Leo Babauta outlines the simple system he lives by to maximise his effectiveness in the world and yet remain calm and sane in The Power of Less. Babauta is an author and one of the top rated bloggers in the world. At the time of writing he has 230,000 readers of his Zen Habits blog.
The Power of Less caught my attention at my local Library just on the virtue of its title as the cover is very plain. I read it all within two days. This book is a recipe for sanity in an increasingly mad world. Whereas we are encouraged to multi-task all day everyday with interruptions from email, text and phone calls, plus a huge number of things on our to do lists, Babauta encourages us to get into the habit of ‘single tasking’.
The first few chapters were like music to my ears. When I write I ‘single task’ for hours at a time. I can’t write and multi-task, however I have sometimes felt guilty for closeting myself away and writing like this. At these times I don’t notice the phone and if someone speaks to me they get no response because I’m so engrossed in what I am doing. Babauta says that being in the flow is a sign that you are fully engaged in what you are doing and that you’ll get better results because you aren’t breaking off and changing activity. Hooray! That’s how I love to work; I'm not selfish, I'm efficient!
Babauta says that most of the time we have our effectiveness diluted by the sheer number of different things we are trying to do simultaneously. The way messages come in all the time bombards us with competing demands and we tend to break our train of thought to handle a variety of tasks. He outlines different ways of reducing the interruptions, including very sensible solutions like turning off the notifications you get when new email arrives in your inbox and reducing checking email to a few set times a day. He perceives that email, text and the internet can become addictive and many people fritter away huge amounts of productive time checking, reading and responding without having much to show at the end of the day. This is busy work, we have been doing many things, but find it hard to say whether we have accomplished anything.
Leo’s antidote is to advise simplicity, to prioritise very few things and do them one at a time. He recommends that we all have one big Goal that will significantly further us in our chosen area. Our Goal stays uppermost on our daily to do list and we add just a couple of important tasks to tackle. In Leo’s system these priority items get our attention every day before the multitude of little jobs get a look in. For most people the multitude are handled first and then if there is time a bit of work is done on the big projects. Of course most days there is no time and the big projects and goals get left behind. It is the difference between ‘important’ and ‘urgent’. In this modern world we have been conditioned to prioritise ‘urgent’.
Some people are better at living their lives like this naturally. My husband is a sculptor and when he is creating he vanishes into his workshop for hours at a time and has to be reminded to eat. He totally loses himself in his projects. He has a naturally focussed mindset that serves him well. He makes one thing at a time with full attention, crafts top quality pieces and is almost always ‘in the moment’.
I think women probably need to read Babauta’s book more than men as we are conditioned by society to believe that we must multitask and that to do so is a virtue. It is hard for working mums to run a house, look after kids and keep a career going without juggling tasks, but I think we can still block out some of our time to be focussed on our top priorities and use Babauta’s advice to avoid the unnecessary time traps and drains.
I thought the Power of Less was well worth the cover price just for the first few chapters alone. Some chapters grabbed me more than others and the key messages were repeated throughout the book to make sure they came across loud and clear. There was the odd bit of advice that I disagreed with- his suggestion of looking at cover models on magazines as inspiration to get slim and fit was a jarring note given all the work I’ve done around eating disorders and the proven link between looking at images in magazines and lower self esteem for example. However these were small matters compared to the big message.
I’ll be applying most of Babauta’s advice in my own life. Reading the book has validated my own perceptions and it was great to see similar thoughts clearly in print. Tips like writing away from the distraction of email and the internet (I use an unconnected laptop in a different room) would free up so much creative energy for so many people. It was good to see I'm not the only person concerned about Internet Addiction.
Reading The Power of Less has helped me to rearrange my work day for maximum job satisfaction with minimum stress. I’d already identified that the first few hours in the mornings are most productive for me. On non-teaching days my old pattern has been to answer email and sort out the many pressing ‘things to do’. Time to change that pattern. Today writing this article got top billing. I have been able to write it quickly and easily because there have been no distractions and my head is clear. I’ll tackle email later as it doesn’t require the same focus and as long as key emails are answered it doesn’t really matter what time of day it is. Thanks Leo!
I’ll be posting to let you know how the new pattern is going in the New Age forum as Babauta suggests we tell people about the new habits we are forming to encourage us to succeed. Perhaps you would like to use the forum to announce your lifestyle changes there too?