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Review: Leo Babauta’s Ebook "Zen to Done"

Review: Leo Babauta’s Ebook "Zen to Done"
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    David Allen’s book Getting Things Done has become a classic of personal productivity, but not everyone finds his simple “what’s the next action” philosophy fully compatible with their lives. Allen himself admits that the book is directed specifically at business executives and may not fit everyone’s needs perfectly, and sites like lifehack.org, 43 Folders, and others in the personal productivity blogosphere, have dedicated a lot of time and pixels to working out some of the tweaks and workarounds needed to make Allen’s GTD system apply to their readers’ lives.

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    ZTD cover

      Leo Babauta has spent the last year publicly fine-tuning his take on GTD, as a contributor here at lifehack.org and at the excellent Zen Habits. Now, he’s taken all he’s learned and rolled it up into his own system, “Zen to Done”, available as an ebook for $9.50 through his site. Zen to Done combines the task management aspects GTD with the goal-setting and prioritization methods advocated by Stephen Covey, along with Leo’s own “special sauce”.

      It sounds complicated, but it’s really not at all; in fact, if anything, Babauta has managed to simplify GTD even more, reducing it to 10 very doable habits — and even offering a 4-point “Simple ZTD” system that’s even easier! The idea is to develop not only the ideas we need to be more productive but to invest ourselves in transforming these ideas into habits, things that are just a natural part of our everyday routines. If you learn one habit a month, says Babauta, by the end of a year you’ll be amazingly more productive — not a bad deal for a year’s commitment.

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      ZTD consists, as I said, of 10 habits:

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      • Collect: Set up a limited number of inboxes — a tray on your desk, your email — and collect everything in those few places. Use a Moleskine, stack of index cards, or other easy-to-use (for you) device to capture and record thoughts, todo-list items, phone numbers, and other things you want to remember throughout the day.
      • Process: Go through your inboxes and decide what to do with each item — throw it out, get someone else to do it, do it yourself, do it later, or keep it as reference. Do this until your inbox is empty. Tomorrow, do it again. GTD’ers will recognize this as the essential core of the GTD system.
      • Plan: Spend some time at the beginning of each week deciding what your “Big Rocks” are for the coming week, the major projects you want to work on. Each morning (or the night before) list the three most important tasks (MITs) you want to accomplish that day. Put them at the top of your todo list, and do them.
      • Do: This is the core of ZTD — filling in what Babauta sees as a weak spot in Allen’s GTD system. Choose an MIT, give yourself large blocks of time without distractions (email, phone, any program you don’t need for the task at hand), and plug away until a) time’s up, or b) you’re done.
      • Simple, trusted system: Babauta’s advice for setting up a system you can live with — without fiddling and adding layers of complexity. Babauta uses a few web apps, a Moleskine, a calendar, and a set of files, but says whatever works without getting in your way is fine.
      • Organize: Keep everything in a place that’s logical and reduces the energy you need to a) find and use it, and b) put it back.
      • Review: The downfall of many a GTD’er, ZTD’s review simplifies the weekly review while extending it to include goal-setting: one long-term and one short-term at a time. This is an interesting thread through the whole system — instead of 10 5-year goals, Babauta advocates sticking to one big goal for the year, and working it until it’s done before moving onto another goal. This helps keep your head straight and your motivation high, with a string of successes to look back on instead of a bunch of successes in the future to look forward to.
      • Simplify: The notion of limiting the number of big goals you have at any given time fits in well with Babauta’s constant refrain of “simplify” — eliminate unnecessary tasks from your lists, minimize your commitments, reduce the number of things (goals, RSS feeds, emails, whatever) that demand your attention at any given moment.
      • Routine: This habit and the next are “optional”, according to Babauta — they’re more like principles than habits. And yet, they seem like the real core of the system. Set up daily and weekly routines, so that collecting, processing, planning, and doing become second-nature and everything just flows. Minimize unnecessary surprises so you can focus on getting everything done with a clear mind and an easy heart. That’s Zen!
      • Find Your Passion: Find something you’re passionate about doing — your calling, if you will — and forget the rest. Who needs to push themselves to do the things they love most in the world to do? Although Babauta comes across as slightly naive in pushing his readers to pursue a career doing what they love (“if you really put in the work, you’ll achieve your dreams someday” sounds suspiciously light next to the hard-headed practical advice we find throughout the rest of the book), this passion is the gist of all this personal productivity stuff — get the stuff you have to do out of the way so you can focus on what you want to do.

      There’s much more to ZTD than what I’ve listed above — it really is a phenomenal thing that Babauta has produced. The book is well-designed (though there are a few annoying typos and grammatical errors here and there) and very well-written; Babauta’s advice comes across more as a friend or trusted mentor telling you his secrets than as a “productivity expert” spelling out The Rules.

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      My only real complaint is that there’s no way to order the book in hard copy — it’s the kind of work you’re going to want to return to again and again, and a nice copy that could sit on your shelf next to David Allen and Steven Covey would be nice, even at slightly more cost. With easy print-on-demand services readily available, I hope Babauta will take the next step and offer this as a physical book soon. Oh, and Leo, did I mention a physical book is far more “giftable”?

      Highly recommended.

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        Disclaimer: Leo Babauta wrote for lifehack.org until June of 2007. However, I do not know Leo, nor have I had any contact with him. I started writing for lifehack.org in July of 2007.

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        Last Updated on June 26, 2020

        How to Stay Motivated and Reach Your Big Goals in Life

        How to Stay Motivated and Reach Your Big Goals in Life

        It is hardly a secret that the key to successfully accomplishing one goal after another is staying motivated. There are, of course, tasks which successful people may not like at all, yet they find motivation to complete them because they recognize how each particular task serves a greater goal.

        So how to stay motivated most of the time? Here are 5 simple yet effective ways on how to be motivated and get what you want:

        1. Find Your Good Reasons

        Anything you do, no matter how simple, has a number of good reasons behind it.

        You may not be able to find good reasons to do some tasks at first but, if you take just a few moments to analyze them, you will easily spot something good. We also have many tasks which don’t need any reasoning at all – we’ve been doing them for so long that they feel natural.

        If you’re ever stuck with some tasks you hate and there seems to be no motivation to complete it whatsoever, here’s what you need to do: find your good reasons.

        Even when you set goals, there needs to be reasons behind these goals. They may not be obvious, but stay at it until you see some, as this will bring your motivation back and will help you finish the task.

        Some ideas for what a good reason can be:

        • A material reward – quite often, you will get paid for doing something you normally don’t like doing at all.
        • Personal gain – you will learn something new or will perhaps improve yourself in a certain way.
        • A feeling of accomplishment – at least you’ll be able to walk away feeling great about finding the motivation and courage to complete such a tedious task.
        • A step closer to your bigger goal – even the biggest accomplishments in history have started small and relied on simple and far less pleasant tasks than you might be working on. Every task you complete brings you closer to the ultimate goal, and acknowledging this always feels good.

        Here’re 9 Types of Motivation That Make It Possible to Reach Your Dreams.

        2. Make It Fun

        When it comes to motivation, attitude is everything. Different people may have completely opposite feelings towards the same task: some will hate it, others will love it.

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        Why do you think this happens? It’s simple: some of us find ways to make any task interesting and fun to do!

        Take sports for example. Visiting your local gym daily for a half-an-hour workout session sounds rather boring to some. Yet many others love the idea!

        They like exercising not only because they recognize the good reasons behind it, but simply because it’s fun! At certain time of their daily schedule, they find going to gym to be the best thing to do, simply because nothing else will fit their time and lifestyle so perfectly.

        Depending on how you look at it, you can have fun doing just about anything! Just look for ways of having fun, and you’ll find them!

        A simple approach is to start working on any task by asking yourself a few questions:

        • How can I enjoy this task?
        • What can I do to make this task fun for myself and possibly for others?
        • How can I make this work the best part of my day?

        As long as you learn to have the definite expectation of any task being potentially enjoyable, you will start to feel motivated.

        Some of you will probably think of a thing or two which are valid exceptions from this statement, like something you always hate doing no matter how hard you try making it fun. You’re probably right, and that’s why I don’t claim everything to be fun.

        However, most tasks have a great potential of being enjoyable, and so looking for ways to have fun while working is definitely a good habit to acquire.

        3. Change Your Approach And Don’t Give Up

        When something doesn’t feel right, it’s always a good time to take a moment and look for a different approach for the task.

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        You may be doing everything correctly and most efficiently, but such approach isn’t necessarily the most motivating one. Quite often, you can find a number of obvious tweaks to your current approach which will both change your experience and open up new possibilities.

        That’s why saying “one way or another” is so common — if you really want to accomplish your goal, there is always a way; and most likely, there’s more than one way.

        If a certain approach doesn’t work for you, find another one, and keep trying until you find the one which will both keep you motivated and get you the desired results.

        Some people think that trying a different approach means giving up. They take pride in being really stubborn and refusing to try any other options on their way towards the goal.

        My opinion on this is that the power of focus is great, but you should be focusing on your goal, and not limiting your options by focusing on just one way to accomplish it it.

        4. Recognize Your Progress

        Everything you may be working on can be easily split into smaller parts and stages. For most goals, it is quite natural to split the process of accomplishing them into smaller tasks and milestones. There are a few reasons behind doing this, and one of them is tracking your progress.

        We track our progress automatically with most activities. But to stay motivated, you need to recognize your progress, not merely track it.

        Here’s how tracking and recognizing your progress is different:

        Tracking is merely taking a note of having reached a certain stage in your process. Recognizing is taking time to look at a bigger picture and realize where exactly you are, and how much more you have left to do.

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        For example, if you’re going to read a book, always start by going through the contents table. Getting familiar with chapter titles and memorizing their total number will make it easier for you to recognize your progress as you read. Confirming how many pages your book has before starting it is also a good idea.

        You see, reading any book you will be automatically looking at page numbers and chapter titles, but without knowing the total number of pages, this information will have little meaning.

        Somehow, it is human nature to always want things to happen in short term or even at once. Even though we split complex tasks into simpler actions, we don’t quite feel the satisfaction until all is done and the task is fully complete.

        For many scenarios though, the task is so vast that such approach will drain all the motivation out of you long before you have a chance to reach your goal. That’s why it is important to always take small steps and recognize the positive different and progress made. This is how your motivation can sustain in long term.

        5. Reward Yourself

        This is a trick everyone likes: rewarding yourself is always pleasant. This is also one of the easiest and at the same time most powerful ways to stay motivated!

        Feeling down about doing something? Dread the idea of working on some task? Hate the whole idea of working? You’re not alone.

        Right from the beginning, agree on some deliverables which will justify yourself getting rewarded. As soon as you get one of the agreed results, take time to reward yourself in some way.

        For some tasks, just taking a break and relaxing for a few minutes will do.

        For others, you may want to get a fresh cup of coffee and even treat yourself a dessert.

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        For even bigger and more demanding tasks, reward yourself by doing something even more enjoyable, like going to a cinema or taking a trip to some place nice, or even buying yourself something.

        Your progress may not seem to others like anything worth celebrating but, take time and do it anyway! It is your task and your reward, so any ways to stay motivated are good.

        The more you reward yourself for the honestly made progress, the more motivated you will feel about reaching new milestones, thus finally accomplishing your goal.

        Mix and Match for the Best Effect!

        Now that you have these five ways of staying motivated, it is a good moment to give you the key to them all: mix and match!

        Pick one of the techniques and apply it to your situation. If it doesn’t work, or if you simply want to get more motivated, try another technique right away. Mix different approaches and match them to your task for the best results.

        Just think about it: Finding good reasons to work on your task is bound to helping you feel better; and identifying ways to make it fun will help you enjoy the task even more.

        Or, if you plan a few points for easier tracking of your progress and on top of that, agree on rewarding yourself as you go; this will make you feel most motivated about anything you have to work through.

        More Tips to Boost Your Motivation

        Featured photo credit: Lucas Lenzi via unsplash.com

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