One of the trends in my life lately has been to divest myself of as much “stuff” as I can, to try to de-clutter and clear the air both literally and figuratively. I’ve subscribed to Real Simple magazine, which has many good ideas (as long as you don’t buy more stuff to sort and store the stuff you already have). I’m keeping a firm hold on what I buy new, and I’m giving to my grown children various items of an heirloom nature, to let them enjoy it now and me enjoy the space the giveaway creates.
Another tool I’ve discovered is the book The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential…In Business and In Life, by Leo Babauta (Hyperion Books, 2009). For those of you who don’t know Babauta, he’s the author of the blog Zen Habits, which is one of the top-rated blogs in the world, and also one of my favorite writing blogs, Write to Done.
Babauta says he developed this system to help in his struggle to accomplish personal goals, like quitting smoking. Once he realized he could break the process down into small, steps that were easier to accomplish, he not only gave up cigarettes, he began exercising and running, now competing in marathons; he eliminated his debts and began to save money, he gave up meat and began eating healthier, and finally gave up the day job that kept him from time with his family to develop a work schedule that met his needs and also his desires.
The Power of Less uses many of the techniques he’s discussed in Zen Habits to help people de-stress, cut back, pare down and enjoy life more. He provides advice that is right-on for most people I know today, who are doing too much with not enough, particularly in this era of economic downturn.
A fact of modern life is that we are all pressed to be multi-taskers, handling work and home pressures at the speed of dataflow. Hundreds of emails may cross our desk each day, and with massive layoffs hitting the country, not only will you be asked to do your own work, but likely your former co-workers’ as well. At home, we have to deal with the children, who are being groomed for their own nervous breakdowns by their schedules of practice, sports, friends and other activities, that you have to fit in around your own must-dos while you’re returning phone calls as you’re driving them to the field.
Babauta says, however, that multi-tasking is not to way to success. It is “less efficient, due to the need to switch gears for each new task and then switch back again…more complicated, leaving you more prone to stress and errors, and … crazy-making.”
Instead, he says, there are two basic steps to making your life actually livable: 1) Identify the essential. 2) Eliminate the rest.
They key to making this system work is to simplify your approach, he says, using a Zen motif. Live in the present. Do what you’re doing now to the fullest. Don’t divert your attention to a dozen things at once—you won’t do any of them justice AND you’ll be stressed to the max. Choose what’s most important and complete it first, then move on to the next task. Put those that can be on the back burner on the back burner for another day. Each day, you’ll be focused on what you have accomplished instead of all you haven’t finished.
The book goes step by step through the process of making those two points above apply to your life. Babauta shows you why you should set limits: “A life without limits is taking a cup of red dye and pouring it into the ocean.” Then he tells you how. Once you have taken out the extraneous, then you can focus on what’s really important to you, and handle your choices in small steps, completing tasks one at a time so that you really achieve success.
The Power of Less isn’t just another self-help book to clutter your time and mind. It’s a real guide, backed up by ongoing support through the forum at the Zen Habits website so that you can work, cheered on by others, as you set and achieve your goals.
Babauta is so convinced that his program works, he says, that if you approach your boss with this new success scheme in hand, and explain that you will get your work done, but you may be going about it differently than he’s used to, and your boss doesn’t like it, then share the book with him. If that doesn’t work, share the website. If that doesn’t appease him, Babauta says, “(G)ive him my email address. I’ll talk to him.”
You can buy The Power of Less at amazon.com and other major booksellers. There’s a link for the book at Zen Habits, along with a lot of other good content. (Babauta has blatantly waived his copyrights to much of his material in an interesting move explained here.) Start simplifying today for a healthier and happier tomorrow.