Quit smoking, replace an unfulfilling job with a highly successful blog, lose 40 pounds, complete two triathlons, completely eliminate debt, publish a book… These are just a few of the things Babauta accomplished in just a few years by simplifying his life; “doing less to get more done” and embracing one of life’s paradoxes. Babauta not only mastered the art, but now has now passed his knowledge on to us in an easy to read book that, true to its title, doesn’t contain any fluff or filler.
The Power of Less is a practical book that teaches simplicity and its application to every facet of our lives. Babauta shows how the practice of simplicity results in an effective and enjoyable life. Our world is filled with lots of everything: distractions, information, opportunities, material possessions, to-do lists, food, entertainment (and long lists of things like this one!). We live in a world overwhelmed with more. All of this ‘more’ is preventing us from greatness. We’re spread too thin over too many tasks to accomplish anything worth remembering. Our lives are weighed down by all the things we own and all the commitments we are bound by. This book teaches us how to lighten the load and set ourselves on the path to significance. Along the way, Babauta tells us about the two reporters who approach their work in opposite ways. One is loved by his editor for filling the pages of the newspaper. The other wins a Pulitzer and fame and recognition for himself and his publication. One followed the path of less. Through their stories, we realize that we are ready to learn how we too can follow the path of less. Babauta guides us down that path with six principles for wielding the Power of Less. But he doesn’t leave us with just the theory, he also takes us through some very practical steps we can take in several areas, including email, goal setting, daily routine, filing, and more.
The Power of Simplicity
“Simplicity boils down to two steps:
1) Identify the essential
2) Eliminate the rest”
The Power of Less, page ix
We’ve read about this concept before in places like Timothy Ferriss’ 4-Hour Workweek and his discussion of the Pareto Principle. But I think Babuata is the first to really get to the heart of why focused simplicity is so powerful and how to truly achieve it. The step-by-step process for simplification is clearly laid out for us in chapter 3. It is always harder than it looks and I find that I really have to keep on top of it or the nonessential will just creep back in. That being said, the power this process releases is incredible. Whenever I’ve been able to determine exactly what is essential and hacked the nonessential things out of my life and my workday (trust me, hack is the right word, these are hard choices, friends) – I find that three incredible things happen:
1) I feel a lightness and freedom that comes from not being bogged down with all of that “stuff”
2) I enjoy a new, high level of motivation and focus because now I *know* what I need to do.
3) There’s no excuses anymore – it’s harder to hide behind busywork when the Essential and the Nonessential are defined.
This brings me to a topic foundational to the Power of Less: setting limits. Limits actually give us power and freedom. We intuitively understand this in certain areas of our lives – for example most people wouldn’t go shopping without some sort of spending limit in place. A spending limit makes purchasing decisions easier and protects us from big financial problems like consumer debt. It helps free us from having to worry about finances and keeps our houses from becoming cluttered with stuff we don’t need. Setting limits in all areas of our lives will produce positive results. Babauta recommends setting limits on things in our lives that feel overwhelming, that take up too much time and overload us. For example, he recommends looking at limiting email, daily tasks and the number of blogs we subscribe to. Among other benefits, doing so reduces stress, provides focus and makes us more effective. He gives a 4 step process for setting limits on various areas of our life. Each limit should be considered a new habit to build into our lives.
Build One Habit at a time
“Do not break this rule, because I can assure you that if you do multiple habits at once, you will be much less likely to succeed. Trust me – I’ve tried both ways many times”
The Power of Less, page 36
Here’s what I typically do (maybe you can relate!): January 3 (because, let’s face it, I need a couple days to recover after the holidays) – I decide everything in my life needs changing – that *this* year I’m going to be productive, rise early, exercise, eliminate debt, double my sales and volunteer more. I’m excited, I’m energized, I know I can do it. A couple weeks later I come to the realization that people don’t change – I am what I am.
Well, Babauta shows us a different path – the path of Less. He reveals his method for implementing one small habit at a time, month after month so that at the end of a year he’s come a huge distance and made massive change in his life. The reasoning is that attempting too many changes spreads your limited amount of willpower too thin. Instead, if we can pour all our ‘change energy’ into one new habit we are setting ourselves up for success. One of his tips is to start small – ridiculously small – his example is that if you think you can exercise for 30 minutes, do just 10 instead – make it so you can’t fail. Then you’ll build confidence and you’ll get better at making changes in your life so you can take on bigger challenges in the future. Some other tips he gives are to post your new habit publicly to get some accountability and to report on it daily. In fact, he’s created a whole website dedicated to helping people creating positive new habits: http://6changes.com/
Follow the One Goal System
“The Power of Less is perfect for achieving goals: Limit yourself to fewer goals and you’ll achieve more”
The Power of Less, page 46
We’re ambitious people. We want to accomplish things. Our heads are filled with fantastic ideas just waiting to be implemented. This is another area we need the Power of Less. I have personally found the One Goal System to be life-changing. Whenever I force myself to simply pick one goal and focus my energy, creativity and time on this one goal, I find that I make incredible progress towards that goal.
Progress that easily outweighs the small steps I could’ve taken towards many goals. Babauta says that having many goals can “Dilute your effectiveness” (p.46). He gives us a simple 4-step system to follow that will help in goal selection, planning and execution with a heavy bias for “Completion”. If you want to get great at shipping (link to Linchpin), this is the system to follow.
I believe that this book is written for today’s “too-much-everything” world. I have a feeling most people who follow ActionableBooks and Goose Educational Media are like me – we want to have an impact and achieve true greatness. However, it is only when we stop chasing giant lists of goals, fulfilling countless commitments and filling our lives with more of everything and embrace the Power of Less that we become truly effective in a meaningful way.