Summary – The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential by Leo Babauta

Summary – The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential by Leo Babauta

The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential by Leo Babauta being held by a woman on an outside table

Quick summary

The Power of Less is a productivity book by blogger Leo Babauta. 

Babauta argues in modern life there are so many distractions that people cannot focus and be productive.

In this book, the author defines 6 simple principles that will allow the reader to re-define their life to be more efficient and work less.

It’s a short but packed read that almost anyone will find something that resonates with them. Throughout the book, the author can be very repetitive and there is an aspect of stuffing so much advice in the book that some of it is inevitably going to end up being useful. 

This book is worth reading for anyone who finds themselves struggling to concentrate or getting overwhelmed with tasks, workloads, or even building new, healthy habits.

Extended summary

The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential aims to tackle the constant distractions in life and the desire to constantly have more and more.

The overarching theme of the book is to identify what is essential in your life and eliminate everything that is unnecessary. It is based on the concept of productive minimalism which states a person can develop good habits that will create long-term changes in their lives by honing their focus.

While it is not necessarily a new concept, it is explained well in this book and author Leo Babauta gives plenty of practical examples that will demonstrate how to implement the theories in the reader’s own life.

The book is only 170 pages long and this is split up into 18 chapters across two distinctive sections. 

The first section breaks down the 6 core principles of the book, which are essentially the following:

  1. Setting Limits – Babauta believes that living without limits is like shopping without a budget. Limits provide boundaries and rules that provide direction of what someone has to work within.
  2. Identifying the essentials – what is essential is basically what you can and cannot live without. This is determined by your goals and values. Identifying what you want to keep and what you want to cut out is usually the hardest part.
  3. Eliminating the non-essentials – After you have decided what is not essential, you can take steps to either get rid of the tasks completely or reduce them using rules or systems.
  4. The importance of focus – focus on fewer tasks, preferably one task at a time to do it well and more efficiently. Interruptions cause you to lose your flow.
  5. Creating new habits to form lasting improvements – It takes 30 days to form a habit so Babauta sets 30-day habit challenges.
  6. Starting new habits in manageable chunks – The author recommends starting small when forming habits so that you can slowly build up to the level you want to maintain consistently. If you try to go to 100% immediately it will collapse.

The second part of the book is much larger taking up around 125 pages of the 170-page long book. This section contains 12 chapters that describe how to implement the 6 principles within the reader’s own life.

It covers a range of topics such as simple goals and projects, simple tasks, simple time management, simple email, simple internet usage, simple filing systems, decluttering your workspace, slowing down and enjoying the moment, simple fitness, and, finally, how to maintain motivation.

There is an excess of advice in the second part of the book that while simple, sometimes contradicts itself, and can therefore lead to confusion. However, it is worth persevering with as most people will take something important away from The Power of Less that they can apply to their day-to-day lives.

The inside of The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential by Leo Babauta

Who should read The Power of Less?

Office workers

If you work in an office it can be pretty normal to get to the end of the working day, having been non-stop from 9 am to 5 pm, look back and say to yourself: “I’ve been busy all day but I don’t even know what I’ve done.”

It seems like we are constantly busy but achieving nothing. The Power of Less is a book about focus and priorities. 

It gives important lessons on how to focus on the things that are important and disregard, or at least minimize, the things that do not add any value.

Simple, yet effective tips are given about setting routines, prioritizing tasks, and limiting tasks that are still necessary but distract from your objectives for the day to pre-determined periods.

Phone and internet addicts

Focus is a key theme in The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential. 

Babauta discusses how more and more distractions are making it difficult for people to get things done. Two of the biggest distractions are cell phones and social media.

Throughout the book, Babauta talks about limits. He gives the impression that he feels people that do not have limits are weak. When you set limits, you are in control. It gives you boundaries and structure to work within.

The book can help to teach you how to create morning and evening routines. How to set limits on how often you want to use your phone or social media and then form new habits, and measure how effective the habits have been.

Those struggling to build healthy habits

Most people in life struggle to build new habits. That’s why when you go to the gym in January, you will find it jam-packed but come March or April, it’s empty because so many people have given up on their new years’ resolutions.

The Power of Less provides a simple framework for building habits by starting off small and building up into more and more until your habit has formed. Babauta sets 30-day mini-challenges that help readers to form their habits in a way that will be sustainable.

The book is not a bible on how to form new habits, but Babauta does a good job of describing the theory behind building habits and the creating a framework of steps that the reader can follow to allow the habit to form and be consistent with it.

Tone of the book

Leo Babauta comes from a blogging background and The Power of Less has the same laid-back, instructional style as his blog and many blog posts have.

It is written similarly to a blog post in that the chapters are short, and broken down into sub-sections and short paragraphs. It is a web-style of writing but it would be doing Babauta a disservice to say that it is written like a blog post because it does flow like a real book – which it is!

The point of the book is to be instructional. Babauta is looking to teach the reader how to limit themselves to the essentials and get rid of everything else. The entire concept is to make the most of what you have, set limits, be more efficient and then you have to work less. But, in order to tell people how to do this, the author has to give instructions. At times though, Babauta can sound condescending when giving these instructions. 

He breaks the entire process down into very small parts. 

At times, this makes the book very simple but profound. 

At other times it feels like he is making it so simple that it insults the reader’s intelligence at points. It can feel like: “Ok, I get it. Let’s keep it moving.”

When reading, you can tell that Babauta is writing from personal experience. You get the sense that he really has practiced what he is preaching.

The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential by Leo Babauta on a bookshelf next to two candles and a plant

What do readers say about The Power of Less?

Resonates

Many readers resonate with the purpose of the book. They mentioned that they feel like they are overwhelmed both in their personal lives and at work with an abundance of media, messages, and tasks to complete that are not necessarily beneficial to their well-being or allowing them to be successful in their role at work.

Readers stated that the idea of removing tasks, habits, and objects that are taking up a lot of time but are not enjoyable or practical had the potential to be life-changing for them.

Lots of good, practical advice

Readers mentioned that the book is stuffed full of practical tips, tricks, or hacks that they can take and apply to their own lives or jobs.

In fact, almost every reader (even those that did not enjoy the book) mentioned that there is something that they were able to take away from The Power of Less.

The positive here though does also have a downside. There is so much packed into the book that many people felt there was a lot more advice that was impractical, very basic or simply did not apply than there were practical tidbits that they could use.

It felt as though Babauta simply stuffed in as many tips as he possibly could in the hope that one or two would resonate but it left readers having to wade through the bad to get to the good.

Contradictory

Following on from this, there is so much advice stuffed into the book that some tips end up contradicting other tips within the book.

For example, Babauta encourages the reader to focus on one thing at a time but also says that a person should have three projects on the go at one time and then finish them all before moving on to the next three.

Simple tips like this ended up being confusing and making the reader feel like a range of useful but not necessarily new or original tips had been pulled from a bunch of different places and compiled into the book. It feels like this was done without great care, and the author missed that some of the advice given goes directly against advice he has already given earlier in the book.

The back cover of The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential by Leo Babauta

Repetitive

The entire book is built on 6 core principles. The first 6 chapters are a chapter each to explain each one of the principles and then the following 12 chapters are an explanation of how to put the 6 principles into practice in the readers’ everyday lives.

As such, the principles are repeated throughout, as is the rationale for the principles. This quickly gets a bit boring and can make it difficult for the reader to push through and finish the book despite it being a short read.

Audiobook review

The audiobook for The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential is narrated by Fred Stella and lasts for just under four hours (3 hours and 54 minutes.)

This makes it feasible to listen to the whole book in a couple of sittings over the course of one or two days if you wanted to. The physical book is obviously short as well at around 170 pages.

Generally, the comments on the narrator were positive. Fred Stella is described as charming. Some listeners did state that the narration was slightly slow, so they listened to it sped up in various rangers – generally between 1.1 – 1.25x.

Some readers also complained that the sound was slightly muffled and the quality of the production could have been higher given the slight issues with the audio.

A woman reading The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential by Leo Babauta outside sat at a red table

Should I read The Power of Less?

Positive

  • Lots of practical advice

Negative

  • Repetitive
  • Slightly confusing, contradictory advice

Yes. 

For lots of different people, there are a number of interesting takeaways from this book. Its 170 pages are packed full of advice, tips, hints, and tricks to be more “in the moment”, more organized, or more efficient.

At times it does feel a little repetitive because all of the advice is based upon the same basic principles that are regurgitated to ensure the reader is really getting the point. 

At times, it can also feel like some advice is contradicting something that Babauta has advised earlier on in the book. This can be confusing and it leads me to believe that the author tried to shove as much practical advice into the book as possible so that each reader had at least something that resonated with them at the expense of the integrity of the book as a whole.