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An Interview with Leo Babauta Author of The Power of Less (and Zen Habits)

Leo Babauta Zen HabitsI love to interview someone who is not just “talking the talk” (lots of that out there), but rather someone who is truly “walking the walk” and Leo Babauta is just that guy.  His blog Zen Habits has made it in 12 short months to being one of Technorati top-100 blogs in the world and has accomplished more in 12 months than most people accomplish in 12 years.  The best part is that he did it in a very peaceful focused way.  I’m thrilled that he agreed to “sit down” with Jet Set Life for this interview.
Hi, Leo, and thanks for taking the time to discuss with us your new book, “The Power of Less”.

1. You’re probably most recognized by my viewers for your blog, Zen Habits.  Would you describe for someone who isn’t yet familiar with your site what Zen Habits is and why you decided to start it?

Zen Habits is a guide to living more simply, getting rid of clutter,
becoming more effective and productive, becoming happier, living
frugally.  These might sound like a lot of different things but
actually they’re all based on things I’m doing in my life, and based
around one philosophy: of simplicity, of starting small, of focusing
on one thing at a time.


I started Zen Habits in January 2007 after going through about a year of transformation in my life that started with quitting smoking.

When I finally was able to quit smoking (after failing seven times), I learned some amazing techniques that allowed me to change a bunch of other habits:

I began running, eating healthy, waking early, became organized and productive, increased my income and started eliminating debt, and more.  I decided to share what I’d been learning on Zen Habits, because I was so excited about all of it.  It turns out thousands of others are interested in the same things.

2.  I’m assuming that The Power of Less was a natural extension of your blog, Zen Habits.  Would you describe for us how Zen Habits evolved into your new book?
“The Power of Less” is the essence of the philosophy that I write about
on Zen Habits every day — but on the blog it’s spread out in little
chunks through hundreds of articles.  In the book, it’s boiled down to
just the essential.  I decided to do the book to reach the millions of
readers who haven’t read my blog, as well as to provide a valuable
resource to my readers who want to make changes in their lives.

3. Many of the strategies you discuss in The Power of Less on the surface seem pretty simple. What would you say is the biggest challenge that most people have in trying to implement those strategies into their lives?

There are two main challenges in going from knowing these strategies to actually implementing them:
1. Being overwhelmed.  People want to change so many things at once
that they don’t know where to start, and in fact it seems like too
much for them to actually do.  That’s why I recommend, in the book,
that people choose just one habit at a time, and that they start
small.  Exercising for 10 minutes a day isn’t overwhelming — in fact,
it sounds too easy, but if you focus on creating that habit every day,
you’ll find that over time, it’s a huge change.  Every journey starts
with a single step.

2. Quitting too soon.  Usually they quit because other things come up
in their lives, not because it’s too hard.  We all have a tendency to
try new things, but then forget about them after a week or two.
Instead, use the effective principles in the book to create a new
habit — habits can last for a lifetime if you do them right.

4. What’s the biggest challenge you personally have in applying your own principles in your book, The Power of Less?

When things get busy for me, I tend to try to multi-task…in other
words, I switch from one task to another, which leads to stress and
ineffectiveness.  When that happens, I have to remind myself to focus
on less, and to do just one task at a time.  It works every time.

5. Your book is endorsed (on the cover) by Tim Ferriss of The Four Hour Work Week fame.  Tim talks a lot about “what you do for work and what you do for money are two totally different things”. Does that philosophy ring true for the concepts discussed in your book, “The Power of Less”?

Tim and I have a lot in common — our philosophy of single-tasking, of
focusing on less, of eliminating the non-essential — and I have a lot
of respect for his book and the value it contains.  However, I believe
that you should find work you love, and that’s what I’ve done, and
it’s done wonders for my happiness and productivity.  If you do work
you love, you’re passionate about it, and it’s fun to do, and you get
lost in the Flow of the work.  That’s what happens when I write, and I
recommend it for everyone.

6. What’s your best tip to help people get away from allure of the ever seductive social networking power of the internet, i.e., Twitter, Facebook, etc., while still enjoying the benefits that they all have
to offer?

Set limits.  If email is important to you (as it is for most of us),
set a limit for how many times a day you check email (whether that’s
twice a day or four times or whatever works for you) and how long
you’ll spend in email each time.  Set the same limits for everything
you use often:  Twitter, Facebook, blog reading, etc.  You might even do
them all at once, near the end of the day (so you can get the
important things done first).

With limits, you learn to focus on the essential, which increases the
power of your time.

7. I understand you live in Guam.  Why Guam and what do you like most and least about living there?

Guam is a wonderful blend of modern conveniences and technology (we
have everything that people have in the U.S.) with the simplicity of
an island lifestyle.  The combination of technology and simplicity you
find on Guam is pretty much what I write about on Zen Habits.  What I
like least:  too expensive to travel much, so I can’t meet up with
other bloggers, readers, friends and family living in the U.S. or
other parts of the world.

8. What’s a typical day like for you?

I wake early (4:30 or 5:00 a.m. usually, but it varies) and have
coffee and exercise and read.  Then I write.  Then check email,
comments.  I usually write some more after all of that, or work on
other projects.  I quit sometime in the afternoon and spend time with
my family.

9. What do you like most and least about your new found fame?

My fame is ephemeral and not really real, in the sense that it doesn’t
change my daily life.  I am still just a writer, who sits in front of a
computer and does his best to share things with others, who sends
emails and checks Twitter and reads blogs.  I’m still just a father and
husband, and I do the same things I always do with my family (in fact,
my kids don’t know I’m famous at all).

But in another sense, fame has opened doors for me, and I love that. I
would never have been able to publish a best-selling book if I hadn’t
made a name for myself in the blogging world, and many other
opportunities turn up every day.  The worst part is that there are
always demands on my attention, people wanting me to talk to them or
promote their website or book.  Which I understand, as I’ve been there.
And it’s not the worst problem to have.

10. What’s next for Leo Babauta?

I try to take things one thing at a time, and not plan too far in the
future, as you never know what opportunities will arise or what the
landscape will be in six months or a year from now.  So right now I’m
focusing on my book, which is requiring me to do a lot of radio,
magazine, newspaper and blog interviews, and actually I’m learning a
lot as a first-time author.  When this dies down, I’ll find something
else to focus on.

One project I have coming down the pipeline, actually, but haven’t had
time to work on right now, is a blogging course called A-List Blogging
Bootcamp, to help other bloggers learn what I’ve learned at Zen
Habits.  So look out for that!

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