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The power of less

March 1st, 2010 No comments

less is more

The power of less

It has been quite a while since I posted here. I’ve been feeling a bit like I backed myself into a corner by committing to covering the whole of Fierce conversations by blogging about it – it’s felt more like a chore that I haven’t wanted to come back to.

And I realised that the commitment I made was only to myself, and I could relieve myself of the commitment any time I wanted! So that’s what I’m now doing.

Reading The Power of Less by Leo Babuta recently has helped me to see where I am over-extending myself by making too many commitments, and getting less done as a result. Leo is the creator of the Zen Habits blog, one of the most popular blogs on the web. And in the book he shows how to focus on exactly what you want, and then make sure that you get it.

What I took away from reading the book

This is not a book about getting more done in the same fixed amount of time. I probably can’t be dramatically more efficient than I already am. The message of this book is to do fewer things and do them better.

I feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of things on my to do list. I subscribe to blogs that I never read. I receive e-mail newsletters that go straight into my ‘Reading’ folder but never get read. And I haven’t seen the bottom of my in-tray since…I can’t remember when. And this makes me feel stressed and inadequate for not doing what I ‘should’ be doing.

Any of this sound familiar?

The message from this book is not that I will suddenly be able to process all this information and complete all my tasks, by following some simple rules. The message is that I should reduce the amount of information I am trying to process, and identify the tasks that will really help me to move in the direction I want to go, and focus on those.

Make fewer commitments. Focus on seeing them through. Place limits on yourself to help to focus.

But for me this is easier said than done. I find it relatively easy to identify what really matters. I find it much harder to focus on that and give up the rest. That means giving up some information that ‘might be useful one day’. And it means accepting that there are some tasks that I won’t complete, even though ‘it would be nice to do them’. I have to give up something I want in order to get what I really want – less stress, a more achievable ‘To Do’ list, more order and less ‘stuff’ to manage.

That means making choices and deciding not to have some things.

Forming a new habit

One of the main things that Leo recommends is to form new, productive habits. He has clear advice about the best way to do this:

  • start only one new habit at a time: this is one way of placing a limitation on yourself to help yourself to focus. One new habit that sticks is worth any number of new habits that fade;
  • choose an easy goal: this is motivating, and builds up early experience of success;
  • choose something measurable: it should be obvious to you whether you have done it or not on any particular day;
  • be consistent: do it at the same time every day;
  • report daily: make yourself accountable by telling other people daily that you have acted on your new habit; and
  • keep a positive attitude: expect setbacks now and then, note them and move on. Get back on track.

My new habit

My new habit is to get my e-mail inbox down to zero at least once a day. I’m going to focus on that for a month, by which time it will hopefully become a new habit.

This should be achievable – I spent a couple of hours the first time getting my inbox down to zero, but if I do it daily it will be easier and quicker in future. I am being more ruthless about some e-mails that I just don’t need to read. I have already unsubscribed to some regular e-mails to reduce the number of e-mails coming in. And I’ve set up some new rules in Gmail to automatically archive routine e-mails so I don’t need to read them (like e-mails from Amazon telling me that my orders have shipped – if I need to check up on an order I can always do it online).

I have publicly committed to doing this and am posting daily on Twitter and e-mailing a friend who has agreed to hold me to account (and I’m also blogging about it here, and will blog again in a month’s time to say how I’ve got on).

I’m not quite being as consistent about when I do this every day as Leo would recommend. But I am saying that if I haven’t done it by 7pm, that is when I will get to inbox zero.

Summary

This is quite a short book – 170 pages – and is an easy read. It is packed with ideas for new habits to form and straight-forward productivity principles. Some of the ones I would like to try include:

  • Identifying your three Most Important Tasks (MITs) each morning. At leasat one of these should be related to your main goal or a major project that you are working on, and should move you forward on those. And you should act on your MITs early in the day before anything else.
  • Single-task, not multi-task. Really focus on one task at a time – turn off your e-mail and mobile phone, don’t internet surf or ‘just look something up’. Notice when you are being distracted and just return to the one task in hand until it is complete.
  • Check e-mail just twice a day.
  • Reduce the number of commitments you take on, and say ‘no’ more often.
  • De-clutter and then let less physical ‘stuff’ into your life.

These would all be good things to do, and I am doing little bits of them here and there. But I am trying to stay true to the message of the book, and my only new commitment right now is to empty that e-mail inbox once a day for the next month. Then I’ll pick one of the other goals I’d like to achieve, and work on that.

Wish me luck!

* The photograph at the top is from Flickr.com, reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence.