Book Review: The Power of Less


If for no other reason than his New Year’s Challenge has gotten me to actually play the guitar again, I would love Leo Babauta forever.

But in addition to being a gentle ass-kicker of the highest order and to writing the generous and excellent ZenHabits blog, Leo is also a shining example of that favorite thing of mine, someone who uses himself as guinea pig, testing his concepts on his own esteemed personage and reporting back, generously, kindly, and with far, far less swearing than yours truly, with the results. (For more of these fellow travelers, see the blogroll cleverly named “Fellow Travelers” on my Virgo Guide blog.)

In other words, Leo is a walking, talking ad for the everyday miracle that can happen when one lives by the simple (but not always instinctive and definitely not always easy to follow) credo that less is more, establishing simple but solid changes one at a time that, over time, result in a spectacularly different kind of life.

And now, because not everyone digs the bloggity-blog thing, and because sometimes it’s, well, simpler to carry around a handful of dead tree, Leo Babauta has written a lovely book laying out his system for personal change so that the world (or the interested pockets of it) can follow along.

What, in a nutshell, is the Power of Less?

As I do more and more consulting work, I’m finding that one of the chief issues smart, creative people grapple with, the kind of people who read communicatrix, for example, is finding focus. Leo’s point (and mine, when I can state it simply enough) is that if you pull away all the gunk first, you’re left with a much more reasonably-sized bear to wrassle. Which is to say, there will always be bear wrassling, and somedays, even a smaller-sized bear will pin your ass to the ground, but really, don’t you want to do what you can to improve your odds?

While he covers everything from dealing with email overload to starting an exercise program, his core principles are basic, and support every lesson and idea in the book:

Principle 1: By setting limitations, we must choose the essential. So in everything you do, learn to set limitations.

Principle 2: By choosing the essential, we create great impact with minimal resources. Always choose the essential to maximize your time and energy.

The principles take different shape depending on the desired change, and Babauta offers up plenty of real tips from his own experience for the most critical kinds of changes we need to implement, reducing project load, managing email, starting (and sticking with) an exercise regimen. But all of his examples start with the kind of sound prep that I’ve come to realize is essential for creating real change:

As Leo himself says in a helpful FAQ, The Power of Less distills the core principles of his blog in an easy-to-digest (and much easier to carry around and mark up, if you’re into that kind of thing) book form. Yes, you could drill through his entire ZenHabits oeuvre and get the info, but if the point is to simplify, you have to admit that a neatly bound, portable volume is way simpler to use.

How can you tell if the book is for you?

I’ll be honest: while I employ many principles from David Allen’s GTD system, I could never get it fully up and running for long enough to say I’m “doing” GTD. Leo’s “system”, in quotation marks because it’s really a philosophy, but he offers concrete and helpful tools to start operating under it, owes a lot to GTD, as well, but he’s managed to pull the best stuff from it and leave the rest without making you feel you’re missing anything.

So I’d say this: if you’ve tried and abandoned systems for organizing your life, or reducing procrastination, and you suspect that the reason you have is because (a) you become overwhelmed easily and (b) you have multiple areas of focus pulling you in (too) many directions, Leo’s Way may be for you. Because Leo’s Way is really going to be  your way, you will find and create your own systems naturally as you let other stuff drop.

And that may be just the ticket for fellow Virgos (and Virgos-at-heart)…


  • BUY The Power of Less via amazon (and I get…oh, I dunno, a quarter or something. Which is awesome!)
  • BUY The Power of Less via your independent brick & mortar indie store (and they stay in business so they’re around when I finally write my own #@%* book and do a tour and come visit you in your town)
  • BUY The Power of Less via and support some guy sitting in his bathrobe and slippers in the second bedroom of his house in a suburban cul de sac

Image by hooverine via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.


  1. Okay… if you say it will help me find focus, then I’m game. This has been the week of distractions and overwhelm here at Casa Ahrens. (How the hell are you supposed to get any benefit from the almighty Twitter without it sucking the life force out of you one tweet at a time?) And! My beautiful GTD system has run amok and I can’t even face my ginormous list of well-categorized tasks.

    Simplicity would be welcome.

    I’ll buy Leo’s book through you and you can buy a new pick for your guitar!

    Did you get to the beach today? I made it to a park. Not quite the same, but it was something.

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