Clear-Minded Classic #7: The Power of Less by Leo Babauta

I’ve been intending to re-read this for quite some time, and as part of my Annual Review I’m currently working out my goals for next year (one of which is to ensure I get more creative work done without getting overwhelmed) so thought it was good timing to also write a wee review for the ‘Clear-Minded Classics’ series.

The Power of Less was written by Leo Babauta who writes the hugely popular blog Zen Habits. I enjoy Leo’s writing on his blog but have to admit the first time I read the book I was a bit disappointed. It seemed almost *too* simplistic. Surely much of this advice was common sense?

However in hindsight I realised this kind of information needs to be written as simply as possible, and there’s no doubt that Leo practices what he preaches when it comes to both the way he lives his life and the way he writes. The fact is, we action so little of what we read, or learn, that the best writing needs to be extremely simple if we are to remember and action it.

On my second reading, my main concern was that it was impossible for me, as someone with loads of different interests,  to achieve the level of simplicity that Leo suggests in terms of cutting down my goals/projects/commitments. There’s no doubt that for anyone with a full-time job where it’s difficult to be in control of what projects you’re tasked with, it can be tricky to follow his advice to the letter – but there’s still a lot of advice that’s worth following.

And because taking too much on/trying to do too much last year led to complete overwhelm for me, I thought it would be good to be a bit stricter with myself and actually follow his advice this year.

With the amount of information available to us now via the internet, and the amount of options available to most us as individuals it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to describe our current time as ‘the age of overwhelm’. But Babauta argues that by choosing what we focus on, we can have the best of both worlds:

I propose a middle ground: one where we can still enjoy access to vast amounts of information, still have instant communication when we want it, still get things done quickly – but one in which we must choose how much we consume and do.

First, he lays out the principles behind the book. He realised the power of focusing on one thing when he was able to give up smoking, and he used the same technique for a variety of other goals:

Breaking the barrier (of quitting smoking) helped inspire me to new goals and habits, and I used the same method on each one; I’d focus all of my energy and attention on that one challenge, and the barriers would break down. I’d focus on one goal at a time and not try to accomplish everything at once.

He also makes it clear that by being more selective about what we do, we can achieve much more in the long run.

(Trying to do everything) weakens us in so many ways. It dilutes our power and effectiveness. It spreads us too thin. It tires us out so that we don’t have the energy to handle the important stuff.” “Learn to focus yourself with limits, and you’ll increase your strength.

The main principles he outlines are as follows:

  1. By setting limitations, we must choose the essential. So in everything you do, learn to set limitations
  2. By choosing the essential, we create great impact with minimal resources. Always choose the essential to maximise your time and energy
  3. Eliminate the nonessential
  4. Focus is your most important tool in becoming more effective
  5. Create new habits to make long-lasting improvements
  6. Start small – start new habits in small increments to ensure success.
Easy to say, but harder to make a decision on, commit to and implement, as I know all too well from past attempts. However in each section Leo does give excellent guidance as to how to do this. For example, when it comes to choosing what’s essential, he suggests asking the following questions (plus a few more):
  1. What are your values
  2. What are your goals
  3.  What do you love
  4. What’s important to you?
  5. What has the biggest impact?
  6. What has the most long-term impact?
In terms of limits, Leo has some suggestions for what these should be in terms of goals for the year ahead, and I’m going to do my very best to keep my own goals/plans in line with this as I know from experience that if I try to do too much I’ll become overwhelmed.


Pick one goal at a time and focus on it completely (ideally the goal would take 6-12 months to achieve and be a goal you REALLY want, or it won’t be juicy enough to get you motivated).


Pick one good habit to develop each month (he believes a habit takes a month to embed in your life, if you do it every day). It’s important to start very small with this, in line with principle 6.

Create new habits to make long-lasting improvements… this is the secret to making lasting changes that will actually improve your life… focus on one habit at a time, one month at a time…

Babauta suggests taking the Power of Less Challenge to improve your chances of success:

  1. Select one habit
  2. Write down your plan – you will need to specifically state what your goal will be each day, when you’ll do it, what your “trigger” will be (the event that will immediately precede the habit that’s already a part of your routine – and who you will “report to”
  3. Post your goal publicly
  4. Report on your progress daily
  5. Celebrate your new habit.


Pick 3 projects at a time, at least one of which relates to your primary goal. Don’t start any new projects until ALL THREE are completed – this ensures you will get them all done and not get distracted.


Plan 3 key tasks (or Most Important Tasks) to achieve each day, preferably based on your projects, and focus on them with no distractions until they are completed. Do them first thing to ensure success).


Make an inventory of all your commitments and then identify 4-5 key activities which are most important to you, and only agree to commitments which align with this list. This might be the most difficult thing of all.

In the later chapters, the book also has suggestions for better time management and establishing daily routines, simplifying filing, email and decluttering your work space, slowing down, and simpler more achievable health and fitness goals – all topics you’ll recognise from Zen Habits if you’re a regular reader.

So if like me you want to avoid being overwhelmed in 2012, I’d recommend giving this book, and Leo’s blog a read, if you haven’t already. In my next post I’ll share a little bit about what my goals arehaving used both Chris Guillebeau and Leo’s process to work them out.

The Power of Less on

The Power of Less on

(Amazon affiliate links, because each of these reviews are a full day’s work and I need every penny I can get – don’t we all).

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