Today I am reviewing new books written by two colleagues: Trent from The Simple Dollar and Leo from Zen Habits. As you read these reviews, please remember that I am friends with both authors.

Zen Habits is one of my favorite weblogs. For the past two years, Leo Babauta’s exploration of productivity and simple living has helped me make the most of my time. (Plus sometimes, like yesterday, he just hits it out of the park.)

Babauta recently published his first book, The Power of Less, which seeks to help readers become more efficient — and more relaxed at the same time — by limiting themselves only to the essential.

Six lessons
The Power of Less is divided into two sections. In the first, Babauta explores the six guiding principles of his philosophy, “the ideas that will help you to maximize your productivity while simplifying your life”:

  1. Set limitations. By setting limitations, we must chose the essential. So in everything you do, learn to set limitations.
  2. Choose the essential. By choosing the essential, we create great impact with minimal resources. Always choose the essential to maximize your time and energy.
  3. Simplify. Eliminate the nonessential.
  4. Focus is your most important tool in becoming more effective.
  5. Create new habits to make long-lasting improvements.
  6. Start small. Start new habits in small increments to ensure success.

The second section of the book offers practical tips for applying these six principles in various parts of your life: goals and projects, time management, e-mail, filing, daily routine, etc.

The power of less
The first section of this book disappointed me. Babauta’s six principles are good, but the chapters describing them are too long and the examples vague.

Babauta writes, “These days we consume information, food, and media at a breakneck pace that was unimagined two hundred years ago.” Maybe so (that’s my impression too), but I want a bit of research to back it up. This sort of book lends itself to facts and figures. There’s no research cited in The Power of Less, and that frustrated me.

But I think the second section of the book is great. It’s filled with ideas that I can use in my own life. As one who is completely overwhelmed by his work, the idea of doing more by working less appeals to me. As I read, I jotted down some techniques I can use to improve my own life today:

  • Have only three active projects at a time, with all others waiting “on deck”. Finish all three projects, and then move three more projects to the active list.
  • Every evening, create a list of three Most Important Tasks for the following day. Try to complete these as soon as possible, before you get distracted.
  • Limit e-mail. Check only twice per day. (Babauta recommends 10am and 4pm.)
  • If you’re leaving e-mail in your inbox because you need to do something, move the task to an external list. Get the task out of your inbox.
  • Limit the length of your replies. Kris has been trying to convince me of this for months. When I reply to reader e-mail, I often want to write long, personal replies. This takes time. Although I’d like to write more, I’m going to try to limit myself to 3-4 sentences.
  • Create a simple filing system. Get rid of stacks on your desk. I’m a “stacks” kind of guy, and often feel overwhelmed by them. I bought an accordion folder, and have been working to move my stacks to this.
  • Learn to say “no”. This is a difficult one for me. For the past two years, I’ve been a proponent of the power of yes. I’ve achieved a lot by accepting the offers that have come my way. But now I’m finding I don’t have time to say “yes” to everything.

More or less?
As you might expect, The Power of Less is very much like a refined and extended version of Babauta’s blog, Zen Habits. This alone may tell you whether you’ll enjoy the book. I liked it, but do have some reservations.

For one, the book is tech-centric. The examples are great if you’re an office worker, but much less relevant if you have a blue-collar job or are a stay-at-home parent.

Also, at times the book feels like a group of unrelated parts instead of unified whole. For example, in one chapter Babauta encourages readers to focus on only one goal at a time. But in the next (and in the rest of the book), he writes of having multiple goals. Which is it? One goal or many?

Quibbles aside, I’m glad to have read The Power of Less. I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m questioning my priorities. Do I really want to spend 60 hours a week writing? How important is money relative to fitness and relationships? How can I find balance?

When I read The Power of Less on Christmas Day, it had quite an impact. Over the past two weeks, I’ve used its lessons to help me re-structure how I organize my time. I’m pleased with the changes. I have embraced the power of less — and so far it seems to be working.

Learn more about this book at the Power of Less website.