Last week, I mentioned Leo Babauta’s excellent book, The Power of Less, and how it inspired me to start this blog as a way of writing for fun again. In summary, the book helps you cut through the noise and clutter of your life in order to focus on what truly matters to you.
Since the book impacted me so much, I figured it could benefit someone else out there, too. I want to share some of the most helpful insights I picked up from the book, as well as share about how I’ll be taking on something called 30-Day Challenges. (Just a note: I’m not receiving any compensation for talking about this book; I just genuinely enjoy it.)
Obviously, I recommend the entire book (it’s compact but rich with application), but here are the top five things I gleaned from it:
Essentials vs. nonessentials – The first step The Power of Less recommends in simplifying your life is to figure out what is essential in your life. To do so, Babauta has you answer questions like, What areas of your life feel overwhelming? What are your values? What are your goals? What do you love? What is important to you? From this step, I figured out my “short list” of essentials: growing in my faith, spending time with my husband, spending time with friends and family, caring for my health, and growing in creative endeavors (namely, writing). Anything else is not essential. Watching TV? Not essential. Time on social media? Not essential. This doesn't mean I will shun Instagram from now on, but it does give order and value to what I do. So when deciding whether I should spend time writing or spend time watching Netflix, the answer is clear as to which should come first.
One goal – I wrote about this in my earlier post, but Babauta advises you to choose one goal for the year instead of several. That way, you really focus on that one, big goal. Then, you create subgoals as markers along the way—usually monthly, weekly, and daily goals. So, for me, my one goal is to write consistently for this blog for an entire year. Then, I broke it down further, saying I want to write at least two posts per week, and work on some aspect of a post (outlining, writing, editing, taking pictures, etc.) each day.
Most Important Tasks (MITs) – I’ve read this tip from several people, not just in The Power of Less, but the idea is to choose no more than three tasks you must accomplish each day. Three—that’s it. These are your Most Important Tasks, and if you only get these accomplished and nothing else, you’re good. It’s an alternative to the mile-long to-do list that can overwhelm you. Babauta recommends knocking out your MITs as early in the day as possible because it jumpstarts your productivity. You feel accomplished even though you're only halfway through the day.
Daily routines – As much as some people may dislike routine or see it as boring, we participate in routines every day. They keep us sane. Babauta loves routines and recommends several kinds—daily routines, weekly routines, morning/evening routines, routines at work, etc. Routines are habits that help you to stay productive, group similar tasks together to save time, and start/end your day without the chaos (something I desperately need in the mornings).
30-Day Challenges – Speaking of habits, have you ever tried to make several changes at once, do okay for awhile, but then burn out miserably? I have. I get excited about making changes, and, in my impatience, try to implement them all at once. Babauta says this is a big mistake and one reason why so many people fail to change their habits. Another reason is attempting changes that are too drastic...small steps are necessary. He advocates choosing one habit to focus on, daily, for one month. After 30 days, you’ve built a habit through focus and small, achievable steps. Then, the next month, choose another habit, and so on and so on. He goes so far as to recommend doing this for an entire year, and by the end, you’ll have (potentially) 12 new, great-for-you habits.
So, 12 months of daily challenges? That sounds crazy, right? But then I thought of all the habits I’d like to start and solidify, and spreading them out over an entire year (instead of my all-or-nothing approach) sounds quite appealing. So I came up with a list of potential 30-Day Challenges that make sense for me:
- Follow a morning routine
- Follow an evening routine
- Check my email only twice a day and keep it empty (work & personal)
- Declutter daily
- Slow driving
- Drink 60 oz water daily
- No TV or movies
- No social media
- No sugar
- No dining out at restaurants
- No alcohol
- Don’t buy anything but predetermined necessities
- Stay off all screens past predetermined time in evening
I plan on choosing one of these each month and doing it every day, for a year. There are 14 ideas on the list, so two won’t make it. And, let's be honest, the list may change as months go on.
It may seem like these habit challenges contradict having one goal for the year, but I'm not viewing it that way. Now, if I was trying to add every single one of these habits all at once, then yes—and Babauta points out that trying to do too much at once is why goals/habits can fail—but I’m not. Long-term, I’m looking at writing as a life goal, and short-term I’m trying out habits that may or may not continue after the month is up. It’s unreasonable to think I’ll never eat at a restaurant again, but it is reasonable to cut it out for one month and then decide how often I really should be dining out.
And so, on August 1, I started my first challenge. I tried to look at what habit would have the biggest positive impact on my life. A couple options stood out, but, as you may have deduced from the picture, I decided to go with following a daily exercise routine. This is something I’ve never been great at maintaining, but I do go occasionally to a local gym and enjoy taking classes there. And, 8 days in, things are going well! I’m doing a combination of cardio (Zumba class or walking) and resistance weight training. However, I can see already that working out every single day will not be sustainable for me in the future. But, if I get in the habit of exercising, I’m hoping that when September comes around, it won’t be a struggle to work out 3-4 times a week (which I wasn’t doing before...more like once a week).
I’ll keep you updated on how it goes and, at the end of the month, I’ll choose a new habit to focus on for September. Cheers to a healthier, more productive year!