“There has never before been an age in which we could get so much done so quickly. There also has never before been an age in which we were so overwhelmed with information and tasks, so overloaded with emails and things to read and watch, so stressed by the incredible demands of our lives”.
That’s why Leo Babauta focused on “The Power of Less” as his book is titled. Babauta is a former journalist of 18 years, a husband, father of six children, and he moved from Guam to San Francisco in 2010, where he leads a simple life – and overcame many obstacles such as being stressed-out, overweight, in debt and a smoker… He became very successful while he created Zen Habits, a Top 25 blog and best-selling books such as The Power of Less, and Zen To Done. It’s quite an achievement and that’s why he’s considered one of the leading experts on productivity and simplicity.
I have always been busy myself – or created circumstances in which I could be a busy bee. But it wasn’t until I started Leadership & Change Magazine next to my culture & change consultancy work, that I became really overwhelmed with information and things to do. Lots of emails, article submissions, leaderships books to read, new change tools to explore, trends to follow or Internet links to check out… My to-do list and inbox had more things waiting for me than I could ever get done, even if I refrained from sleep. It created a permanent adrenaline rush – which I liked at first because it helped me accomplish a lot. But then, I kept feeling restless all the time. It became harder to sit still and be present in the moment. I started to check email and the Internet every two minutes on my smartphone – even when it was finally time to rest after a hectic day well spent…
“Most of us lead lives filled with too much stuff, too much information, too many papers, too much to do, too much clutter. Our time and space is limited. The box will break if you cram more into it. Our problem is living without limits”, diagnosed Leo.You need time for life. Click To Tweet
It was time for me to simplify. And Leo has certainly helped me do this – because his rules are simple but strict. Maybe that was just what I needed… Because I like to do a bit of everything and keep my options open. You recognize this: to choose is to lose [something]? Well, Leo strongly advised me to focus.
1. identify the essential
2. eliminate the rest
Wow, that is strict. If you think about it. Focus on the essential? And I can only pick one thing? But Leo was adamant: “Doing more things means you’re likely to do a lot of unimportant things too – getting exhausted and stressed. Imagine two reporters: one creates seven articles per week and gets praised. The other writes one article in a week but it is thoroughly researched and honed – so much that it has more impact.”If you learn to focus yourself with limits, you'll increase your strength. Click To Tweet
That makes sense. If you spread yourself too thin; it dilutes your power and effectiveness. It weakens you. But if you learn to focus yourself with limits, you’ll increase your strength.
Leo introduces the reader to six principles of simple productivity. First, set limitations on anything you do. Simply analyze your current usage levels and lower them. You spend 2 hours answering email? Make it one and see what happens. Do you average 2 paragraphs in every email? Make it one and see how you entice yourself to be succinct but clear.
Second, choose the essential. Sit down and make a list of your values. Next, your goals derive from your values. Check on what you love to do. Assess what has the biggest and longest-term impact?
If you apply this to a task list, ask yourself: Will it have an impact beyond this week? What are your goals for next year? Set limitations to force yourself to choose…. What is essential in your life and work?
Third, simplify. Delete or delegate all the non-essentials. Yep, no negotiating that! It’s easier said than done. I found my inner critic protesting against some suggestions. It may be not my biggest priority to answer someone’s question by email – but I appreciate to get a reply myself – even if my request is not in the top-three priorities of the other person. This approach may have some side-effects that aren’t fully acceptable to me at this point. But I do see the point. How do you best serve the world and make a difference? By spending half your morning replying to a lazy student who didn’t do their own research about culture & change? No, I don’t think so. Point taken!
Leave space for yourself
Leo gives the example to make a list of your commitments in life and reduce them. You need more free time! You need time for life, for the emergent and unexpected to happen… So you have to learn to say no. Don’t cram too much into your schedule – one appointment back to back with the next. Schedule time off, make an appointment with yourself – the most important person in your life. You need solitude and breathing. Even if you are an enthusiastic extrovert.
Fourth, focus. Focus on the now, on the task at hand, on the goal. That means discipline for me. Leo recommends to turn off email and other distractions. It’s best to single-task – as research has proven over and over again. We’re not getting more effective when we multi-task. Here’s another interesting thing: I discovered I had unconsciously trained my brain to operate on 2-minute attention spans instead of 35 minutes or so…. I had already spoilt it with my smart phone while I used to have a super focus. But now, every time I got stuck in a paragraph, I observed myself checking email or Facebook… Hello! Are you present in the here and now? Stay at it and focus, Marcella!Learn how to say NO. Click To Tweet
Another point of discipline: start with your three MIT’s every day. Those are your Most Important Tasks for the day, often related to your goals. Though this may not always be easy for people whose job is serving others – try to be creative and find a way to make the time and bring those three levers for yourself within your control at the start of the day.
Free yourself (with habits)
Fifth, create habits. They will help you stay at it. But don’t overdo it, do it in the spirit of Zen. Change only one small habit at a time. To encourage yourself, you may want to make them public and report daily to enjoy some positive peer support… and avoid losing face.
Consider creating a morning and an evening routine, over time. Your morning could start great with some exercise and next, getting your three MIT’s done. Your evening could be used to review your day and wind down.
I must say this advice came at the right time for me. I lacked energy from working too hard for too long. That’s something probably all of us leaders, consultants, and professionals recognize, right? (Or not, maybe our readers are the conscious, balanced kind :-) I had thought about it before but now I did it. I start each workday with an hour for myself – to charge my own energy and start with my own energy (mostly through a physical exercise such as a walk, biking, running or yoga). I sometimes hear the whiny voice in my head: Let’s skip this for today, okay? But I haven’t given in (yet?) I am amazed at what happened. My days run smoother. My energy levels are going back to normal (instead of below the line). I feel invigorated and alive. So, if you were to take away just one thing from this article: create a habit that benefits your health. That’s my advice. Your health is your wealth! (as Virgil is quoted saying).
Sixth, start small. Gradual change is sustainable change. Our bodies and minds were made for a slower-paced life. So do things slower. Don’t give 100%, but rein in your energy so you have longer staying power. Hah! That’s a great one for me, too. The difference between a sprint and a marathon. That means strengthening my discipline. I’d like to throw it in, all at once. But it’s great to take small breaks and breathe. And leave some energy to enjoy the long run – and stay put to make a difference.
The Power of Less can be the right book – if it’s the right time for you. One thing that came to my mind, while reading, is that it’s all easier said than done. The power is in applying the good advice, and that is the hard part, even though Leo shares some tips of how to make habits last. It helped me focus – and the strict advice to eliminate anything that’s not essential was just what I needed to hear. Even though Leo sounds like the expert telling us “what” to do. I’d have enjoyed a little more “how” and especially “who” by Leo. It reads like a wise manual, but I think I would have been extra engaged and enthusiastic if Leo had shared more of his own stories with me, the reader. Having said that – I guess we can all use the “what” Leo has to offer. Less is more!Start small. Gradual change is sustainable change. Click To Tweet
- What will you set limits on – as of now?
- What will you choose as essential?
- Check on your values, your goals, your projects?
- What do you love?
- What has the biggest impact? What has the longest-term impact?
- Needs versus wants?
- What and how can you simplify?
- How will you help yourself focus?
- Create that habit of discipline?
- What other small, simple habits will serve you?
- Start small and stay at it – next, enjoy the outcome!
Review © Marcella Bremer 2016.