08 July 2011

Focus by Leo Babauta

Leo Babauta, creator of zen habits, subtitled Focus “A simplicity manifesto in the age of distraction.” It’s an appropriate title for a collection of essays extolling the benefits of slowing down, clearing your mind, clearing your desk, and picking one thing to do at a time.

Babauta never claims it will be an easy task and even admits it’s not going to work for everyone in every situation. He does suggest that if you have even a small sum of control over your workflow, you can make meaningful changes and get more done with less stress.

I have to confess: I read this book in fits and starts in transit and on breaks and wherever I could find 10 minutes at a time until I was finally able to finish the last third in one extended uninterrupted sitting. As I write this review, I have the television on and am constantly switching my attention from one screen to the other. I fear actually tallying the number of hours I spend checking the black holes of Facebook, Twitter and Gmail. And clutter? I am its queen. If there is a target audience for this book, I’m in it.

Almost everything in Focus makes sense to me and yet I can’t yet visualize myself doing most of it. Specifically, two key parts would require me to make huge changes to my outlook: decluttering and disconnecting.

Decluttering is something I have struggled with my entire life. My parents bought in bulk and hung on to things “just in case” they came in handy, and they often did. As a kid, I just assumed this was how everyone lived, surrounded by Stuff. There is nothing new to me in Focus that I haven’t already read and tried to implement at some point over the years.

However, in one of the bonus chapters at the end of Focus, “How to create a minimalist workspace to find focus” by Everett Bogue is this sentence that I think I need to cross-stitch and hang somewhere obvious:

“Just in case” is a place in the space-time continuum that invokes clutter, but not much else that’s useful.

Or is creating the cross-stitch just adding clutter? Oh well.

Disconnecting is do-able for me, but I always feel, as Babauta suggests, like I am missing something. He rightly points out however that we are not omniscient beings and online or not, we are always missing many somethings. It’s an important concept to keep in mind.

These are just my personal hang-ups of course and it may yet be possible for me to overcome them if I wanted to. Is Babauta’s book the answer for me? No, but it is a solid building block. toward a happy medium, I suspect. He even offers some tips on how parents can focus without blocking out their kids and how to work with spouses and bosses in order to find focus.

Focus is a springboard book – it offers some key concepts in how to find and keep one’s mind open and clear by stepping back from some of the worlds’ distractions. If you are looking for somewhere to start, this is as good as any other you’ll find on the self-help shelves.

On the other hand, if you're thinking all this is BS, you're not alone. Penelope Trunk thinks Babauta's minimalist lifestyle is boring and requires too many sacrifices to be realistic for most people.


Buy the full book at focusmanifesto.com or follow the links to Amazon below for other formats:

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