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Essential Effortlessness

Part of getting things done is figuring out what you need to do and how to do it as easily as possible. There are tons of books on productivity and many of us have whiled away many hours reading them, hours that could have been more productively spent in productive activities.

The books’ strategies seem airtight until we try to apply them, and it gets complicated. Their generic ideas don’t fit our circumstances. Or their systems require half a day to maintain and it all falls apart the day we get up at 6:35 am instead of 6:30 am.

Not to worry, I’ve found two books which tackle productivity from a different angle. Essentialism and Effortless, both by Greg McKeown, gave me two big picture ideas which I want to pass onto you because they can so easily be applied to our favorite subject, decluttering.

1. What would make the cut?

In Essentialism, McKeown asks this question: if you started over, what would be important enough for you to add it back into your daily schedule and your life?

So often we buy something and end up not using it or loving it as much as we thought we would. Imagine your house is empty and you’re filling it back up item by item. Does this thing make it? Is it essential?

When decluttering, look at an item and really think. Would you choose to buy this again, to be given it again, to pick this thing off the curb again?

READ MORE >>> How to declutter and organize

2. No less than…no more than

In Effortless McKeown uses a phrase which you can apply to anything you want to do. Let’s say you want to declutter.

We’ve all thrown ourselves into something and then overdone it. You might start decluttering for 20 minutes but then want to keep going when the timer rings. It feels foolish not to take advantage of the momentum but you burn out. More turns out not to be better over the long haul.

Slow and steady wins the race, but let’s give our inner five-year-old some leeway, some feeling of doing it our way.

Using McKeown’s phrase to structure it – No less than…no more than – you might tell yourself that you’ll declutter for no less than 20 minutes but no more than 30 minutes. If you’re keeping track of your progress, you don’t get to tick your box if you declutter for less than 20 minutes but you also forfeit the tick if you go for more than 30 minutes.

If you’re up against a deadline to get things decluttered, you could use this for breaks too. The sessions could be no less than 20 minutes, no more than 30 minutes. And the breaks could be no less than five minutes, no more than ten minutes.

You could also decide that you’ll do no fewer than three sessions decluttering today and no more than four sessions.

P.S. Use your timer

Using your timer to keep to whatever you decide is crucial. Time flies when you’re having fun, so breaks tend to get extended and work sessions shortened without a timer.

Need help deciding what’s essential? That’s what I’m here for.

by Lucy Kelly


  1. I love these interesting concepts that drive a new perspective. Mostly, “ In Essentialism, if you started over, what would be important enough for you to add it back into your daily schedule and your life?” It took me about 3 seconds to come up with my
    important enough re-do. With enough hindsight, like a Monday morning quarterback, and having the years and wisdom on my side, I would make some different choices.

    I also like the concept of not less than or more than. The project or task becomes an essential and effortless balancing act.

    You find the most amazing books!

  2. Those books sound very interesting! “Would you choose to buy this again?” is a question I often as my clients during decluttering. The “no less than…no more than” concept is also very helpful!

  3. Time boundaries are stellar. They give you the sense of forward motion without overwhelm. I suspect we’re far less likely to avoid a closed-end task than an open-ended one. And I’m all about timers; a modified Pomodoro is just the thing when I’ve got a lot to do and need to buckle down and focus! Great points, and McKeown should thank you for the hype! 😉

  4. I think one reason I am fascinated by the tiny house movement is the challenge living with only what is absolutely necessary. Not much makes the cut. I think it would be a challenge to pare down that much, but fun to try it.

  5. I find that putting a time boundary on my efforts can help me do things I don’t really want to do. “I’ll only spend 10 minutes on it,” for example, feels doable. Often, once I start, I don’t mind going longer. This was how I got started exercising. I told myself I would only spend a few minutes each morning, but found, once I was in my exercise clothes and already starting, that I was willing to add a bit more.

  6. I love this idea! I am pretty good with managing time. But, I would like to try using a timer for some tasks that I need to do for me personally. I did this some years ago when I was working on my small business clients’ tasks to determine the length of time on a job and it really does help. Thanks for sharing.

  7. These are wonderful concepts and I love how you applied them to decluttering. With essentialism, I often offer the question, “Would you buy it again?” to a client that’s struggling with letting something go. It quickly helps to shift the perspective and clarify a choice. The application for effortlessness for decluttering is terrific. I love the idea of no less than “x” minutes, no more than “x” minutes for decluttering, break, or focusing sessions. Nothing as helpful as using a timer too. I’m all for timers! As a matter of fact, I have one set right now to cue me to stop so I can get ready for my for client sessions.