|The Power of Less

Today I finished reading The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential…in Business and in Life (Leo Babauta, 2009). Leo is also the author of the Zen Habits blog.

The book was insightful and easy to read. I appreciated that rather than motivating people to shoe-horn more into their schedules or to do more with their hours, Babauta encourages readers to focus on doing less and being purposeful about what remains. From macro to micro decisions, he calls the reader to find the essential–what is important and makes a real impact. He takes the 80-20 rule very seriously.

What I will remember: Set limits. Simplify by choosing the essential (determined by values, goals, importance, impact, and love) and learning to say no to the rest. Focus. Make small, incremental changes–one at a time. Be mindful of how I spend time and the demands that commitments make on my time.

He covers much more in the book, and fleshes these themes out in multiple ways, but that is the core of what I’m likely to remember a month from now. (Maybe that means I should read it again at that point.)

Leo’s theme of getting down to the essential (e.g., “How do you carve a statue of an elephant? Just chip away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant,” p. 17) reminded me of the final section in Rob Bell’s book Drops Like Stars–“The Art of Elimination.”Bell begins:

Great artists know that it isn’t just about what you add; sometimes the most important work is knowing what to take away. Removing clutter, excess, all the superfluous elements–and finding out in the process what’s been in there the whole time. (p. 74)

But he doesn’t leave it at the theoretical level; instead he moves in for the punch to the gut with a bit of reality:

When you talk with people who have just received news that they have a life-threatening illness, what do they say?
“Now I must get those hedges trimmed!”
“I’ve been putting that plastic surgery off long enough.”
“It’s finally time to join that online poker club.”
No, of course not.
They talk about family and friends.
They gather those they love as close as possible.
They reflect on any amends that need to be made with anybody.
That talk about what matters most.
Suffering does that.
It compels us to eliminate the unnecessary, the trivial, the superficial.
There is greatness in you. Courage. Desire. Integrity. Virtue. Compassion. Dignity. Loyalty. Love. It’s in there–somewhere. And sometimes it takes suffering to get at it. (pp. 90-91)

Leo Babauta is trying to help us get to this essential element now, not someday when we get the bad word from the doctor.

Do I have the courage to cut away the nonessential so I can say yes to what is essential today?

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