Whatever resolutions you may have made this year, this discussion with Leo Babauta of Zen Habits fame will have you on your feet, ready to seize the day. In this timeless piece, learn how small steps pave the way to success; how embracing simplicity, of mind or otherwise, will bring you more, not less; and how entrepreneurs can use the six key principles of The Power of Less to help their cause.
Allentrepreneur: Welcome Leo! To be perfectly frank, I don’t even know where to begin. Your blog, Zen Habits, is part of Technorati‘s top 100 blogs, you’re the author of best-selling book The Power of Less, you have six kids and you live in Guam. And that’s just for starters. I’d like to go back in time a bit. As a former journalist and freelance writer for 18 years, what was Leo Babauta like before starting down the path to Zen and simplicity?
Leo: Journalism is a stressful job, working in a daily newspaper and trying to meet deadlines every day. I handled it just fine, but I was a constant multi-tasker, tried to take on too much, worked long hours, became overweight and unhealthy, and didn’t have time for my family. It wasn’t a happy life. When I realized that I was missing too many of my kids’ soccer games and school events, and that these were moments with them that I’d never get back, I knew I needed to make some changes, which is why I’ve simplified my life and learned to focus on what’s really important.
Allentrepreneur: Starting in 2005, you took a chance and walked down a path of simplicity and never looked back. Amongst many things, you quit smoking, wrote a book, eliminated debt and tripled your income. Talk to us about the importance of making that first blind jump and living up to our full potential.
Leo: It doesn’t have to be a blind jump, and it doesn’t have to be setting out to live to our full potential. It can just be something as simple as making a small but positive change in habits, such as eating a little healthier, waking early to have quiet time for yourself or for exercise, clearing away some of the clutter in your life.
These little changes don’t seem like much but they really make a positive difference in your life, and over time little changes really add up to a lot. So instead of making a blind leap, just take a small step. Then another, and another. It’s not so overwhelming that way, and it’s much more sustainable.
Allentrepreneur: Surely there were many times along the way when you thought you wouldn’t make it. What got you through?
Leo: I’ve learned the corny but very powerful method of positive thinking. If you tell yourself you can do it, it makes a huge difference. It’s also important to do things you’re really excited about — that makes it much easier. If something seems hard and pure drudgery, you won’t really want to do it. But if it’s something that excites you, motivation is easy.
Finally, remember to enjoy the journey. People get so focused on the goal that they don’t realize what they’re doing right now is already enjoyable. Training for a marathon isn’t just about crossing the finish line. Every mile in training is fun if you keep yourself in the moment.
Zen Habits has a following of more than 80, 000 subscribers. Others, like Steve Pavlina
and Tim Ferriss
, also enjoy a strong readership. All of you advocate a road to happiness forged in simplicity and creativity. What do you think this says about our times?
Leo: That there are a lot of people looking for this message of simplicity and finding our passion, because of the overwhelming nature of today’s world. It’s complicated, chaotic, stressful, and so people are looking for alternatives. Simplicity is that alternative, but what they don’t realize is that simplicity isn’t that difficult … you can start simplifying today, and to do so, keep things simple: start small, and do one thing at a time.
Allentrepreneur: There are a lot of blogs on productivity and simplicity out there. Why do you think you’ve been so successful where many others have failed?
Leo: When I first started, there actually weren’t a lot of blogs that combined productivity and simplicity. There were a lot of productivity blogs, but they focused on using technology to do more, to multi-task and fill every minute with productivity. I took a very different approach, and I think it resonated with a lot of people.
Allentrepreneur: Here’s something that is on a lot of minds: Discovering what you love to do and try to make a living of it. That’s where a lot of start-ups start up from. What specific principles from the Power of Less can an aspiring entrepreneur hope to learn and use?
Leo: Each of the six key principles in The Power of Less can be used by an entrepreneur looking to make a living doing what he loves:
1. Set limits. Start by limiting what you’re trying to do — instead of having your startup do everything, focus on doing one thing that no one else is doing well, and do it exceptionally well. You can’t take on the dominant players in the industry by trying to beat them at what they already do well. So beat everybody at what they aren’t doing well now.
2. Choose the essential. What are the essential tasks that need to be done to start the business? Focus on those, almost exclusively. What are the essential features that your product or service needs to start? Focus on getting those done, and add other things later if needed.
3. Simplify. Once you’ve identified the essential, eliminate as much of the non-essential as possible. This might take time, but continually revisit this to make sure you’re really focusing on the essential. It’ll make your use of time much more effective.
4. Focus. Learn to focus on one task and project at a time to make the most of your time.
5. Create habits. As a startup, you want to create effective habits because you have fewer resources than bigger companies and need to make the most of what you have. Use the effective habit change principles in The Power of Less to create new habits.
6. Start small. Don’t try to take on everything at once. Start small and expand later.
You recently wrote a fun post titled Google Features I’d Like To See
. I’d like to duplicate the idea and have you tell us what New Start-ups (tech or otherwise) You
would Like To See.
Leo: Startups that empower people. If there’s something that people want but currently have no way of making the government or big corporations do it, then there’s a need for empowerment, a way for people to do it themselves. For example, if people need better healthcare solutions, there should be a network in place for people to organize themselves and create those better healthcare solutions themselves, rather than relying on the government. Same thing when it comes to creating better energy solutions (so we’re not so reliant on cars or fossil fuels), helping take care of the poor.
The same applies to the world of tech: if people don’t like being locked into DRM and ancient copyright systems, they need to create their own systems and get widespread adoption of it, rather than trying to beat the corporations and get the government to change laws. A startup that empowered people in this way would be brilliant. These are just a few suggestions, but you get the general idea — empower people to make the changes they want to see in the world themselves.
Allentrepreneur: How do you keep yourself motivated ?
Leo: I do what excites me, and stay in the moment. It’s easy to get discouraged if you look at how much more you have to do, or think about how frustrating things have been in the recent past. But if you just look at what you’re doing right now, and enjoy it, that frustration goes away. And when you do look back every now and then, you’ll see how far you’ve come by taking it one step at a time.
Allentrepreneur: And finally, what’s the weather like out in Guam?
Leo: Right now it’s a bit rainy — perfect for staying in and spending time with family. Usually it’s sunny and pretty humid, which is why I do my running in the early morning before it gets too hot. Guam is a nice place to live if you like having a simple life.