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

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

    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 October 30, 2018

        How to Motivate Yourself: 13 Simple Ways You Can Try Right Now

        How to Motivate Yourself: 13 Simple Ways You Can Try Right Now

        Who needs Tony Robbins when you can motivate yourself? Overcoming the emotional hurdle to get stuff done when you’d rather sit on the couch isn’t always easy. But unless calling in sick and waking up at noon have no consequences for you, it’s often a must.

        For those of you who never procrastinate, distract yourself or drag your feet when you should be doing something important, well done so far! But for the rest of you, it’s good to have a library of motivational boosters to move along.

        Whether you’re starting a buisiness, trying to los weight or breaking a bad habit, you’ll learn how to motivate yourself with different techniques in this article.

        13 Simple Ways to Motivate Yourself Right Now

        Despite your best efforts, passion, habits and a flow-producing environment can fail. In that case, it’s time to find whatever emotional pump-up you can use to get started:

        1. Go back to “why”

        Focusing on a dull task doesn’t make it any more attractive. Zooming out and asking yourself why you are bothering in the first place will make it more appealing.

        If you can’t figure out why, then there’s a good chance you shouldn’t bother with it in the first place.

        2. Go for five

        Start working for five minutes. Often that little push will be enough to get you going.

        3. Move around

        Get your body moving as you would if you were extremely motivated to do something. This ‘faking it’ approach to motivation may seem silly or crude but it works.

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        4. Find the next step

        If it seems impossible to work on a project for you, you can try to focus on the next immediate step.

        Fighting an amorphous blob of work will only cause procrastination. Chunk it up so that it becomes manageable. Learn how to stop procrastinating in this guide.

        5. Find your itch

        What is keeping you from working? Don’t let the itch continue without isolating it and removing the problem.

        Are you unmotivated because you feel overwhelmed, tired, afraid, bored, restless or angry? Maybe it is because you aren’t sure you have time or delegated tasks haven’t been finished yet?

        6. Deconstruct your fears

        I’m sure you don’t have a phobia about getting stuff done. But at the same time, hidden fears or anxieties can keep you from getting real work completed.

        Isolate the unknowns and make yourself confident, you can handle the worst case scenario.

        7. Get a partner

        Find someone who will motivate you when you’re feeling lazy. I have a friend I go to the gym with. Besides spotting weight, having a friend can help motivate you to work hard when you’d normally quit.

        8. Kickstart your day

        Plan out tomorrow. Get up early and place all the important things early in the morning. Building momentum early in the day can usually carry you forward far later.

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        Having a morning routine is a good idea for you to stay motivated!

        9. Read books

        Read not just self-help or motivational books but any book that has new ideas. New ideas get your mental gears turning and can build motivation. Here’re more reasons to read every day.

        Learning new ideas puts your brain in motion so it requires less time to speed up to your tasks.

        10. Get the right tools

        Your environment can have a profound effect on your enthusiasm. Computers that are too slow, inefficient applications or a vehicle that breaks down constantly can kill your motivation.

        Building motivation is almost as important as avoiding the traps that can stop it.

        11. Be careful with the small problems

        The worst killer of motivation is facing a seemingly small problem that creates endless frustration.

        Reframe little problems that must be fixed as bigger ones or they will kill any drive you have.

        12. Develop a mantra

        Find a few statements that focus your mind and motivate you. It doesn’t matter whether they are pulled from a tacky motivational poster or just a few words to tell you what to do.

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        If you aren’t sure where to start, a good personal mantra is “Do it now!” You can find more here too: 7 Empowering Affirmations That Will Help You Be Mentally Strong

        13. Build on success

        Success creates success. When you’ve just won, it is easy to feel motivated about almost anything. Emotions tend not to be situation specific, so a small win, whether it is a compliment from a colleague or finishing two thirds of your tasks before noon can turn you into a juggernaut.

        There are many ways you can place small successes earlier on to spur motivation later. Structuring your to-do lists, placing straightforward tasks such as exercising early in the day or giving yourself an affirmation can do the trick.

        How to Stay Motivated Forever (Without Motivation Tricks)

        The best way to motivate yourself is to organize your life so you don’t have to. If work is a constant battle for you, perhaps it is time to start thinking about a new job. The idea is that explicit motivational techniques should be a backup, not your regular routine.

        Here are some other things to consider making work flow more naturally:

        Passion

        Do things you have a passion for. We all have to do things we don’t want to. But if life has become a chronic source of dull chores, you’ve got a big problem that needs fixing.

        Not sure what your passion is to get you motivated? This will help you:

        How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

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        Habits

        You can’t put everything on autopilot. I’ve found putting a few core habits in place creates a structure for the day.

        Waking up at the same time, working at the same times and having a similar productive routine makes it easier to do the next day.

        This guide will be useful for you if you’re looking to build good habits:

        Understand Your Habits to Control Them 100%

        Flow

        Flow is the state where your mind is completely focused on the task at hand. While there are many factors that go into producing this state, having the right challenge level is a big part.

        Find ways to tweak your tasks so they hover in that sweet spot between boredom and maddening frustration.

        Easily distracted and hard to focus? Here’s your solution.

        Final Thoughts

        With all these tips I’ve shared with you, now you know what to do when you’re feeling unmotivated.

        Find your passion and develop a positive mantra so when the next time negativity hits you again, you know how to stay positive and motivated!

        Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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