Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Book summary: The Power of Less

The The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential...in Business and in Life by Leo Babauta

The Power of Less has some powerful, counter-intuitive ideas that could lead to a significant change in your productivity, and a reasonable volume of fluff that will be helpful to very few.

For examples of fluff, you could review the "20 ideas to help you maintain your motivation." A few examples are "think of the benefits" and "get excited again." Some of the author's own simplicity principles could have been profitably applied to chapters such as this one.

The powerful ideas, however, justify the purchase price and will yield significant productivity improvements if you can implement them. For example, Babauta suggests that you pick three projects that are most important to you, and complete all three before you work on any other project. This may sound extreme, but Babauta's own personal example suggests the power in the approach. (He has lost weight, quit smoking, become a world-famous blogger, etc, etc, following his own principles.)

What follows is a summary of the book with most of the key points. This ought to help you decide if the book is worth your time:

The Power of Less Principles:
1. Set limitations
2. Choose the essential
3. Simplify
4. Focus
5. Create habits
6. Start small
Simplicity can be powerful
Achieve goals one at a time

Part 1: The Principles

Chapter 1: Why less is powerful
Principle 1: By setting limitations, we must choose the essential. So in everything you do, learn to set limitations.
Principle 2: By choosing the essential, we create great impact with minimal resources. Always choose the essential to maximize your time and energy.
How to choose the tasks that have the most impact? Two options:
1. Examine your task list and ask yourself the following questions:
a. Will this have an impact that will last beyond this week or this year?
b. How will this change my career, my life?
c. How will this further a long term goal of mine?
2. Start with your goals: plan tasks each day that will lead to accomplishing the goals.
What are the things one can apply limits to? Any aspect of your life. E.g.,
The number of possessions that I have
The information that I receive
The number of emails I respond to per day
The number of times I check email per day

Chapter 2: The art of Setting Limits
What to set limits on:
Email, daily tasks, number of projects, number of blogs you subscribe to, amount of time spent reading on the Internet
How to set limits:
1. Analyze current usage levels, pick a lower level limit
2. Test it for a week
3. If it doesn't work, adjust and test again
4. Continue to adjust and then make it a habit

Chapter 3: Choosing the Essential, and Simplifying
Questions to help determine what is essential
* What are your values?
* What are your goals?
* What do you love?
* What is important to you?
* What has the biggest impact?
* What has the most long-term impact?
* Needs vs. wants
* Eliminate the non-essential
* Continual editing process
Ways to apply the questions about essentials:
Life commitments
Yearly goals
Work projects and tasks
Regular review
Principle 3 - Simplifying - Eliminating the Nonessential.
Learn to say "No."

Chapter 4 - Simple focus
Principle 4: Focus is your most important tool in becoming more effective
How to use focus to improve your life
Focus on a goal
Focus on now
Focus on the task at hand. Single-tasking is more efficient than multi-tasking because you don't waste time switching gears.
Focus on the positive
How to single-task:
1. First thing in the morning, focus on the Most Important Task
2. Turn off all other distractions while working on the Most Important Task
3. If tempted to check email, pause, breathe deeply, and resist the urge
4. If other things come in, make a note of them, and keep focusing
5. Process email and inbox at regular intervals
6. Take breaks, stretch, move, get outside
How to focus on the present:
1. When you eat, just eat. Experience the food, the taste. Really experience it.
2. Be aware.
3. Be gentle. Don't beat yourself up if you start thinking about past or future.
4. Exercise. Focus on your body, breathing, etc while exercising, not the MP3 player.
5. Daily routines. When you walk, focus on walking.
6. Put up reminders to focus on the present
7. There is no failure
8. Keep practicing

Chapter 5 - Create New Habits, and the Power of Less Challenge
Principle 5 - Create new habits to make long-lasting improvements
1. Select one habit for the challenge
2. Write down your plan
3. Post your goal publicly
4. Report on progress daily
5. Celebrate your new habit
Why it works
* Commitment
* Accountability
* Encouragement
* Inspiration
The Rules
* Do only one habit at a time
* Choose an easy goal
* Choose something measurable
* Be consistent
* Report daily
* Keep a positive attitude
12 Key Habits to Start with
1. Set your 3 Most Important Tasks each morning
2. Single task
3. Process your in-box to empty
4. Check email just twice a day
5. Exercise five to ten minutes a day
6. Work while disconnected, with no distractions
7. Follow a morning routine
8. Eat more fruits and veggies every day
9. Keep your desk decluttered
10. Say no to commitments and requests that aren't on your Short List
11. Declutter your house for fifteen minutes every day
12. Stick to a five-sentence limit for emails

Chapter 6 - Start Small
Principle 6 - Start new habits in small increments to ensure success
Why starting small works
It narrows your focus
It keeps your energy and enthusiasm going for longer
It's easier to handle
You ensure success
Gradual change is longer-lasting
How to apply starting small
Exercise - start with 5-10 minutes per day
Waking early - start by waking 15 minutes earlier
Productivity - Start by focusing on task at hand for 15 minutes at a time
Email effectiveness - start by reducing the frequency of checking email to fewer times per day but not all the way to 2 or 3 times per day
Healthy eating - start with just one change to the diet
Decluttering - start with just one drawer
Part Two - In Practice

Chapter 7 - Simple Goals and Projects
The "One Goal System" - focus on one goal at a time
1. Choose a goal
2. Break it down to a sub-goal
3. Weekly goal
4. Daily action
The Simple Projects List
Make a list of all the projects going on in your life. Anything that takes a day or more to complete.
Now choose just three projects from the list. This list of three is the Simple Projects List. Everything else is on hold until you complete the three projects that you've chosen. You don't get to work on other projects until all three projects are completed. Then you add three new projects to the Simple Projects List.
Tips to focus on completion:
* Have an outcome in mind - what will the project look like when you are done?
* Move from projects to tasks - list all the tasks required to achieve the outcome
* Each day, choose a task to move you toward completion
* Reassess your progress

Chapter 8 - Simple Tasks
Choose only three Most Important Tasks that will be the focus of your day. No matter what else, make sure you get the three MITs done each day. At least one of the MITs should be related to your goals.
Set these MITs the first thing in the morning. Focus on accomplishing these above everything else. Do them early in the day, before distractions. Break things down into small tasks.

Chapter 9 - Simple Time Management.
Batch processing - group together similar tasks

Chapter 10 - Simple E-mail
Limit the number of inboxes - list all the ways you receive information, evaluate each to see if it gives you value, and find ways to combine or eliminate in-boxes
Limit your time with email: Limit the number of times per day you check email; don't check email first thing in the morning, turn off email notifications
Reduce your incoming stream: Create filters to send notifications directly to a folder outside the Inbox; stop the flow of joke emails
Process to empty: Temporary folder of to be filed; have an external to-do system; process quickly; Delete key; Process to done; write less

Chapter 11 - Simple Internet
Awareness - track your usage:
Consciousness: Make a Plan
Set limits and have a purpose to your usage
Focus: Learning to work while disconnected - disconnect from the Internet when you want to focus and get something done.
Set a timer and focus on the task at hand.
When you think of something you need to do on the Internet, write it down and do it later.
Discipline: How to stay away from distractions

Chapter 12 - Simple Filing
1. Reduce before organizaing
2. Simple filing - alphabetical; manila folders,
3. File immediately
4. Have materials on hand
5. Reduce your needs over time
a. Store reference material on line
b. Reduce incoming paper
c. Stop printing stuff
Home paperwork tips
1. Create one mail center in your home for dealing with your mail and incoming paperwork
2. Home in-box - all incoming papers
3. Pay bills immediately
4. Enter stuff into your to-do lists or calendar
5. File immediately

Chapter 13 - Simple Commitments
Take inventory of commitments: work, side work (freelance assignments), family, kids, civic, religious, hobbies, home, online
Make a short list: Does this give my life value? How would it affect my life if I dropped out? Cut down your list to 4 or 5 things
Begin eliminating the nonessential
1. Start with something small
2. Call or email to send your regrets
3. Eliminate the commitment from your appointment
4. Repeat
Learn to say no
Making the time for what we love
1. Make a list of what you truly love to do
2. Eliminate as much of the other stuff from your life as possible
3. Schedule free time so that you're doing the things on your short list
Tips for simplifying your personal life
* What's important?
* Examine your commitments
* Do less during your days
* Leave space between tasks and appointments
* Eliminate as much as possible from your to-do list
* Slow down and enjoy every task
* Single-task
* Eliminate stress
* Create time for solitude
* Do nothing
* Sprinkle simple pleasures throughout your day
* Practice being present
* Free up time

Chapter 14 - Simple Daily Routine
Helps prepare for your day, time to set goals, get exercise, do something enjoyable
Choose 4-6 activities for a morning routine, e.g.
Have coffee, watch the sunrise, exercise, shower, do yoga, meditate, write, read, review goals, write the Most Important Tasks
Evening routine:
Prepare for the next day, unwind, review day, keep house clean, calm yourself, write, exercise
1. Focus on the routines
2. Make them rewarding
3. Log your progress

Chapter 15 - Declutter your work space
Benefits: allows you to focus; provides sense of calm
1. Set aside time
2. Take all the paperwork off your desk and put in a big pile
3. Clear everything off desk except computer, phone
4. Start with pile of papers
Getting down to the essentials
What do you really need to do your job?
Get rid of distracting knickknacks, posters, etc.
Empty entire shelf or drawer at a time
Be ruthless with papers
Keep things decluttered:
1. Keep an in-box for incoming papers
2. Once per day, process the in-box to empty
3. Have a place for each item and type of paper
A simple home: less stressful, more appealing, easier to clean
Thirty-day list: anytime you want to buy something, put it on the list with the date you added it

Chapter 16 - Slow Down
Slow attention:
Pick a simple task to start with
Practice this method throughout the day
Try meditation
Slow working
1. Choose work you love
2. Choose an important task
3. Make sure it's challenging, but not too hard
4. Find your quiet, peak time
5. Clear away distractions, and focus
6. Enjoy yourself
7. Keep practicing
8. Reap the rewards
Slow eating
Take smaller bites, chew each bite longer, enjoy the meal longer.
It takes twenty minutes for our brains to register that we are full.
1. Lose weight
2. Enjoy food
3. Better digestion
4. Less stress
5. Rebel against fast food and fast life
Slow driving
1. Save gas
2. Save lives
3. Save time
4. Save your sanity
5. Simplify your life

Chapter 17 - Simple Health and Fitness
Step 1 - forming the exercise habit: Start light. Just 5-10 minutes per day at first. Schedule workout time. Don't allow yourself to miss a day. Don't give up. Get a partner if you can. Be accountable to others. Keep a strict workout and eating log, and make it public. Let the light shine. Enjoy yourself.
Step 2 - Making gradual healthy diet changes
Eat when you are lightly hungry, not ravenous. Eat light foods. Create meal plans with healthy foods. Eat slowly. Eat until lightly full, not stuffed.
Step 3 - Continuation, short-term goals, and accountability.
Continue to gradually increase exercise, adding variety. Continue to eat healthier. Set short-term goals. Hold yourself accountable - log eating and exercise daily.

Chapter 18 - On Motivation
8 ways to motivate yourself from the beginning:
1. Start small
2. One goal
3. Examine your motivation - know your reasons, write them down
4. Really, really want it - must be something you are passionate about
5. Commit publicly
6. Get excited - visualize what it will be like to be successful
7. Build anticipation
8. Print it out, post it up. Make the goal just a few words long.
Ways to sustain motivation when you're struggling
* Hold yourself back at first
* Just start - get the running shoes on and go outside
* Stay accountable - report back daily
* Replace negative thoughts with positive ones
* Think about the benefits
* Get excited again
* Read about it
* Find like-minded friends
* Read inspiring stories
* Build on your successes
* Just get through the low points
* Get help
* Chart your progress
* Reward yourself often
* Go for mini-goals
* Get a coach or take a class
* Never skip two days in a row
* Use visualization
* Be aware of your urges to quit, and overcome them
* Find pleasure again

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