Identify The Essential

Setting limits helps you achieve. Many times, when we are spread too thin, we only make incremental progress on important projects and goals. But if we focus on just a few important things, we can actually complete them. You’ll achieve much more by focusing on the essential.

Leo Babauta, The Power of Less

A few days ago I picked up a copy of The Power of Less after reading about it on Derek Siver’s blog.

The key theme of the book is to simplify your life, which can be boiled down to two steps:

1. Identify the essential

2. Eliminate the rest

I’ve recently found myself bogged down in clutter so I figured I’d give it a try. I started by making a list:

Identify the Essential:

– Wife: Having a healthy, prosperous relationship is my number one priority. I’d sooner let everything else fail than have them affect my marriage.

– Startup: Eventually (3 to 5 years) I’m going to found a startup and I want to be as technically skilled as possible for when that time comes. This bullet serves as a reminder that the majority of my free time should be spent working towards that end. In the next few months that means learning Flash, Photoshop, Django, jQuery, and launching a new site.

– Health and Nutrition: It’s easy to push this to the side when you’ve got a lot to do but long term it affects every single other thing you do.

– Education: I have a bad tendency of reading a few dozen pages from a book, and then quitting when I find a new book that piques my interest. Then I repeat that cycle over and over until I have 20-30 books that I haven’t finished. Eventually I’ll come back to them and read 20-30 pages then rotate to another one. That, or I never get back to it. Probably not the best way to go. Accordingly, I’m narrowing it down to two that I’m going to finish before I move on to anything else:

— The Power of Less

— Four Steps to Epiphany

Minimize the Rest: (note: not eliminate, for now)

– HackerNews: Definitely my number one time eater. I considered categorizing it under Education, but right now I think that time is better spent hacking. New homepage: Progamming Adobe ActionScript 3.0 for Adobe Flash. Man I’m cool.

– Google Analytics: Looking at the numbers for this blog is a purly ego scratching, unproductive waste of time. In fact I’m removing it from my favorites, right now.

– GMail: I check email to procrastinate. I get about 8 emails a day and yet check it about 20 times a day. Let’s try once.

– Blogging: My plan is to write fewer, higher quality posts than many short mediocre ones.

– Domain Names: When I get bored I hit up AjaxWhois and search for domain names that might make good company names. Hows about building something people want and worrying about the company name later, eh?

Don’t Forget:

– Housework, Call Family: The first one is mostly to appease my wife and the second one is for me.

– Keep Desk Clean: I tend to let stuff–paperwork, dishes–pile up on my desk. At some point it gets to be too much and I take 20 minutes to clean it all off and put things where they belong. As soon as my desk it spotless, I find that I can concentrate better and that I get I can get more done.

After you’ve identified the essentials and reduced/eliminated the rest, the trick is to do it.

Now, every time I find myself pulling up HackerNews or checking GMail I take a look at the list and remember: focus.

Not surprisingly, I’ve gotten more done in the last few days than I have in the last few weeks.

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