Even though I decided my word of the year was going to be “start,” it seems like I’m living more according to the word “essential.” I’ve been very drawn to books and writings on how to simplify your life. My own life has been a roller coaster this year, almost overwhelming at times. Do you ever feel like you’re trying to do too much but yet still not doing enough? That.
One of my friends introduced me to Leo Babauta’s blog, Zen Habits, a few years ago. If I’m being honest, I haven’t applied anything I’ve read from his blog. Life is just happening at the speed of, well, life, so it was hard to implement things. Especially when you fall down the internet rabbit hole and all of a sudden you’re reading on how to plant your own garden, when you were originally looking to build sustainable habits. So when I saw he had a book, I decided to try that instead; I always work better in book format.
The Power of Less sets up six principles that helps us identify what is essential, and how to eliminate everything that is not. The first third of the book presents the principles, and the rest covers specific steps and strategies for applying those principles in different aspects of your life.
How to Simplify Your Life
1. Set limitations.
Start by setting limits on things that take too much of your time and don’t add a lot of value to your life. Things like email, social media, blogs you follow, projects you accept, events you attend, hobbies you do (obviously, the superfluous ones in these categories, not the entire categories themselves). Figure out how much of each you currently do, and how much you can cut back on. This is going to take some trial and error to find the optimal amount; test the boundaries you set and adjust as needed.
2. Choose the essential.
What are your values, goals, loves? What is important to you, that will have the biggest long-term impact on your life and career? But this isn’t a one-and-done deal; life changes over time, so you must regularly reevaluate your needs and goals, to make sure you’re still on the right path.
Once you’ve figured it out, learn to say no to things that are not essential to who you are and what you want to achieve. It might be possible to do it all, but it’s not possible to do it all well. Cut it down to things that add value to your life, that give meaning to and enrich it. It’s not easy saying no, so take your time and eliminate things slowly.
Give your full attention to the things you’ve selected. This allows you to do your best. By being present and focusing on what you are currently doing, you begin to build good habits that will sustain your focus and lifestyle in the long run.
5. Create habits.
The only way to keep something going is to create the habits necessary to sustain it. By having good habits that lead you down the path you wish to go, it becomes second nature to keep going in that direction. Even on days when you don’t feel like working on your project or getting up to exercise, having the habit will get you out of bed before you even think about not doing it.
6. Start small.
Taking on more than you can handle is a surefire way towards giving up. Smaller steps don’t feel like as much work, and doesn’t seem as overwhelming as running a marathon. The progress will add up before you know it. If anything, we should remember that the purpose of life is not to get to the end (cuz the end is death), but about relishing in the journey.
Tips to Put into Practice
Goals and Projects
- Focus on one goal at a time. Choose one goal, break it down to monthly or quarterly sub-goals, then break each sub-goals into weekly goals. Take daily action that moves you closer to your weekly goal.
- Make a projects list, with your top three projects. Don’t move on to other projects until you complete these projects. Having three will allow you to use your time more efficiently and effectively, in the event one project gets stalled by circumstances outside your control.
- Know your priorities. List the three most important tasks you need to do today. Break them down into smaller tasks if necessary.
- The focus for goals and projects should be completion. The whole point of having goals and projects is to meet those goals and get those projects done.
Internet and Email
- Do your internet research first so you don’t get distracted in the middle of your work. Set a fixed amount of time to spend on the internet in your leisure, so you don’t fall down the internet rabbit hole and emerge 6 hours and 4 conspiracy theories later.
- Combine or eliminate the number of email inboxes you have. Limit the number of times you check your email per day. Don’t check email first thing in the morning!
Commitments and Personal Life
- Make a short list of your most important commitments. Have an honest and firm reason for turning down nonessential requests.
- Do less during your day. Most of us try to pack as much into our waking hours as we can, but that’s not benefiting anyone. Cutting back on the number of items on your to-do list will give you more time to get things done. Also, leave space in between appointments and commitments, as a buffer for unexpected events and so you don’t have to rush.
- Establish simple morning and evening routines. Take time for yourself and your loved ones, and put them ahead of your nonessentials. Slow down and enjoy every task.
I’m still fine-tuning and updating what is essential in my life. It’s already changed from my last evaluation (though I haven’t figured out what it’s changed to yet). I’m still in the process of finding myself, and every day something new happens that changes what I thought I wanted in life.
The book is a bit dated (it’s almost ten years since publication!), but for the most part it’s still relevant. I feel like parts of it were disrepectful of other people, especially if they aren’t on your essential list (read his suggestions regarding scheduling meetings and let me know what you think).