The Power of Less

Who couldn’t use a little more time in their day?  I think we can all agree that most of us are trying to do too much in too little time.  We are trying to do everything, when in reality, only a few essential tasks really need to be done in order to meet our wants, needs and goals… The rest is just filler and busy work.

“Do less and get more done” is the premise of this book.

Leo Babauta, the man behind Zenhabits, has compiled many of his teachings from his website and crammed them into this helpful book.  I do appreciate his style of writing because it is concise and straight forward with real life examples and practical application.

Part I is all about the principles.  He discusses why less is powerful, setting limits, choosing essential items, simplifying, focusing, creating new habits, and starting small.

Some of the big takeaways for me include:

Identify Most Important Tasks (MITs) – Identifying the most important tasks you need to accomplish on a daily basis.   This is not a new concept, but it is a great practice that we need to be reminded of.   Make a short list of the top three things you must accomplish to reach your goals, whatever they are.   Do them first thing in the morning (or set aside some time later in the day – time blocking).   If you say you can’t complete your goals because of x, y, or z, then you need to start analyzing where you are committing your time to on a daily basis.

Essential vs Non-essential – How do you determine the essential tasks versus non-essential?  Determine what your needs and commitments are.   Make a list of your wants versus needs and goals and of course, what you love doing.  If you account for all the things you do in a day, a lot of it is non-essential when considering your real needs and goals in life.  Look at their value versus your goals.  You must identify the non-essential tasks or time wasters (TV, surfing the web, games) and eliminate them.  Then organize and prioritize your MITs.  The purpose of simplifying is to give you more space in your life, it is not meant to leave your life empty.  We want to allow more time for the things we love doing.  Respect your time, and others will too.

Setting Limits – When considering your MITs and essential versus non-essential, it’s important to make sure you are setting limits.  Set limits in areas that are overloaded.   Don’t take on too much at one time because if you do, you won’t get any of them done, or at least not very well.

Focus – Only focus on one task at a time.  Leo calls this single focusing.  Multitasking is completely overrated because it doesn’t work.  Eliminate distractions when doing your MITs.   Shut off your phone, shut off the internet, etc.   Notice when you are becoming distracted and eliminate the distraction. Try ad become aware of when you’re becoming distracted (don’t beat yourself up about it), and then bring yourself back to your task list.   Additionally, focusing on just one task at a time is more productive, increases effectiveness, and is more relaxing than multitasking.  You knock it out quicker, which allows you to get more stuff done in the long run.  And as we all know, focusing on the present reduces stress and anxiety.

Creating New Habits – Commit to it 100% and declare it.  Post your goal publicly because this will keep you accountable.  This will give you encouragement and inspiration to complete the task.  Do not try and start everything at once.  Start small and on one thing at a time because forming multiple habits at the same time usually fails.   Additionally, make it super easy, like starting with just 5-10 minutes of exercise per day.   Just getting started is the hard part, but once you get that momentum going, nothing can stop you.  Try and do the habit at the same time everyday, set up a reminder, and have a daily routine to keep you on track.  Of course, expect setbacks but keep a positive attitude.  If you miss one day, DO NOT miss two days.   Make it your number one priority the following day.

In part II, Leo goes into the application of these principals.   Again, big takeaways include:

Email Management – First, don’t let email rule your life!  Set a limit to how often you check your e mail and only reply to what’s necessary.  Once done, archive it or delete it.  This is common sense, but most people don’t do it.  Shut it down and check it twice a day if your job and schedule allow you to.  You don’t want to check it more than you need to, otherwise you’re just wasting time.. a resource which is ultimately limited.  As many others say, the worst time to check email is first thing in the morning.  You should be doing your MITs before checking emails because they will only sidetrack you from your goals.  Additionally with emails, keep replies short (set a limit of 5 sentences or less, if you can).  Don’t leave things hanging around in your inbox… Get it to zero.

Internet Usage Management – How much time do you waste on the internet?  Probably more than you want to admit to.  Everyone does it and it’s great to unwind watching a funny video or something on Hulu, but most of the surfing on the internet we do is not serving us.  It’s usually mindless and it’s not helping us meet our goals… it’s just wasting our time.  Again, when focusing on your most important tasks, unplug from the internet.  Feel that need to plug in?  Just try and ride it out. Urges come and go and the more you discipline yourself, the easier it gets to stop yourself.

Batch Processing – Do like tasks together (emails, phone calls, errands, paying bills, paper work, etc.).   Again, common sense, but we need a reminder.

De-clutter – This one is one that I’ve followed for years.  I like a neat desk and a neat home because it keeps me focused. It eliminates distractions and visual stress.  You don’t have to be a complete neat freak, but remove unnecessary items from your desk and it will improve your productivity, and give you a more calm demeanor.  Start small and just do one drawer or one room per day.  Don’t buy crap you don’t need.  For 30 days, track everything you buy.

Filing – Have a good filing system, both a physical one and an electronic one.  If you are fumbling through stacks of papers, you aren’t going to be very efficient.  Most people shouldn’t have stacks of papers now that we are in the digital era anyways, but if you do, or it’s necessary at work, then create an efficient filing system.  First reduce the number of files you have.  If you don’t need it, toss it.   Next, create a simple filing system.   File things right away and don’t let them stack up.

Learn to Say No – If you are a people pleaser, this one is a tough one.  Be honest and upfront with people.  Let them know you can’t take on another project until you are finished with the ones you are currently focusing on.  If it’s your boss it can be a little tricky, but Leo has some good tips in his book that I won’t go into here.  Bottom line, work with your boss and let him/her know your process.

Slow Down and Enjoy – Give yourself buffer time and make time to smell the roses.  When you are in a calm state and not rushing, you work more productively.   If you are super stressed, you aren’t going to get much done.  Leo talks about driving slower and eating slower as well.  These are great practices to reduce stress and create a peaceful, inner calm.   Allow time for yourself to unwind ad schedule fun activities too.  It’s not terrible to watch some YouTube videos or a good TV show, but don’t let it consume you.  Don’t waste 5 hours at a time binging on TV or games.

Exercise and Diet – Why is this in a time management book?  Well, being fit will give you more energy and make you much more productive.  We have to get moving.. That’s what our bodies were designed to do!  So, start light.  As with all other your other goals, start small and build yourself up.   This will help get the momentum going.  Be consistent, stick to a plan, tell a friend, socialize it, have a work out partner.   Same thing with diet.  We all know what’s good for us and what’s not.  It’s not rocket science.  Commit to it and instead of starting a whole new diet regimen, eliminate one thing at a time.  Set mini goals, log your progress, find your reasons and motivation to do it, and of course, do exercises you enjoy.

Motivation – Last one!  How to stay motivated?  The goals you set should be things you really want.  If you don’t want it, it’s not going to happen.   Maybe you will last a week, but you won’t have the sustained will power to see it through.  Again, start small.  Get the momentum going.  Start with 15 minutes of exercise per day if fitness is one of your main goals.  Get excited about your goal, socialize it, visualize it, and set a start date to build that anticipation.  I find it helpful to print out my goals or write them down and look at them daily.  Also, read about success stories revolving around your goal.   For example, if you’re into fitness, read about people meeting their goals, or join a fitness forum, or read a fitness magazine.  Do whatever it takes to keep you in that mind set.  Keep doing it and build that momentum!

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