A Conversation with Leo Babauta

Recently Leo Babauta was interviewed about his book, The Power of Less … what follows are his answers:

Q: A few years ago you quit smoking, lost weight, created an extremely successful blog called Zen Habits, got out of debt, and began to truly enjoy your life. How did you do it?

A: I began simplifying my life when I realized that I was working too much and rarely got a chance to spend time with my family. It’s heartbreaking to miss school recitals or soccer games or not to see them before they go to bed at night because you’re working late. So I decided to change my life to make room for what’s important to me.

The most important thing is that I didn’t tackle all of these things at once. Simplification taught me to accomplish the really important tasks and projects in a smaller amount of time. I focused on doing things that would have the most impact and eliminated unimportant things from my schedule. I started with one habit at a time, as I talk about in THE POWER OF LESS, and focused my energy on that habit completely.

Q: THE POWER OF LESS is coming out just in time to help us through the recent financial crisis. What advice to do you have to readers who are facing tough economic times?

Three easy steps that readers can take right away:

  1. Identify the essential and eliminate the rest: reevaluate your needs vs. wants and eliminate the wants;
  2. Create a thirty-day list: When you want to buy something that’s not essential, put it on your thirty-day list with today’s date. A month later, reevaluate the purchase—you probably won’t want it; and
  3. Avoid advertising: Eliminate emails with advertisements and discounts that might tempt you to buy things you don’t need. Advertising is proven to cause us to spend more.

The good news is that a simpler lifestyle doesn’t have to be difficult, if you focus instead on the things that are truly important to you: your loved ones, your passions and hobbies, the things that really make you happy. These things don’t have to cost much, and if we scale back our lives we actually have more time for the important things.

Q: New year, new you? So many people make and break New Year’s Resolutions each January. Why don’t these our best intentions lead to success, and what can we change to achieve our 2009 resolutions for once?

A: New Year’s Resolutions fail for two main reasons: 1) people try to do too much, and end up running out of steam a couple weeks into it, and 2) they don’t use effective principles to create a new habit. As a result, whatever effort they put into the resolution is wasted.

Instead, focus on changing one habit, and start small with an achievable goal. In the book I created THE POWER OF LESS Challenge: it’s a 30-day challenge where you commit to forming one new habit using the effective habit-change principles in the book, like committing publicly to family and friends. The key is to start small and take baby steps. Once a habit is firmly ingrained in your life, you can build on it to reach a heftier goal.

Q: These days, everyone’s proud of their ability to multitask. But why does it somehow feel like we have fewer and fewer hours in a day?

A: Multitasking has been synonymous with productivity for decades, and in the days before email and the Internet, perhaps that made sense. But these days, we are so overloaded with tasks and information that we have trouble concentrating on any single task. As a result, our lack of focus greatly decreases our effectiveness, and we end up running around like crazy, highly stressed out, without getting much done at the end of the day.

Instead, THE POWER OF LESS tells readers to single-task: focus on one important task at a time. Clear away distractions such as email, instant messaging, and your Internet browser. Put the full power of your attention on that single task until it’s completed. Then focus on the next task and do the same thing. Single-tasking takes practice, but it’s worth the effort for the sake of your work and your sanity.

Q: Your book shows readers how to become more effective by creating new habits, simplifying your work and home life, prioritizing, and maintaining focus. Where should readers begin?

A: The place to begin is always in identifying the essential. What is most important to you? Who and what do you love the most, and what do you want to really accomplish? By identifying the essential, we can figure out where to place our focus, and eliminate the rest. By simplifying, we make room for the essential, and start to create the life we really want.

Start by creating a Short List of your life’s essentials; this is the 4-5 things that are most important to you. Mine are spending time with my family, writing, reading and running. Once you’ve done that, pick one thing to focus on and start to create the habits necessary to make it a reality. Take small steps and focus on less to create a better life.

Q: One of the most compelling ideas in your book is finding “flow.” What is “flow?”

A: “Flow” is that state of mind that you get into when you lose yourself in a task. We’ve all done this from time to time: you are so immersed in doing something fun or interesting or intense that you forget about the world around you and lose track of time. Before you know it, an hour or three have gone by! Well, it turns out that “flow” has tremendous benefits: it makes you more effective and productive, it reduces stress, and it increases happiness in your life and with your work. Set yourself up for “flow” by focusing on things you’re passionate about, challenging yourself, and eliminating distractions. You’ll be setting yourself up for success.

Q: You encourage readers to report progress to friends, families, and online communities to stay on-track with their goals and commitments. Why?

A: One of the biggest motivations for accomplishing any goal is positive public pressure—the desire in all of us to do well in the eyes of others and to live up to our promises. If you only promise yourself, you’ll often let yourself off the hook and give up. But if you promise a lot of people—the more, the better—you won’t let yourself off so easy. No one wants to look bad, so we put even more energy into accomplishing the goal.

These communities can also provide much-needed encouragement and support during challenging times.

Interview Leo

If you’d like to do an interview with Leo Babauta, through email (preferred) or over the phone, please contact him: zenhabits [AT SYMBOL] gmail [DOT] com … with the words “interview leo” in the subject line to avoid spam filters.

Review Copy

Would you like a review copy of the book? See this page.