, or wife or business owner or friend or daughter, or son, there's only one of you. So we have to I know I'm saying this and I'm saying the word have to remember that we have a choice.
Elaine Comeau: 45:33
And choosing to is what you want to, like, it was so brilliant when you just pointed that out. And perhaps you're not the first person to say it, but you were the first person to say it to me through this book of Don't you want to live a life by design rather than by default? And and I have run that course and I still catch myself on that course. But then I get to interrupt my life and say, Oh, I got to get off. And it does take effort to realize that and to realize I have a choice to make right now before I like I can get off this train. Or I could stay on it and go crazy and go nowhere and still go crazy and juggle all these hats.
Elaine Comeau: 46:17
And you mentioned that routine is a very important tool. And yes, I am all about routines and structure and when I created Easy Daysies I named it it was to help kids have easier days. That's why it's called Easy Daysies.
Greg McKeown: 46:33
I like it.
Elaine Comeau: 46:34
Thank you! And it was when I was a school teacher and I had all these parents asked me to create a daily visual schedule to help their kids get out the door faster in the morning to become more cooperative, right and independent. And so that's exactly how it was born. And I made them for free actually for eight years before I actually made it into a product but it is it is about establishing a routine so that it just flows so easily and there's less anxiety there's less stress because you know what is coming ahead and it just makes it so much more efficient so I'm going back to those hats then, Greg would you say that you would compartmentalize those hats and, so that you're chunking your time. So when you are writing a new book right now, you're gonna be launching a podcast, you are a dad, you have speaking events you teach you do all these things. So obviously you don't like you said, you can't wear all those hats at the same time. So what is your what is your strategy?
Greg McKeown: 47:50
Yeah, I mean, I'm a struggler with this. I always have more things that I want to do than I can do.
Elaine Comeau: 47:57
So you need Easy Daysies then
Greg McKeown: 48:00
I do and I love the name and I love the idea of it.
Greg McKeown: 48:06
The first thing I would let me give you practically something that Anna and I do that I think is a good idea. Once a month, we will make a projects list. And we have an ongoing big projects list right of all the different things that you want to do and you can keep adding to them and all through the day and through the week month you're gonna have all sorts of other ideas come your way right loads and loads of projects. Well, the default position is that all of those projects compete for your, you know, for that headspace right now, all the time. And you might have 100, 200 projects that you want to do - things around the house, and each of your children need different things and they these needs are changing, parenting is like the ultimate startup the constantly changing requirements. Week to week that their needs are changing the business things that you're trying to run and opportunities that have come in overnight problems that you there's so many things and so many projects.
Greg McKeown: 49:12
So get a master list, right? Get a Google Doc, whatever, you put them all there, get them out of your head there so that you don't have to try and hold not just the current hats, but every possible hat that you would like one day to do. All at once, right? Some people I do think for some people, it's almost like they have 100 hats on. You know if every project is a separate hat. Put that all there once a month, look through the list. Brainstorm other things too, but you select I think it's no more than seven. Even that might be a bit of a stretch, but seven projects that you're going to complete this month. So I recommend that people divide the list into the three categories I've mentioned before, but only sort of not drawn out specifically. The first category is "protect the asset". This is always first. Second thing is your relationships, the most important relationships. So for me, it's family relationships then, but of course, it could be extended beyond that, but your most important relationships and third is everything else. What other meaningful projects you want to go on in the world out there, but are they out there projects so those are the three categories, protect the asset, relationships and out there. So you can choose how to put you know, you've got seven different projects, you could have all seven be under protect the asset if you wanted, I suppose. I've never done it like that, but you know, you choose how it is. So one or two in protect the asset one or two in family maybe more, and then whatever remains out there.
Greg McKeown: 50:54
So I have that I literally have it. I won't show it right now. But I have it on the wall right here. So I put the projects list here. And what it allows me to do is two really important things.
Greg McKeown: 51:05
One, every morning when I do my daily planning, I can look at that projects list and say, okay, what's the next thing? What is, and I'm telling you, this is the right thing. What's the realistic next step? Now, it doesn't have to be overwhelming. You don't have to kill yourself over it. Because you're not trying to complete it today. You're trying to make progress on each of those items each day, this month, and you're going to make great progress, you're gonna get that work done. Second thing that allows me to do is when new projects come up new ideas and I don't mean other people doing it to me, it could be just an idea I have, a brainstorm that I'm having with Anna and I or with the kids and oh, what about this cool thing? Yes. Okay, let's hold that up to the projects list. Is that more important than anything on the list right now, or can we put that on the projects list for later? We'll get to it. We'll come back to it. If we want to later we'll do it. And that looking at opportunities and work and projects against an existing list helps us to get real, helps us to be honest. One of the things it's taught me is that I and I think many other people kind of live in a little bit of denial. In thinking that we can do way more projects than we realize we can. So what we're doing is we're overestimating what we can do today and this week, and understimating what we can do in a decade or more. And so what I think is we can be incredibly productive, over a decade, we can get so many of these important projects completed and improved, built into our lives. But if we try and do them all at once, we won't actually get almost any of them complete. We'll certainly stress ourselves out more. So this is one practice that I have found really useful in actually selecting what to do and what not to do.
Elaine Comeau: 52:58
I so appreciate that. I talk a lot. I'm so sorry Ron.
Ron Comeau: 53:04
Greg, getting back to the point you made earlier that the two types of people. Yeah, I know, there's still one listener out there who's saying, you know, I'm lost, because I'm different than everybody else. I'm more lost, I'm not invited to the party of the people who know that they're lost, like, you just don't know how busy I am and how overwhelmed I am. Essentialists are made not born. Is that correct?
Greg McKeown: 53:31
Oh, yeah, I think that is right. I mean, it's probably true that some people may be you know, that you probably take the population and put it on a normal distribution curve. You know, some people are bit wired more as essentialists, some people maybe a bit more wired as a non-essentialist, most of us in the middle. But I think no matter where your, what your tendency would be, you can move a couple of standard deviations over. Anyone can become more essentialist. And that's how I would encourage people to think about it. You know, wherever they are what do I do to take it a step over an inch closer to being an essentialist today and the same the next day and the next day. Because that continual improvement towards being an essentialist, you know, compounds over time, and you make a lot of progress. Like I said, over the years, over 10 years, you can do tremendous amount of good to get the right things done, reduce your stress and increase your output, especially the right things.
Ron Comeau: 54:36
And you, it might be inspiring for our audience, if you can share from your history because you're basically the Moses of essentialism, you wrote the tablets. (laughter) But I'm sure you had a burning bush moment where you haven't, you didn't come out of the womb, this much of an essentiallist. You must have had a time in your life where the lights turned on.
Greg McKeown: 54:57
Yeah, I mean, one of the stories that sort of defines, was a defining moment, a defining moment was when I received an email from my manager at the time that said, Friday between one and two would be a bad time for your wife to have a baby. I need you to be at this client meeting. And, you know, look, they could have been joking about that. I don't know. They certainly might have been easily persuaded if I had pushed back but I didn't. And Thursday night comes along, we're in the hospital. You know, our daughter's born in the early hours, Friday morning, and instead of being focused, all there in that moment, this is what matters. This is who matters, my wife, my daughter, I'm feeling torn. I've got all these pressures pulling on me and I am trying to do them both. That's what a non-essentialist does. Straddle it, let's see if I can cram both in. And, you know, so to my shame, I go to the meeting and afterwards, the manager said, Look, the client will respect you for the choice you just made. And I don't know that they did, I don't know that the look on their faces evinced that sort of confidence. But even if they had I made a fool's bargain. And, you know, I violated something more important, for something less important. What I learned was, if you don't prioritize your life, someone else will. And that really is a core tenet of becoming an essentialist. You're taking responsibility for the prioritization of your life. And it doesn't mean that you can control everything. Of course you don't. It doesn't mean you can even decide everything that you do all the time. No, it doesn't mean that but it does mean that if you take responsibility for it yourself, then you are better armed to be able to negotiate, to be able to simply sometimes actually just say No, I'd love to but it can't be done. First thing first is to get it clear yourself each day each week is to keep coming back to what's essential, because otherwise everything else around you will decide it for you.
Elaine Comeau: 57:20
I so appreciate that. And I love reading that line and I've written it in my notebooks over and over again in my agenda where you said that you don't prioritize your life, someone else will do that for you. And, and one of the key lessons that I learned from you and reading Essentialism is, putting my time and energy where my heart is. Because when you do that, whether you're a small business owner or a big business owner, you will find that you will work with the right people. You will draw the right people to you and deter those that that you shouldn't be working with.
Elaine Comeau: 58:04
And I learned that as a mom who started my business off my kitchen table, and I still work from my kitchen table. I don't manufacture off my kitchen table anymore. But I remember very specifically this one company, a mass retailer in Canada that I really, really wanted my products, Easy Daysies to be in. And I wrote to them for like seven weeks, and they never replied. And finally I got this email from one of their buyers for the category saying, Okay, let's let's meet over Skype on this specific day. And I was jumping up and down. I ran over to the calendar and just when I was about to write it, I see it was my son's grade one and of the year concert.
Elaine Comeau: 58:48
And I thought, Ahh oh no, I said I have to, I have to be there for the concert and (choose to) because I choose to. Yes, because I choose to. And being a former schoolteacher I know the importance like when I taught grade one and grade two, my kids who performed weren't excited because they were singing a song but because they had someone to wave to that they knew (that's right) and I wanted to be there for my son. So it killed me to write back to this buyer from this retail chain. And I did I shared honestly and openly that I'm so grateful for that opportunity. However it is my son's end of the year concert. And I would like to be there for the concert. And immediately they wrote back saying absolutely you should be there for your son's concert and just call us when you're done. In that school parking lot after the concert I made that call and I am so honored and blessed and grateful that Easy Daysies has now been a best seller at Staples across Canada for the last since 2013 and, such an honor.
Elaine Comeau: 60:02
And when I was in the hospital for that stroke, and I had, I was putting out a test order, and I was so stressed by this, it was to a mass retailer, much, much bigger in the USA, and I was like, I couldn't even speak properly. But I was telling my husband that he had to make sure it all happened properly for me, and he has his own business and I was asking him to help me here. And I remember when I finally got a laptop, because I wasn't allowed. I couldn't type anyways. But when I finally got a laptop at the second hospital I was transferred to I wrote to them to apologize for my delay in replies. And their one and only question after I downplayed that I was in the hospital for a stroke. But their one and only question was, will you meet the deadline? That was the only thing they asked and it was very evident then what was important in the whole big picture, and that it was okay for me to, to make choices that some would say weren't successful choices, but to me, it was valuing the asset, it was valuing my family and the larger community in a whole because I can't contribute if I don't exist.
Elaine Comeau: 61:27
And so I am so grateful to you, and I want to close on, I'm going to say our final three quick questions. Which you know, that's an oxymoron already. But my first question, congratulations, you are, you're gonna have a podcast. And in this I'm gonna be like a genie and put two questions in one. Because I have stated that there's three questions. You're gonna I would love to know the name of this podcast. Plus, if you could dream up and say, you know your dream person to have on your podcast with you, besides me, of course, because I'm your raging fan and cheerleader is - who would that be? And it could be someone from past history that is no longer, to someone who actually is a real human being.
Greg McKeown: 62:28
Yes, so the thank you for asking those questions. The podcast is Essentialism with Greg McKeown. People can find it and subscribe wherever they find their podcasts. I mean, it's everywhere. It's June 22 is the first download and there'll be four episodes that will download all at the same time so that people need to take pick have their pick and among those four are some of my dream people, but the first person the first interview, is the person I most wanted to interview was with my wife, and both because that was who I, I just knew it had to be her. You can only have the first episode once. And then secondly, when I did go and ask the Essentialist community, what you know who they were, who they wanted me to interview on the podcast, I got many great suggestions, but the one that got the most likes, the most interest and was suggested by the community was Anna. So I think there is some, you know, some interest in sort of saying, Oh, hey, maybe it's maybe the spirit of it is Does he really live it? You know, what's he really like? She pulls no punches in the interview, but, uh, but you get to hear her side of the hospital moment. That is awesome. I think that's gonna be that's gonna be interesting for people I think.
Elaine Comeau: 63:50
Well, you know, if I was more organized, I would have invited your wife to be a part of this and so she might see that I just followed her on Instagram and, I'm so excited to one day hopefully meet with your wife and maybe have her on this podcast because I would be delighted to learn from her and just laugh with her because that would be awesome. And I'm gonna give the floor to my husband, do you have a pressing question? I'm giving you up one giving up one of my three questions to you!
Ron Comeau: 64:26
Well, there's a question I ask to a lot of people, it's probably the one you would like me to ask. Who would you like to play you in the movie of your life?
Greg McKeown: 64:34
Oh dear, I should have a good answer that question,
Elaine Comeau: 64:38
Ron Comeau: 64:42
They don't have to have a British accent either.
Greg McKeown: 64:45
The only thing that comes to my mind but this is no good because because it's not a good reason or anything but, but given the my name is Greg McKeown. I've always thought was fun that Ewan McGregor was out there. It's like my opposite, right. You agree? Ewan McGregor instead of Greg McKeown. And he is an actor, and you asked for an actor and he has a British accent. So that who it's gonna be for today. Nice, because I can't I have not given better thinking to it than that. But it's a fun note to end on.
Elaine Comeau: 65:15
I get the last question, or
Greg McKeown: 65:18
Isn't it amazing? We have three questions that are now four questions.
Ron Comeau: 65:24
The last one is essential.
Greg McKeown: 65:26
Go for it - final question is
Elaine Comeau: 65:29
No, my first question was actually two in one.
Greg McKeown: 65:31
Oh I see. I see that non-essentialist trick there (laughter). Yeah, I'm just giving you a hard time. You go ahead and give me give me your final question.
Elaine Comeau: 65:39
Okay. So my podcast is all about create better, right. So create better family, create better health, business, create better self. If you could leave one last tip for that listener, my listener who's listening right now our listener to have a way to create better, what would that be.
Greg McKeown: 66:04
Look, I'm going to give you the answer this by first of all, just introducing the phrase from Essentialism - Less but better. So if you only try to do better, but you never subtract, you never eliminate you never simplify, never essentialize, then eventually it becomes almost impossible to be better because you're just so much practical already. So less but better, I think is the principle and then as an application for that, and I know this is especially hard and maybe isn't possible when you have young children, but to do what you can to get have the first as much as two hours of your day be your time for protecting the asset. So you get to get time there to do the journaling to just even get ready to take a shower to do a little exercise to do whatever it is that helps you to be you, because if you don't do that, what I notice happens is you just start to resent everyone else. And so there's nothing else works. Again, it's not selfish. There's three concentric circles and the center is protect the asset, then relationships then other. This is it - non-essentialists go from the outside in, essentialists go from the inside out, that's the only difference really, Wow, in a single image.
Elaine Comeau: 67:26
Wow, I, I'm a visual learner. And you just painted that picture so beautifully. And we want to be working from the inside out. Because if we go the other way, we will destroy ourselves. To put it mildly. And I I've lived that, I make conscious small decisions each day to to make the right choices in life. And huge gratitude. Huge gratitude to you Greg, and we are so honored and I will have where to find you in our show notes. But for that listener right now, where can they find you?
Greg McKeown: 68:06
Oh, best place is to go to Essentialism.com.
Ron Comeau: 68:10
That's how it's spelled.
Elaine Comeau: 68:12
Yes, but our listeners can't see that! (laughter)
Ron Comeau: 68:16
Read the book Essentialism that would be my number one piece of advice.
Elaine Comeau: 68:18
Yes, we will have all this great information in our show notes. So honored and really blessed to have this time with you, Greg and thank you for speaking into my heart, into our lives and our children's lives because you filled my cup. My cup will pour into my children's cups I am hoping and praying and so forth. So you are awesome. And I cannot wait for your podcast. So excited about that. And honey do you want to add anything?
Ron Comeau: 68:50
No, thank you for coming on. This was a bucket list moment for me, so I'll probably retire from podcast interviews now. (laughter)
Greg McKeown: 68:57
Thank you, thank you Ron. Thank you, Elaine.
Elaine Comeau: 69:00
Thank you so much, I am going to stop here in a moment. But I want to say thank you to our listeners, thank you for for having us with you while you were on your walk while you're doing the dishes while you were driving from a meeting to picking up your kids. We are so grateful. And remember, less is better. And it starts with just one minute whether it's one minute a week. But I love what Greg said at the end there. And it's something I share when I get invited to speak as a parent expert, on parenting or education is to even wake up an hour earlier than your children so you have that time to fill your cup. And because when you have that, you have so much more to offer others. It's really hard to start the day with an empty cup. And I just want to say thank you with gushing heart again to Greg McKeown. He has no idea what fan crushing is happening on this side. But thank you, and thank you for listening today.
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