Book Summary: The Power of Less by Leo Babauta

The Book in Three Sentences

The Power of Less is a detailed guide that explains how you can achieve things by eliminating the unessential. Babauta’s productivity system is all about focusing on one task at a time with no distractions. The book proposes an organizing system that’s easier and more streamlined than David Allen’s Getting Things Done.

The Power of Less Summary


We live in an era where we can do a lot quickly but you can easily be overwhelmed by the tools at our disposal. We should limit what we consume and prioritize. Life is better when we simplify it. To simplify:

  1. Identify the essential
  2. Eliminate the rest

Focusing on one goal at a time is incredibly powerful.

The Power of Less principles:

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

Part I: The Principles

One: Why Less Powerful

Most people think that more is better, but there’s only so much more we can take and limited time. Some people see that as a problem, and others see it as a challenge.

  1. By setting limitations, you focus on the essentials.
  2. By focusing on the essentials, you make an impact with fewer resources.

You can choose to do less but focus on the activities that will have the most impact.

To determine the tasks that have the most impact:

  1. Examine your task list, how do your tasks impact your life?
  2. Your tasks should revolve around a goal

Two: The Art of Setting Limits

Principle 1: Set Limitations

Entertainment, information, and clutter are unlimited, but our time and space aren’t. So we need to establish some limits. Limits give us power and focus.

The benefits of setting limits are:

  • It simplifies things
  • It gives us focus
  • It enables us to focus on what’s important
  • It helps us achieve
  • It shows us that time is important
  • It makes us effective

To set limits:

  1. Analyze your current usage levels
  2. Test it out for a period of time
  3. Adjust
  4. Continue to adjust until it becomes a habit

Three: Choosing the Essential, and Simplifying

Principle 2: Choose the Essential

To simplify, you must determine what’s essential first. To choose the essential:

  1. What are your values?
  2. What are your goals?
  3. What do you love?
  4. What is important to you?
  5. What has the biggest impact?
  6. What has the most long-term impact?
  7. Needs vs wants. Needs are essential while wants are non-essential.
  8. Eliminate the nonessential
  9. Continual editing process
Principle 3: Simplifying. Eliminating the Nonessential

Others might want to do something that you consider unessential. In that case, say no.

Four: Simple Focus

Focus on less, usually one thing at a time. Don’t multitask. Focus on the present.

Principle 4: Focus
  • Focus on a goal: to achieve a goal, we must focus.
  • Focus on the task at hand: when we lose track of time, we enter a state of “flow”. This leads to happiness. We must find something we’re passionate about to reach this state.
  • Focus on the positive: replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
  • Focus on one task: single-tasking.

The problems with multitasking:

  1. Multitasking is less efficient
  2. Multitasking is complicated
  3. Multitasking is chaotic

To single-task:

  1. Work on your most important task first thing in the morning.
  2. Turn off distractions.
  3. If you feel the urge to do something else. Breathe, refocus, and keep working.
  4. Write down the things that come up while working.
  5. When you completed the task, figure out your schedule and organize everything.
  6. When something urgent comes up, write down where you left off.
  7. Breathe, stretch, take breaks, and go outside occasionally.

How to focus on the present:

  1. When you eat, just eat
  2. Be aware
  3. Be gentle
  4. Exercise
  5. Daily routines
  6. Put up reminders
  7. There is no failure
  8. Keep practicing
Five: Create New Habits, and the Power of Less Challenge
Principle 5: Create New Habits to Make Long-Lasting Improvements

The power of less challenge:

  1. Select one habit for the challenge
  2. Write down your plan
  3. Post your goal publicly
  4. Report on your progress daily
  5. Celebrate your new habit

The rules:

  • Do only one habit at a time
  • Choose an easy goal
  • Choose something measurable
  • Be consistent
  • Report daily
  • Keep a positive attitude

Twelve key habits to start with:

  1. Set your three most important tasks each morning
  2. Single-task
  3. Process your inbox to empty
  4. Check email twice a day
  5. Exercise
  6. Work disconnected with no distractions
  7. Have a morning routine
  8. Eat more fruits and vegetables
  9. Declutter your desk
  10. Say no to commitments
  11. Declutter your house
  12. Write emails in five sentences

Six: Start Small

Principle 6: Start New Habits in Small Increments to Ensure Success

Starting out small works because:

  • It narrows your focus
  • It keeps your energy longer
  • It’s easier to handle
  • You ensure success
  • Gradual change is longer lasting

Part II: In Practice

Seven: Simple Goals and Projects

It’s easy to set goals, but difficult to achieve them.

In the one goals system, you focus on one goal at a time. This is how it works:

  1. Choose a goal: make a list with all the goals you want to pursue and choose only one. You really have to like that goal. Choose something that takes between six months to a year to complete. You can break down more daunting goals into more manageable sub-goals.
  2. Break it down into sub-goals: once you have your goal, you have to focus on smaller sub-goals that take less time to accomplish.
  3. Weekly goals: you break your sub-goals into weekly goals.
  4. Daily action: this should be one of the most important tasks of your day. It helps you achieve your weekly goal.
The Simple Projects List

Write a list of all the projects you have going on right now. Choose the top three projects on the list. This becomes your simple projects list (SPL). Everything else goes to the On Deck List (ODL). Once you finish all three projects in the SPL, you choose three more from the ODL and you repeat this process until completion.

Focus on Completion

The real focus should be on completing the project, everything else is a distraction. To do so:

  • Have an outcome in mind
  • Move from projects to tasks
  • Each day, choose a task to move to completion
  • Reassess your progress
What if I Don’t Control My Projects List?

Sometimes a boss controls your project. In this case, you can:

  1. Make your own project list
  2. Delay the projects that aren’t your priority
  3. Talk to your boss about your system
  4. Ask your boss to choose the projects for you

Eight: Simple Tasks

Most Important Tasks (MITs)

Choose three things that are your priority. At least one should be related to your goals. In order for MITs to work:

  • Set them first thing in the morning
  • Limit to three
  • One MIT should be goal-related
  • Focus on accomplishing all three
  • Do your MITs before anything else
  • Single-task on them
Small Tasks

Break things down into smaller tasks. The smaller (and the less time they take), the better.

Nine: Simple Time Management

Time management has to be simple.

An Open Approach
  • Don’t schedule appointments. Take meetings as they come up and you’re free.
  • Know your priorities depending on how much time and energy you have.
  • Be in the moment. Focus on one thing at a time.
  • Flow is a state of mind that can increase productivity and happiness.

To get into flow:

  1. Choose something you’re passionate about
  2. Choose something challenging
  3. Eliminate distractions
  4. Focus on the task at hand
Know Your Priorities

Your top three Most Important Tasks should be your priority. Group tasks you want to do in a batch and save them for later. Reduce before you organize.

Batch Processing

Smaller tasks than the Most Important Tasks

  1. Don’t let smaller tasks take priority over your most important tasks
  2. Do them in batches to save time

Some activities you can do in batches:

  • Phone calls
  • Emails
  • Errands
  • Web browsing
  • Research
  • Paperwork
  • In-box processing
  • Meetings

Simple time management tools include a calendar, paper notebook, or text file.

Ten: Simple Email

Email can be overwhelming and distracting. Minimize your inboxes. Cut them to the smallest number possible.

  1. List all the ways you receive information
  2. Evaluate each to see if it gives you value
  3. Find ways to combine or eliminate in-boxes
Limit Your Time in E-mail
  • Checking email twice a day is recommended
  • The best times to check email are 10 AM and 4 PM are good times
  • Not first thing in the morning
  • Turn off email notifications
  • To stick to this habit, make this system to manage email a priority
Reduce Your Income Stream

To reduce email:

  1. Use Gmail because it has a good junk filter
  2. Turn off notifications
  3. Deal with email in a batch, this means handling email for a few minutes at the end of the day
  4. Delete joke emails immediately
  5. Tell people not to send you specific emails
Process to Empty
  1. Send emails to a temporary folder and then deal with them 30 minutes a day until you’re done.
  2. Have an external to-do system
  3. Process quickly: work them from top to bottom, one email at a time.
  4. When possible delete emails and move on.
  5. Process to done: don’t leave your inbox with emails in them, deal with them

Write less. Write short but meaningful emails

Eleven: Simple Internet

The internet is a lot of things which is why it’s so easy to waste time with it

Consciousness: Make a Plan
  • What are your needs?
  • What are your fun sites?
  • What do you need to work and when can you get distracted?
Focus: Learning to Work While Disconnected

When you want to get serious, uninterrupted, focused work get done, disconnect. Remember that you don’t need the internet to write, edit, or read.

To work while disconnected:

  • Do internet research first.
  • Clear distractions and disconnect from the internet
  • Set a time and try to focus
  • When you need the internet to do something, write it down
  • Have an “offline hour” to regularly work while disconnected
  • Consider physically unplugging the internet
  • Go to a place with no internet with a laptop
  • Reward yourself with some internet time
Discipline: How to Stay Away from Distractions
  • Try to work in a disconnected mode for a week or even a month
  • Set rules and stick to them
  • Resist the urge to use the internet
  • Ask people you know to apply positive public pressure on you
  • Reward yourself
  • Use strategies such as drinking water, exercising, and deep breathing
  • Give it time
Stacking Papers Is a Problem
  1. Create a simple system to organize papers
  2. Use that system regularly
Creating a Simple Filing System
  1. Reduce before organizing: eliminating the unnecessary: make a pile and for each document decide what to do with it. Get rid of as much as you can.
  2. Simple filing: organize everything alphabetically in a drawer.
  3. File immediately
  4. Reduce your needs over time.

To reduce your filing needs:

  • Store reference information online
  • Reduce incoming paper
  • Stop printing stuff
  • Analyze other incoming documents.

Home paperwork tips

  1. Create one “Mail center” in your home for dealing with your mail and incoming paperwork.
  2. Home inbox: all incoming papers go here
  3. Pay bills immediately
  4. Enter stuff into your to-do lists or calendar
  5. File immediately
Thirteen: Simple Commitments

Reduce the commitments in your life. This is extremely difficult, but it also has a tremendous impact. There are many kinds of commitments: religious, work, civic, hobbies, sports, familiar commitments, and online, among others. Take inventory of them. With the list you just made, analyze your commitments. Do they add value to your life? Are they important to you? Do they make you happy? Do they represent the values you care about?

Make a short list with four of five commitments.

The author has the following commitments:

  1. Spend time with wife and kids
  2. Writing
  3. Running
  4. Reading

Begin eliminating the non-essential

  1. Start with something small
  2. Call or email to send your regrets
  3. Eliminate the commitment from your appointment. Use your free time wisely.
  4. Repeat the process
Learn to Say No

Don’t add any new commitments. Say “no”. Your free time is limited, so guard it with your life. If you’re having problems saying no:

  • Be aware
  • Consider your short list
  • Be honest
  • Be firm
  • Say “I wish I could”
  • Don’t be sorry

Making the time for what you love

  1. Make a list of the things that you love to do. Shorten it to four or five things
  2. Eliminate as much as possible
  3. Schedule free time to do things on your short list

Tip for simplifying your personal life

  1. What’s important to you?
  2. Examine your commitments
  3. Do less
  4. Leave space between tasks
  5. Eliminate as much as possible from the  to-do list
  6. Slow down and enjoy the tasks

Fourteen: Simple Daily Routine

A morning routine:

  • Prepares you for the day
  • Allows you to exercise, read, and write
  • Lets can enjoy, calm, or relax

An evening routine:

  • Prepares for the next day
  • Allows you to unwind
  • Lets you review your day
  • Lets you clean your house
  • Calms before bed
  • Allows you to spend time with family
  • Allows you to log, journal, write or exercise

To establish routines:

  1. Focus on them
  2. Make them rewarding
  3. Log your progress

Fifteen: Declutter Your Workspace

Some of the benefits of a clean desk include:

  1. A clean desk lets you focus
  2. It gives you a zen-like sense of calm

How to get started:

  1. Set aside time
  2. Take all paperwork and put it in a pile
  3. Clear everything off your desk
  4. Start with the pile of papers. Decide what to do with them, so for each piece of paper either trash it, delegate it, file it, or put it on the do it later pile
  5. Work for as long as you can
Getting Down to the Essentials

What’s clutter and what’s essential?

  • Process papers
  • Get rid of distracting items
  • Take everything out of the drawers
  • Sort through the pile one item at a time. Decide what to do with each.
  • Be ruthless with papers (unless they’re extremely important)
  • Create a “maybe” box for items you’re unsure about.
A System to Keep Things Decluttered

Keep the distraction-free zone you created:

  1. Keep an inbox for incoming papers
  2. Process the inbox to empty every day
  3. Have a place for each item and type of paper

A simple home is:

  1. Less stressful
  2. More appealing
  3. Easier to clean

Focus on one room and one small drawer or shelf at a time

  • Designate a home for everything
  • Schedule regular decluttering sessions
  • Reduce your desire for more
  • Make a list of things you want to buy. Don’t buy that for thirty days
  • Change your habits to avoid the clutter

Sixteen: Slow Down

Our everyday lives happen at a breakneck pace. We do everything in a rush.

Slow Attention
  • Pick a simple task to start with, and do it without switching to something else.
  • Practice this throughout the day, no matter what
  • To have a restful morning routine, try a meditation technique: sit in a comfortable place, close your eyes, focus on your breathing, acknowledge the thoughts that come to mind, and come back to your breathing.
Slow Working

Focus on one task at a time. To do so:

  1. Choose work you love
  2. Choose an important task
  3. Make sure it’s challenging, but not too hard
  4. Find your quiet, peak time
  5. Clear away distractions and focus
  6. Enjoy yourself
  7. Keep practicing
  8. Reap the rewards
Slow Eating

To reverse the feeling that life is stressful, eat slowly. Some good reasons to do so include:

  1. You’ll lose weight
  2. You’ll enjoy food more
  3. You’ll have a better digestion
  4. You’ll have less stress
  5. Rebel against fast food and fast life
Slow Driving

Drive more slowly in order to:

  1. Save gas
  2. Save lives
  3. Save time
  4. Save your sanity
  5. Simplify your life

While driving, you can try and play relaxing music, ignore other drivers, leave early, brainstorm, keep to the right of the road, and enjoy the drive.

Seventeen: Simple Health and Fitness

To be healthy, you have to eat healthily and exercise regularly

For diet

  • Diets are restrictive
  • People get hungry
  • They eat healthily but drink sodas or something similar
  • Fast food is tempting
  • Social situations sabotage a healthy diet

For exercise

  • A challenging program
  • People don’t see results
  • Life gets in the way

A simple fitness plan:

  1. The first month is about forming the exercise habit
  2. Continue the exercise habit and make healthy changes to your diet
  3. Short-term improvements to exercise and diet plans

Step 1: Forming the exercise habit

  1. Start light
  2. Schedule your workout time
  3. Don’t allow yourself to miss a day
  4. Don’t give up
  5. Get a partner if you can
  6. Be accountable to others
  7. Enjoy yourself

Step 2: Making gradual healthy diet changes

  1. Eat when you’re slightly hungry
  2. Eat light foods
  3. Eat slowly
  4. Eat until you’re lightly full. Not stuffed

Step 3: Continuation, short-term goals, and accountability

  1. Continue to gradually increase exercise, and add variety
  2. Continue to eat healthier, adding variety and flavor in the process
  3. Set short-term goals
  4. Hold yourself accountable. Log your eating and exercise daily
  5. Reward yourself

Eighteen: On Motivation

There are two kinds of motivation, positive and negative.

Eight ways to motivate yourself from the beginning:

  1. Start small
  2. One goal
  3. Examine your motivation
  4. Really want it
  5. Commit publicly
  6. Get excited
  7. Build anticipation (delay it, build anticipation, set a date, make that the most important day of your life)
  8. Print it out, post it up

 Ways to sustain motivation when you’re struggling

  1. Hold yourself back
  2. Just start
  3. Stay accountable
  4. Replace negative thoughts with positive ones
  5. Think about the benefits
  6. Get excited again!
  7. Read about it
  8. Fund like-minded friends
  9. Read inspiring stories
  10. Build on your successes
  11. Just get through the low points
  12. Get help
  13. Chart your progress
  14. Reward yourself often
  15. Go for mini-goals
  16. Get a coach or take a class
  17. Never skip two days in a row
  18. Be aware of your urges to quit, and overcome them
  19. Find pleasure again

Further Reading

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