Personal DevelopmentProductivity & Effectiveness

The Power of Less

The Power of Less

One-sentence summary of The Power of Less : At a time when methods promising that you will do even more things with your day are springing up all over the place, Leo offers us a different approach to improve productivity : focus on the essential to combine better efficiency with lower stress levels… You have been warned – this book will change your life!

By Leo Babauta, published in 2009, 192 pages.

Note: I am pleased to publish this review by Cedric Watine from Outils du Manager. The author of the book Leo Babauta is the famous blogger of Zen Habits, which I regularly publish in French on my blog called Habitudes Zen. I am also honored to have written the preface to the French edition of Leo’s other book The Simple Guide to a Minimalist Life

Summary and Book Report of The Power of Less:

The modern world gives us access to tools that offer a level of personal productivity that has never previously been attained. At the same time, we have never been so inundated with information, emails, tasks and things to do or watch. We have never been so stressed.

Is this a good enough reason to cut yourself off from the world?

Leo offers us an intermediate solution. Set limits. Take advantage of these new tools to do what we have genuinely chosen to do, and do it in a non-stressful way.

The method is based on simplicity and minimalism. It is not a question of doing more and doing it faster, but of doing what is essential, better.

Simplicity consists of two things:

  1. Identify the essential
  2. Eliminate the rest

Leo had a lifestyle that he found unsatisfactory:

  • Maximum debt
  • No time for his family because of working too hard
  • Maximum stress
  • Overweight
  • Poor physical shape
  • Smoker
  • Frustration caused by a life with no sense of purpose

With the method he created, he was able to :

  1. Start jogging
  2. Begin to eat better
  3. Become organised and productive
  4. Train to run two marathons
  5. Have two jobs and double his income
  6. Become an early riser (he wakes up at 4 am)
  7. Become a vegetarian
  8. Do two triathlons
  9. Start a successful blog (Zen habits)
  10. completely wipe out his debts
  11. Finally build a rainy day fund
  12. Simplify his life
  13. Simplify his home
  14. Lose 18 kilos
  15. Write and sell two successful e-books
  16. Write the first draft of a novel
  17. Leave his job and work from home
  18. Start a second successful blog (Write to Done)
  19. Publish this book

All this while spending time with his 6 children! That’s the power of minimalism – to remove what is unnecessary so we can focus on what really make us more happy.

THE 6 PRINCIPLES OF SIMPLE PRODUCTIVITY

They correspond to the first 6 chapters

  1. Set limits
  2. Choose the essential
  3. Simplify
  4. Focus
  5. Create habits
  6. Start small

The following chapters are devoted to practical applications for each important area of your life.

PART 1 – THE PRINCIPLES

Chapter 1 – THE POWER OF LESS

In today’s modern world, everything pushes us towards “more”: more money, more possessions, more information, more distractions, bigger houses, bigger shops …

It’s an illusion: there is always a limit. Some see this limit as a problem and others as a challenge: how can I pack even more into my days?

The problem is that increased volume often simultaneously reduces the quality of the output. It’s a little like Russian roulette: I am doing as many things as possible in the hope that some of them will have a purpose. This often leads to stress and to failure.

THE LESSON OF THE HAIKU

A haiku is a poem with 17 syllables, written in 3 lines. The poet who engages in this art accepts its limitations and constraints. S/he must express a complete idea or an image using this limited number of words.

S/he can therefore write a Haiku quickly, or on the contrary spend as much time as is required to write the most beautiful poems by choosing only the essential.

Principle 1 – Setting limits forces us to choose the essential. In all that you do, learn how to determine the limits.

Principle 2 – By choosing the essential, we are creating strong impact with minimum resources. Always choose the essential in order to minimise your use of time and energy.

CHOOSE THINGS WITH THE MOST IMPACT

“Things with the most impact” can have different meanings depending on the individual person:

– Be recognised in the long term

– Bring in a lot of money in the long term

– Be extremely beneficial to your business in terms of profit, brand, conquests…

– Change your career or be highly beneficial to your career

– Change your personal life

– Contribute to humanity in general …

There are two ways to determine the tasks that have the most impact:

  1. Look at your list of tasks

Review each of your tasks by asking yourself a question: will this have an impact beyond this week or this month? Will this advance my career, my life project? It will be hard the first time, but with practice you will know how to do it in a few minutes.

  1. Start with your goals

If you start with what you want to achieve this year, you can build your tasks on the basis of that. Let’s say you have 3 goals for this year: make sure that you perform at least one action every day that will bring you a little closer to these goals

We are going to see that these two methods will need to be used in an alternate manner: determine your goals and every day remove things from the list of tasks that do not contribute to achieving these goals.

APPLY LIMITS TO EVERY ASPECT OF LIFE

Don’t just apply this to your lists of tasks: each time that one aspect of your life takes up too much room, apply the rule of setting limits.

Too many emails? Limit yourself to reading them just twice a day and respond to no more than 5 at a time: the most important ones (the essentials)

Too many projects? Only retain 3.

Too many things in the house? Only retain 200.

You get the idea.

Now ask yourself these 3 questions:

– What aspects of my life are taking up too much space?

– What would I like to simplify?

– In addition to the tasks that I want to reduce, are there possessions that are weighing me down, information that I receive too much of, or responsibilities that I cannot cope with?

These are only preliminary questions. Be happy simply to answer them.

Chapter 2 – THE ART OF SETTING LIMITS

The problem with modern life is that we live with no limits. When you have unlimited credit, you fill up your shopping trolley with useless things that are going to become a burden. When you have a £100 limit, you are more selective.

This illusion of unlimited credit is fun at the beginning, but we rapidly find ourselves with too many things. We don’t have enough space or time for everything. It makes us weak because it dilutes our power and our effectiveness.

Limitless is synonymous with weakness. Set limits and you will increase your impact.

HOW LIMITS CAN HELP US

Moving to a life with limits will be an incredible transformation:

  • It simplifies things, reducing stress
  • It allows you to focus on a reduced number of things, on what is important to you, instead of trying everything
  • It helps you achieve things: by wanting to do everything, progress towards important goals is very slow
  • It shows others that your time is important: when you show that you live without limits, it is a signal to others that their time is more important than yours
  • It makes you more efficient: your time is devoted to the essential things

WHERE TO SET LIMITS

Priority areas are the ones that are taking over your life. It is neither necessary nor desirable to want to reform everything at once. Your choice will be personal.

A few ideas to start:

  • Email
  • Everyday tasks
  • Time spent on the phone
  • Number of projects in progress
  • Number of blogs to which you are subscribed
  • Time spent on the Internet
  • Number of things piled on your desk

HOW TO SET LIMITS

At first, you are going to determine an arbitrary number that you will then need to adjust.

For example: you decide to reduce the number of times you check your email per day. If you currently do it 15 times a day, and this figure seems too high to you because you are permanently “connected”, then you are going to choose a number between one and five. For example, twice a day – once in the morning and once before leaving work. Then you can test whether this frequency is too low to ensure good communication with others…

Consider the first week to be a week of experimentation. If two is not enough, try three. If two works, see what happens if you go down to once a day.

Once you have created this new habit, move on to the next area of your life in which you want to move forward.

To summarise:

  1. Analyse your current level (how many times per day). Reduce the frequency in relation to what you consider to be ideal.
  2. Test for one week
  3. If it doesn’t work, adjust the level and test for one week
  4. Continue until you find the right level and until it becomes a habit

Once you have mastered the art of setting limits, you can then extract the quintessence: choose what is essential and simplify it.

Chapter 3 – CHOOSE THE ESSENTIAL AND SIMPLIFY

Before you can simplify it, you must first choose what is essential. If you don’t, you are going to eliminate things that are important.

It is like the principle of the sculptor: how do I build a statue of an elephant? Simply take a block of stone and eliminate everything that does not look like an elephant. All well and good, but before you begin, you should know what an elephant looks like …

PUT THE HORSE BEFORE THE CART

Most organisational systems teach you how to increase your speed, in other words how to cope with the mass of things to be done and responsibilities in order to be able to take on even more. They operate backwards. They sometimes allow you to distinguish between what is important and what is less so, but they still make you do everything, leaving you at the mercy of those who will give you even more tasks to perform.

CHOOSE THE ESSENTIAL – A SERIES OF QUESTIONS

Use these questions for everything that you have to do. In time it will come naturally.

  1. What are your values? The qualities that you want to have, your principles in life. Reject everything that does not fit with them.
  2. What are your goals? In life? For this year? This month? Today? You have to know what you want to achieve.
  3. What do you love? The people with whom you love to spend time, activities that you enjoy.
  4. What is important to you? Make a list that everything that counts in your life, your work, or any other area.
  5. What has the greatest impact? If you have a list of projects and tasks, ask yourself what will make the biggest difference in your life or your career.
  6. What has the greatest impact in the long term? Differentiate between the force of an impact and its long-term interest.
  7. Differentiate between your needs and your desires. In general, in making this distinction, you eliminate your desires and you focus on your needs.
  8. Eliminate the non-essential. Sometimes it is preferable to proceed by elimination. If you have a list of tasks, cross out everything that is not essential. “Wash the Car” is not as important as “Pay the bills”.
  9. It is an ongoing process. In general, we do not get to the essential on the first try. First, you eliminate what is obvious and leave the things that you have doubts about. Then you return to your list at the end of one week to reduce it further. Keep going until you are satisfied.

HOW TO APPLY THE QUESTIONS

The best is to block some time (hours, or days if necessary) to explore the following areas:

My commitments in life: which ones do not serve my values or my objectives?

My annual objectives: only keep one or two. Force yourself to sort through your good intentions at the beginning of the year. Put the non-essential ones aside for later.

Projects and tasks: you must establish priorities in your work. What are you going to concentrate on this week? Today?

Email: if you have 20 emails waiting, use the questions above to see which 5 you are going to respond to. Defer the others, or better still, eliminate them.

Finance: the distinction between desire and need is important here, along with that of values.

Clutter: De-clutter by using the need/desire question, eliminating the non-essential as part of an ongoing process.

Regular reviews: choosing the essential is never an ad hoc decision. It is something that you will revisit regularly, because new things accumulate continuously, as part of our evolving values and objectives. Note the appointment in your diary and learn to love this review.

Principle 3 – Simplify, eliminate the non-essential

It is sometimes more difficult than it looks, even if practice helps a lot.

When you have identified the 3 essential tasks on your list, you eliminate or delegate the others.

It becomes more complicated when other people rely on you to carry out certain tasks. This is where you will have to learn to say “no”. We will come back to this in the chapter about “Simple Commitments”. But at this stage, be aware that saying “no” means that you devote yourself to the essential and it encourages others to respect you.

Others will respect your time if you start to respect it yourself!

Chapter 4 – SIMPLE FOCUS

Principle 4 – Focus is your most important tool as you strive to become more efficient.

HOW TO FOCUS YOURSELF FOR BETTER LIVING

– Focus on a goal

It is the best success factor in reaching a goal or creating a habit. More than discipline, rewards, willingness or even motivation (although the latter is important).

– Focus on the present

This reduces your stress, enabling you to enjoy the moment while increasing your efficiency.

– Focus on the task at hand

Have you ever completely lost yourself in your work? Lost all sense of time, absorbed in what you were doing. This is the concept of “flow”. It is a key element in the search for happiness. The first thing to do is determine what task you can get enthusiastic about. Then you will need to remove any distractions and focus completely on the task that you have defined.

– Focus on the positive

One of the key skills that Leo learned was to replace his negative thoughts with positive thoughts.

FOCUS ON A SINGLE TASK

We live in a world of multitasking! We manage several projects at once, answering the telephone while reading our mails… We have learned to juggle all of these tasks, but we are not “designed” for this. And it is a deep source of stress.

Leo is in favour of the “single task” as opposed to multitasking:

  1. Multitasking is less efficient, because we waste time moving from one task to another
  2. Multitasking is more complicated, and therefore generates more stress and errors
  3. Multitasking can drive you crazy: in a chaotic world we need to find a haven of calm and serenity

Here is how a “single task” works:

  1. The first thing to do in the morning is concentrate on the most important tasks (MITs). Don’t do anything else. Allow yourself a short break between two MITs. If you manage to do 2 or 3 of these MITs in the morning, your day has been successful!
  2. When you are working on a task within a time slot, cut yourself off from all distractions. Switch off the Internet and the telephone.
  3. If, all of a sudden, you feel the need to look at your emails or the Internet, resist, breathe and immerse yourself in your work.
  4. If other things happen while you are working, put them in your inbox, or write them down in a notebook or a text file on your PC. And return to the task at hand.
  5. From time to time, once you have completed your task, take care of your notes, your inbox or your emails, adding the tasks to your “to do” list and reorganising your schedule if necessary.
  6. Sometimes you will need to interrupt what you are doing because an event obliges you to do so. In that case, make a note of where you are and put all the documents that you are using into a group folder. This will save you time when you get back to it.
  7. Breathe, stretch from time to time and take a few breaks. Enjoy these moments, stay calm.

FOCUS ON THE PRESENT

Learn how to forget the past and not think about the future in order to concentrate on the present.

The only way to know how to do this it with practice. At first, your mind will have a tendency to wander, or to have meta-thoughts, i.e. it will start to think about your very own thoughts!

This is worth working on, because it is really the key to calm, serenity and productivity.

  1. When you eat, eat! Concentrate solely on that. Taste, texture. Do it slowly. And you can do this for any other activity: taking a shower, washing the dishes, driving, working, playing…
  2. Be attentive. Inevitably, thoughts of the past or the future will slip into your mind. It’s okay. Just be aware of these thoughts.
  3. Be nice to yourself. If you find yourself thinking about the past or the future, don’t be too hard on yourself. Simply allow these thoughts to leave you and return to the present.
  4. Exercise. Physical exercise is meditation. When you run, for example, you focus on your breathing, your body.
  5. Daily routines. Anything can be meditation. Washing the dishes, walking… Everything can become an opportunity to meditate.
  6. Reminders. A little reminder on your fridge, your PC or your wall can help you to return to the present.
  7. There are no failures. You are going to get things wrong, of course. But you cannot fail, because it is a practice. The only thing that counts is that you practice it.
  8. Continue to practice.
  9. CREATE NEW HABITS

This fifth principle is the secret that will allow you to create sustainable habits that will genuinely improve your life. The key is to concentrate on a single habit at a time and to focus all your energy on it.

This is this principle which led to the “Power of Less” challenge on Leo’s Zen Habits site:

  1. Choose a habit for this challenge, one habit for the month. Choose the one that will have the most impact on your life.
  2. Write your plan. You must really say what your goal will be each day.
  3. Post your goal publicly. Tell as many people as possible. On the forum, by mail, etc.
  4. Report on your daily progress.
  5. Celebrate your new habit at the end of the month!

Zen and the art of minimalism

THE RULES

A single habit at a time. This is the most important rule.

Choose an easy objective. When you become an expert in “habit changing”, you can set the bar higher.

Choose a measurable objective. It is essential to measure your progress.

Be regular Schedule your habit at the same time every day, for example.

Report on a daily basis

Keep a positive attitude!

12 HABITS TO START WITH

Here is a selection of 12 habits (one per month over one year). These are certainly the ones that can change your life most.

  1. Start each day by determining your 3 MITs (most important tasks) for the day
  2. Do only one task at a time
  3. Completely empty your inbox
  4. Do not check your emails more than twice a day
  5. Exercise for 5-10 minutes per day
  6. Work “offline” without interruptions
  7. Adopt a morning ritual
  8. Eat more fruit and vegetables each day
  9. Keep your desk clutter-free
  10. Say “no” to commitments and requests that are not on your short list (see chap. 13)
  11. De-clutter your home for 15 minutes per day
  12. Follow the rule of 5 sentences per mail

These habits will be studied in more detail later.

  1. START SMALL

Very often, we are enthusiastic about the idea of changing our habits and we are overly ambitious. So, we immediately set the bar very high and our enthusiasm fades after a couple of weeks.

That is why starting with an easy objective will give you a better chance of success.

WHY DOES THIS WORK?

  • It increases your focus
  • It allows you to conserve your energy and your enthusiasm
  • It is easier to manage
  • It ensures your success, since you have chosen a goal that you are almost certain to reach

Gradual change lasts longer.

HOW TO APPLY THIS PRINCIPLE

This principle should be applied to everything you do, for example:

Exercising: Start with 5-10 minutes per day, rather than 30

Waking up early: start with15 minutes earlier, rather than 2 hours

Increasing productivity: Start by focussing on just one task at a time for 5-10 minutes, rather than 1/2 hour

Managing emails: start by reducing how often you check them rather than immediately switching to just twice a day

Healthy eating: start by making a single change to your diet rather than revolutionising everything

Carrying out a big project: start by doing the first small task for the project, rather than wanting to do everything at once, and then go on to the small next task

De-cluttering: start with one drawer, rather than trying to tidy your entire home or office

Part II – PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE

  1. OBJECTIVE AND SIMPLE PROJECTS

It is always much easier to set objectives than to achieve them! The number of objectives that you can set is infinite. Your energy, your ability to focus, and your motivation are limited.

Concentrate on fewer goals and you will have more success.

This is the principle of setting limits.

THE “SINGLE OBJECTIVE” SYSTEM

  1. Choose a single objective

Make a list of what you would like to achieve this year or in the coming years. You should have between 10 and 20 objectives. Now select the one that you most want to accomplish. Choose with care because it will be your top priority for the coming months.

Leo recommends an objective which should take between 6 months and 1 year to achieve. No more because it will be very difficult to maintain your focus and not much less because it will not be motivational enough.

If the objective is in more than 1 year, divide it into intermediate objectives.

  1. Divide it into a sub-objective

Focus on a smaller goal that you can achieve this month or within the next 2 months. This allows you to have stages that can be carried out immediately. It is easier than aiming towards a vaguer and distant objective.

  1. Objective of the week

Every week, create an objective for the week that will bring you closer to your sub-objective.

  1. Action of the day

And every day, choose an action which brings you closer to your goal of the week. Make this action the most important one of the day. Do it first, before any others.

This action must be very simple.

THE LIST OF PROJECTS

If you don’t have one, make a list of all your current projects. It will take you between one and two hours. List all your projects: in other words, anything that takes more than a day or two to achieve. You will surely have 10 to 20 projects, or even more. This is too many.

Now, Leo asks you to do something difficult: choose the 3 most important projects. Not 3 projects by type of project, 3 projects in total. These 3 projects are your list of projects.

The other will go on a secondary list. You will not be working on those projects.

This is the principle: you will only move projects from your secondary list to your list of projects when all 3 projects on the project list have been completed. Yes, you read correctly: all 3. Not one or two, all 3!

Why? So that you can be sure that one of the 3 projects does not linger there indefinitely.

Leo also recommends that one of these 3 projects be related to your “single objective”. The other 2 can be related to other things, for example, a project in your personal life, another that is job-related…

Why not choose just one project? For the sake of efficiency: most projects stall from time to time because you are waiting for something. It would be stupid not to use this time to make progress on another project.

For this system to operate at its best, choose projects that can be achieved within one month or less. Ideally within one or two weeks. If you choose one-year projects, you will not be able to maintain the rule of 3 projects on the main list!

FOCUS ON THE ACHIEVEMENT

Sometimes we get carried away by the peripheral aspects of a project (meetings, emails, organisation, etc.). You need to concentrate on one thing: that the project moves forward every day.

Tips:

– Keep the result in mind: determine exactly how you will know that the project is completed. And write it down in a couple of sentences beside your project on the list.

– Move from project to tasks: list the tasks required to complete your project. Then choose the first task and perform it. Then choose the second one. One at a time.

– Each day, select a task and perform it. One of your MITs should be one of the tasks related to one of your 3 projects.

Hold a weekly review during which you take stock of the progress of your projects.

WHAT IF I AM NOT IN CONTROL OF MY LIST OF PROJECTS?

Some of you may have a boss who does not allow much room for choice, or who even wants to micromanage your timetable down to the smallest details.

Fortunately, there are some effective techniques:

  1. Make your own list of projects.

Sometimes it is better to apologise than to ask permission. Do as you see fit and tell your boss later when you have succeeded. This works better with a boss who allows you to work independently.

  1. Negotiate deadlines.

Ask about deadlines for projects that are not on the main list. “I will do this as soon as I have completed these 3 projects, in other words on such and such a date”. It has to be possible to negotiate since your projects do not run for longer than two weeks to a month.

  1. Explain your organisation to your boss.

This is the best piece of advice on the list. Sit down with your boss and describe the system of the main list. However, you must really commit to completing the projects on time. If your boss is not convinced, give him or her the book or tell them to visit the site!

  1. Ask the boss to choose (*)

Show your boss all the projects you have been entrusted with at the same time, so that s/he can see that it is not realistic to work on all of them at once. If s/he does not accept the 3 projects that you have chosen, ask which one s/he would prefer to choose.

  1. SIMPLE TASKS

Nothing happens until you have completed the tasks.

MOST IMPORTANT TASKS (MITs)

Apply the rule of limits to your tasks by choosing 3 MITs as your goal for the day. It is very simple: your day will be a success if you perform these tasks. 3 is a maximum.

This does not mean that you won’t be doing anything else today. You will do lots lot of other tasks of lesser importance (emails, phone calls, appointments, shopping…).

But as you will give priority to your MITs, the other tasks will not take precedence over them. The best way to achieve this is by carrying out your MITs first thing. One of these MITs should be in relation to one of your projects or to your single objective. This is what Leo generally does; that way he is sure that he is getting closer to his goal every day. The other two MITs are generally work-related.

Do them first in the morning, as soon you wake up, if possible.

Limit yourself to 3

One of them is related to your objective or to one of your projects

Give them top priority

Do not multi-task!

SMALL TASKS

Ideally, tasks should take less than one hour. Often, if they take more time, you can split them up into even smaller tasks that you will be more able to perform because they will look less imposing. Try to divide them into tasks that last 15-30 minutes.

Each time you realise that there are certain tasks that you keep putting off (procrastination), try this method: it will help you to break the inertia and kick-start the machine!

  1. SIMPLE TIME MANAGEMENT

Very few people succeed in managing their time the way we are supposed to do it. This is a fact that prevents them to experience the power of less.

AN OPEN APPROACH

Instead of letting your calendar run your life, let the present moment lead you.

Start by not scheduling your appointments. This is revolutionary for most people, but it has been used successfully on many occasions. If someone wants to see you, explain that you are not taking appointments. All they have to do is call if they want to see you. If you are available, accept the meeting. But Leo believes that meetings must be kept to as limited a number as possible.

What you note in your calendar now are indications about events. This way, you do not create an obligation, you create an option. You then decide whether or not to attend

Instead of managing a schedule, you manage priorities. They indicate what you are going to do.

When you become totally engrossed in an absorbing task, you feel a phenomenon called “flow”.

Tips on how to reach this marvellous state:

  1. Choose a task that is genuinely exciting
  2. Choose a task that is difficult, but not impossible
  3. Eliminate distractions (telephone, emails, alerts, piles of documents…)
  4. Immerse yourself completely in the task, focus completely and forget the world around you

You will lose all sense of time and perhaps forget an appointment. That is why it is a bad idea to have too many appointments!

KNOW YOUR PRIORITIES

These are your MITs and perhaps other tasks that you should complete afterwards. Next, focus on one thing at a time (no multitasking). Each time that you are drawn away from your MIT by a distraction or because you want to multitask, turn gently back to your MIT. If the distraction cannot be ignored, simply make a note of it for later.

REDUCE YOUR TASKS

The fewer tasks you have, the easier it will be to organise them. Leo’s philosophy in every area is to begin by reducing before organising. If you are able to reduce to the extreme, you won’t even have to organise yourself any more. Focus on what is important. The rest is easy.

WORK IN BATCHES

So, there are tasks outside of the MITs.

1) Never allow them to overtake the MIT

2) Do them as a batch, in other words by grouping them together

The best is to list them below your 3 MITs, sorting them by category.

– Phone: For example, book 30 minutes of telephone calls or set a time frame during which your phone will be on

– Emails: it is vital to only check and deal with your emails at set times during the day. Twice a day generally works: For example, at 10 o’clock and at 4 o’clock

– Shopping: Only go out once

– Paperwork: here once again you can group your reading, your filing, etc. together.

– Emptying the in-tray: just like emails, do not handle papers as they arrive on your desk

– Meetings: if you decide the meeting schedule, group them together and set clear limits. But if you can: avoid meetings because they are only a waste of time!

– Web: if you are like Leo, then you regularly check the web. Book yourself a time for this instead of surfing several times during the day

– Research

– Maintenance: for a blogger, this may be reading comments, for example.

SIMPLE TIME MANAGEMENT TOOLS

– Calendar/Diary: keep it simple. A calendar hanging on the wall, Google Calendar… They will allow you to jot down your appointments, and also to attach the documents you may need at a given time

– BlocNote or text file: use this simple tool to make a note of what is going through your mind, your MITs, your daily batch and your objective. If you only use one tool, you don’t need to think about it all the time.

  1. SIMPLE EMAILS

These days, an impressive number of people accept that their life is governed by emails. We are going to apply the rules of simplification and limitation to emails.

LIMIT THE NUMBER OF INBOXES

  1. List all the means by which you receive information, digital or not (email, private messages on a forum, Facebook, texts, pager, etc.)
  2. Assess the value of each of them (sometimes we continue to check inboxes that no longer contain anything of interest)
  3. Find ways to combine or eliminate inboxes. To eliminate: See if you can do without it for one week For the rest, try to do make everything converge towards a single inbox. For example, centralise all incoming papers in a single letter tray (notebooks, invoices, letters, newspapers, printed documents, etc.). Use services that centralise your emails (Gmail).

LIMIT TIME SPENT ON EMAILS

– Set a number of times per day.

Once is ideal, but this may depend on your job. 2 is realistic for most people.

– The best times

10 o’clock and 4 o’clock seem to work especially well

– Never first thing in the day.

Many methods advocate getting through emails by handling them at the beginning of the day. In general, this is the best way for email to take over your day. The morning is for your MITs.

– Cut off email alerts

– Keep up these good habits

It is easy on the first day, but in order to consistently keep this habit, you have to do it for 15 days running Place a sign on your PC that says “no emails, except at 10am and 4pm!”

REDUCE THE INCOMING FLOW

  1. SPAM: Gmail has the best antispam. Leo doesn’t receive any spam (CW: me neither!).
  2. Notifications: when you receive a lot of email notifications (confirming an order, payment, etc.), you can create a rule that automatically sends these mails to a special directory. It is sufficient to check this directory when you need to (batch).
  3. Batch: Some emails are recurrent and require a very short processing time. You can create a rule that will send them automatically to a specific directory.
  4. Stupid jokes: Explain to your contacts that you are not interested in this kind of mail. If they continue, create a rule to systematically discard their mails in the recycling bin.
  5. Set your expectations and broadcast your way of operating

It may be useful to explain the way in which you want others to communicate with you by mail.

EMPTY YOUR INBOX

  1. Temporary directory

If your inbox is inundated, create a “to file” directory and move all your unanswered emails to it. You can empty it regularly over 30 minute periods. But start with an empty inbox!

  1. Have an external task management system

Often, we keep all these emails in the inbox so that we don’t forget what tasks have to be done. Your inbox is not a list of tasks. Extract the tasks to perform from your emails and note them down in your task management system, then archive your mails.

  1. Handle quickly

Start at the top of the list of emails

Open the email

You have these options: delete, archive, respond quickly (and delete or archive), create a task (and delete or archive), act immediately if it takes less than 2 minutes (and delete or archive).

Never leave the mail in your inbox, ever.

Next mail

  1. Use “DELETE”

We always want to answer everything, or leave comments. This is a mistake. Ask yourself what will happen if you simply delete the email.

  1. Go through them all!

When you open your inbox, your goal is to empty it. Do not open a mail to read it and then close it again. Disconnect when your inbox is empty. What joy!

WRITE LESS

Once you have carefully chosen the emails you are going to answer, don’t write a novel for each one. Leo limits himself to a maximum of 5 sentences. (CW: well, for me it’s 8 and I ask my colleagues to do the same).

  1. SIMPLE INTERNET

The Internet can be a real black hole for productivity, because there is so much you can do there and so many distractions.

BE AWARE OF YOUR USE

To do this, try to track your use of the Internet for 3 days with a tool like www.toggl.com, yaTimer or Tick (note from Olivier: You can also use the wonderful automatic tool Rescue Time). This will allow you to become aware of your habits. In the list of sites, you can already identify the “time wasting” sites that you will need to limit.

Make A PLAN

This does not mean that you can no longer surf for the pleasure of it, but be aware that you are doing it. In other words, decide that when you are working, you are working, and when you are enjoying yourself, you are enjoying yourself.

Ask yourself these questions:

– What are your needs for work?

– What are your “amusement” sites? Consider them to be rewards when the job is done!

– What are the moments when you want to work without interruption and the moments when you allow yourself to surf the Internet and get distracted?

You need to block periods in your day during which you will work without interruption (no Internet).

LEARN TO WORK “OFFLINE”

This is what allowed Leo the make the best progress in productivity.

– Force yourself to break your addiction over the course of one week (one month would be better). Experiment working offline throughout that week

– Set yourself rules such as “no Internet from 9am to midday” and stick to them

– When you feel the need to surf: resist it! Let it pass … Put it off until later

– Apply positive pressure to those around you by encouraging others to help you: tell your family, your friends or colleagues of your intention to reduce your Internet consumption

– Treat yourself to rewards when you follow your rules

– Use classic techniques to combat the addiction: take a deep breath, drink a glass of water, take a walk, massage …

– Give yourself enough time to succeed

  1. SIMPLE FILING

CREATE A SIMPLE FILING SYSTEM

The key is to keep things simple.

  1. Reduce before filing

– Made a big pile of what needs filing, or several small piles if necessary

– Take each item, one at a time. If this item will not be of use to you in the next two months, get rid of it.

– Transmit: If you cannot get rid of an item, it may be because someone needs it, in which case – give it to them.

– File: if a document is absolutely critical and you know that you are going to need it, file it.

  1. Simple filing

The simplest is to file alphabetically. Create your files and sort them in alphabetical order. For most employees or self-employed people, one drawer will be enough. Limiting yourself to one drawer means that you will have to have a regular cull.

  1. File immediately

When you empty your in-tray, do not stack anything and do not put anything into a “to file” tray. No, open your drawer and file the document in the correct file immediately. It should take you 5 seconds. Do not let any piles grow around you.

  1. Keep your material to hand

Your folders and labels must be in sufficient quantity and close to hand. All you should need to do is stretch out your arm.

  1. Reduce your filing needs as the years go by

– Store information online

– Reduce your incoming paperwork: ask people to send you as many things as possible in digital format

– Stop printing!

TIPS AND ADVICE FOR THE HOME

  1. Create a place where you can centralise all incoming paperwork: your letter tray, waste paper basket, small filing system (drawer) and material (envelopes, stamps, pens, etc.) should all be in the same location
  2. The home letter tray: everything should arrive here, post, magazines, bills, school reports… resist the temptation to pile them up here, there and everywhere. Centralise.
  3. Pay the bills immediately: you can also consolidate and pay them twice a month, but ideally you should pay them as you empty your letter tray
  4. Add things to your “to do” list or your calendar as you continue to file or destroy each document related to it (the actions are added to your “to do” list and events go in your calendar)
  5. File immediately: do not allow anything to pile up in your letter and filing tray
  6. SIMPLE COMMITMENTS

Reducing the number of commitments that you make in your life is one of the most profitable things you can do, but it is also one of the most difficult. It means knowing how to say “No”.

Each commitment and each acceptance may not have seemed like a big deal at the time they were made. What weighs you down is when they accumulate.

First make an inventory:

  • Work
  • Odd jobs
  • Family
  • Children
  • Civil life
  • Religion
  • Hobbies
  • Home
  • Online community

Then, make a shortlist: Choose 4-5 commitments that really count for you.

Here is Leo’s:

  • Spend time with his wife and children
  • Write
  • Run
  • Read

NOW REMOVE THE NON-ESSENTIAL

  1. Start Small: choose the commitment that brings you the least and focus on eliminating it
  2. Call or send a mail to express your regrets
  3. Replace the time you save with an important activity which is on your short list (not watching TV!)
  4. Repeat the process until all that remains is what you have defined as important.

At first you will feel a bit guilty, but this will be replaced by a feeling of freedom because you will be spending your time on your priorities, not those of others.

LEARN TO SAY “NO”

Now you have to avoid starting all over again, accumulating commitments which do not correspond to your priorities.

– First, consider any request as a gift of your time, which is limited

– Check your short list to see if this potential commitment can be part of the priorities defined by your short list

– Be honest with the person making the request: most people will understand when you explain that you lack time and that you are trying to sort through your commitments

Be firm in order to avoid any insistence on the part of the person making the request

– “I would really like to, but …”: you validate the request, but you clearly explain that you do cannot respond

– Don’t be sorry: if it is so important, someone else will do it

FIND TIME TO DO WHAT YOU LOVE

This also works for your private life

  1. Make a list of things that you love to do (only 4-5)
  2. Remove everything that you can from the rest
  3. Schedule time to do things on your short list

Leo decided to spend more time with his family, so he said no to outings and other suggestions from his friends.

He decided to run a marathon, so he decided to get up before bringing his children to school, leading him to go to bed earlier and not watch TV.

Leo decided to write this book, so he chose not to carry out other, less important professional projects.

  1. A DAILY ROUTINE

THE POWER OF THE MORNING RITUAL

Ideally, you should get up early in the morning to start the day with your personal and individual routine.

It allows you to:

– Prepare your day, set your objectives

– Do things that you do not usually take the time to do: sport, reading, writing…

– Do something pleasant, calming, relaxing

This will transform every one of your days and therefore your entire life.

IDEAS FOR THE MORNING RITUAL

Here is a list. Choose 6 activities on this list in order to get started: drink a coffee/tea, watch the sun rise, exercise, take a shower/bath, read, have lunch, do yoga, meditate, walk, prepare lunch, write, create a journal, choose your 3 MITs for the day, read over your objectives, …

You will notice that there is no mention of checking emails or any job-related activity.

HOW TO ESTABLISH A ROUTINE

  1. Focus and consider the establishment of your routine to be a priority for 1 month
  2. Choose a rewarding routine
  3. Make a note of your progress
  4. DE-CLUTTER YOUR WORK SPACE

The benefits of a neat and tidy desk are better concentration and reduced stress.

HOW TO BEGIN

  1. Book a time (half an hour or an hour to begin, for example)
  2. Make a stack of all your papers
  3. Gather everything that is on your desk around this pile, except: your PC, phone and letter tray
  4. Start with the stack of papers. Handle each item without ever putting in back in the pile. Your options are: destroy, delegate, file, do immediately, or add to the “to do” list. Preferably in this order!
  5. Continue as long as possible

RETURN TO THE ESSENTIALS

  • Remove all elements of distraction such as posters, gadgets, or other knick-knacks.
  • Regularly empty an entire drawer and sort everything in it again
  • If you have a lot of things about which you find yourself hesitating (should I throw away or file?), create a “maybe” box. Fill it, close it, label it with the date and store it outside your office. If you haven’t opened it in 6 months, you know what to do with it!!!

KEEP YOUR SPACE CLUTTER-FREE

  1. Have a single letter tray for any incoming paperwork
  2. Empty it once a day by following the systems described above
  3. Have a special place for each kind of paper

A SIMPLE HOME

Starting your day in a clean, tidy and minimalist home makes all the difference. All the advice given above can also be applied to your home, to make it less stressful, more attractive and easier to clean…

To do this, you can choose between two methods: book an entire weekend to de-clutter the house or devote 20 minutes to it every day.

Now you will have to keep the house like this:

  • Designate a place for each thing: each time that you find something lying around, it is because you have not defined its place or you have poorly defined the place
  • Schedule times to de-clutter and write them in your calendar
  • Tone down your desires: Do you really need to buy this gadget or this item of clothing?
  • The 30 day list: this can help you in resisting temptation. You see something and you want to buy it. Instead of buying it right away, write it down on a list, with the date. Wait for 30 days before taking action. Sometimes, after 30 days, you discover that you don’t want this thing any more.
  1. IN PRAISE OF SLOWNESS

It is obvious that modern life has us operating at a speed that is too fast. This is a source of stress. Learn how to slow down.

TURN YOUR ATTENTION SLOWLY

The attention we pay to things is our most important asset. Our attention is what makes things exist things for us. Train yourself to only divert your interest very slowly.

– Begin with a very simple task and try not to let yourself get diverted. Every time that your attention is diverted, try to return to your task (which can be as simple as eating, gardening, or washing the dishes)

– Experiment with this method of simple meditation first thing in the morning: sit down in a comfortable place, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Every time that a thought crosses your mind, be aware of it and focus your attention on your breathing once again.

WORK SLOWLY

Nowadays, it is common to have 12 hour days that are very busy and filled with multiple tasks; you find yourself in the evening wondering what you did with all that time…

Let’s try another method:

  1. Choose a task you enjoy: if your job is a constant stream of tasks that you hate, it might be time to look for a new one!
  2. Choose a task that matters to you
  3. Make sure that it is difficult but not too difficult
  4. Find a quiet moment when you are at your best (this can be for example the morning, like Leo)
  5. Remove any distractions and focus
  6. Take pleasure in the task: losing yourself in a task that you really enjoy is a tremendous experience
  7. Practice regularly: you will strengthen the habit and make progress
  8. Enjoy the reward: you are going to finish your days knowing that you have moved forward with your important projects and you will know the enjoyment of immersing yourself in a job that you love. This will further strengthen the habit.

EAT SLOWLY

There are many good reasons to do this:

  1. Weight loss: our brain takes 20 minutes to realise that we have eaten enough
  2. Enjoy your food: eating is a pleasure, so make it last
  3. Better digestion
  4. Less stress
  5. Rebel against fast food and fast living!

DRIVE SLOWLY

  1. Save fuel
  2. Save lives
  3. Make yourself late? Have you ever calculated how much time you actually save by driving fast? Very little … so just tell yourself: “I might as well leave earlier”.
  4. Save yourself from madness: have you seen what road rage does to people?
  5. Simply your life: fewer fuel stops, fewer fines…

Tips for driving slowly:

  • Listen to relaxing music
  • Ignore other drivers
  • Leave early (Oh yes!)
  • Use the time for brainstorming
  • Stick to the left lane
  • Enjoy the journey: this is the most important thing, make your trip interesting by listening to music, making it a moment of reflection, etc.
  1. SIMPLE HEALTH AND FITNESS

WHY IS IT SO COMPLICATED?

Everyone knows that what he must what they have to do be slim and in good shape. And yet…

Here are 5 common reasons why diets fail:

  • A diet that is too strict to adhere to for long
  • Under-eating which causes relapse eating
  • We think we are eating healthily, but are actually taking in a lot of hidden calories (sodas, seasoning…)
  • Fast food can be very tempting, especially when you are in a hurry, stressed, travelling, at work …
  • Some events make sticking to a diet impossible (parties, invitations, etc.)

Here are 3 common reasons why health and fitness programmes fail:

  • The programme leads to over exercise or injury
  • Loss of motivation after a week or two due to the lack of results
  • Events disrupt the programme, which is abandoned a few days and the good habit is broken

A SIMPLE FITNESS PROGRAMME

Any programme that claims to give you fast results is too drastic. Health and fitness are a matter of months and years. They are acquired through a progressive programme and the progressive acquisition of good habits. Also, it is preferable to put more emphasis on exercise because good eating habits will stem from it.

The first month will be devoted to developing the habit of exercising. The second month will be devoted to changing dietary habits. The following months will be focussed on the progress of these two parts.

FIRST, GET INTO THE HABIT OF EXERCISING

  1. Start “easy”

Only do 10 minutes of brisk walking or running or cycling or even swimming per session. Save energy for the next session. Then, the following week, increase by 5 minutes, and so on. You are not creating your form, you are creating a habit!

  1. Schedule your sessions

It is important to ensure that nothing can interfere with your workout. For most people, morning will be the ideal time. The evening is often the worst time because you are tired and/or called upon. Schedule three sessions the first week, four for weeks 2 and 3, then five for the following weeks.

  1. Do not miss a session

The sessions are easy, so you have to stick to them – only illness or injury can prevent you.

  1. Don’t give up!

If you do have to miss one or two sessions, don’t give up and get back to them as soon as possible. If you miss a week or two, get motivated again and start over. The more you try, the more you increase your chances of success.

  1. Find a partner if this can help you stick with it
  2. Make yourself accountable

Tell other people about your good resolutions and it will be all the more difficult not to keep them.

  1. Enjoy it!

This is very important for success.

SECOND, MAKE PROGRESSIVE CHANGES TO YOUR DIET

  1. Eat when you are still only moderately hungry

This is your plan for the first week: schedule your meals every 3-4 hours and take what you are going to eat with you if you are travelling. That’s it – do not proceed with any further instructions for the moment.

  1. Eat light

Your plan will be to make a list of all the healthy foods you like (natural, light foods, such as fruit and vegetables) and make a list of meals or snacks that are compounds of these foodstuffs. Take things progressively once again and don’t start everything at once. For example, eliminate sodas the first week, add fruit the second, etc.

Plan for one “cheat” meal per week to help you.

  1. Eat slowly

Add this to the first two habits on the third week.

  1. Stop as soon as you are just satisfied, not full.

Wait for 10 minutes to feel whether you have had enough. Have some more if this is not the case.

THIRD, CONTINUE, ADD SHORT TERM OBJECTIVES AND MAKE YOURSELF ACCOUNTABLE

  1. Continue to increase the exercise and add variety

Your goal will be to increase the duration of your sessions. Then you will be able to vary their intensity. Signing up for an event can also be very motivational.

  1. Improve your diet and try new tastes

Improve something every week: drink more water, eat more vegetables, reduce your sugar intake. Take advantage of this to try new, healthier foodstuffs.

  1. Short-term objectives

Health and fitness are acquired over months or years, but it is easy to have some short-term objectives. Have a goal every week or fortnight, such as: increase each session by 5 minutes every day, run 5 km, take part in an event, lose 2 kilos, etc. Talk about your goals with people around you.

  1. Make yourself accountable: keep track of your progress.

This is a key habit: make a note of what you do every day. No exceptions and right away. Keep it simple or you won’t do it. You can also keep track of it online, on a blog or other format …

  1. MOTIVATION

8 WAYS TO GET MOTIVATED IN THE BEGINNING

  1. Start “easy”
  2. Have one goal at a time
  3. Analyse your motivation: write down the reasons you are doing this
  4. You have to really want it: don’t just choose something because it’s “cool”
  5. Make a public commitment
  6. Boost your motivation: talk about it, read books on the subject, …
  7. Defer starting: resist the urge to start immediately, note when you are going to start on your calendar and let your motivation increase as the date approaches
  8. Print it out and display it on your fridge or your mirror

20 WAYS TO STAY MOTIVATED WHEN IT GETS TOUGH

  1. Hold yourself back: impose limits on yourself. For example, if you think you can run 15 kilometres, run 14 and this will make you want to come back again tomorrow.
  2. Begin at the beginning: When you are not feeling motivated, make a rule that you will at least begin. You don’t feel like running? At least put your shoes on and go out. You’re not feeling inspired? Place a piece of paper in front of you and just write down one sentence
  3. Be accountable: continue to share your progress
  4. Eliminate negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones: nurture this skill every day
  5. Think about the positive outcome
  6. Re-boost your motivation: why were you so motivated at first?
  7. Read a book on the subject: find a book that talks about your goal
  8. Find friends with the same goal
  9. Read inspiring stories about the subject: type your goal into Google and perhaps you will come across stories of people who have succeeded the same thing that you are undertaking
  10. Build on your small successes: look at what you have already accomplished, celebrate it and continue
  11. Get over the low point: sometimes motivation can ebb and flow, so keep going and it will return
  12. Get help: you will find people who can help you for each of your objectives
  13. Keep track of your progress: this can be a table or an X on a calendar
  14. Reward yourself frequently
  15. Use intermediate mini-objectives
  16. Get a coach or take classes
  17. Never skip two days in a row
  18. Use the visualisation technique: visualise your expected outcome every day
  19. Be aware of when you feel like stopping and overcome these desires: sometimes, they are subconscious
  20. Find the joy: if you don’t take pleasure in what you do, you will not go far!

Book critique of The Power of Less :

Strengths:

  • It really is a “sum” of excellent advice, especially because it came a decade before the market became saturated with similar advice!
  • A very good companion to Getting Things Done, but with a better angle of attack (reduce before organising)
  • I really like the idea of setting limits to win more freedom, even if it is counter-intuitive.
  • I like his dynamic vision of the essential: deciding to say no to anything new does not mean setting frozen principles or essentials. But the idea is not to let anything additional come in until you have made space for it.
  • Applying any of these principles will allow you to lower your level of stress while remaining efficient with regard to the essentials.

Weaknesses:

  • Does not talk enough about renouncing things: accept imperfection in non-essential areas (perfection can sometimes be the enemy of good).
  • Can sometimes be a little repetitive.
  • Sometimes naive: not making appointments seems unrealistic to me and the best way to let anyone and everyone steal your time!
  • (*) I don’t agree with Leo about the way to say no to one’s boss! In fact, a podcast on this topic is planned for my site.

My score :

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