The Power of Less – Identify the Essential

by Stephen Mills on July 28, 2009


This is the second article in the series describing Leo Babauta’s ideas from his book Power of Less, The: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential…in Business and in Life by Leo Babauta.  I highly recommend it.

The first article can be found here:

The Power of Less – Setting Limits

Identify the Essential

Choose only the essential and you will create maximal impact with minimal resources.  Always choose the essential to maximize your time and energy.

In contrast to most systems, in the Power of Less you learn to choose the essential first.  Most others tell you how to get things done quickly without teaching you how to determine what is most important to you.

You must constantly ask yourself, what is essential?  No matter what you are doing and when.  The context can be this hour, this day, this week, this year, or your whole life.

This is something that very few people do.  Our lives are filled with the trivial.  Are those hours of useless TV really essential to your long-term well-being?  I doubt it.  Do all of those 50 emails qualify as essential with a big impact today?  Are the hours of web surfing or online games essential to your well-being or are they an easy escape?

We rationalize everything we do as important and essential when in fact it is not.  Below are some questions to ask to help identify what is essential to you.  But keep in mind the standard must be very high.  Don’t just tell yourself everything is of the same value or everything is necessary, because it is most certainly not.  Take an axe to your non-essential activities and maximize your time by concentrating on the most important.

The Key Questions

These are not all Leo’s questions.  I’ve changed it up quite a bit.

Questions to identify the essential:

  • What things give you that feeling of well-being or genuine happiness?
  • What do you want out of life?
  • What fills you with emotion and inspires you to want
    to make a difference?
  • What are your most important values? What’s most
    important to you; the principles by which you want
    to live your life.
  • What are your goals?  For your life, next year, next
  • What do you love? Who, what, how you love to
    spend your time.
  • What has the biggest impact? When you are making
    choices between projects, tasks, activities ask which
    one will create the biggest impact.
  • What has the most long-term impact?
  • What did you really enjoy doing as a kid at play?


Simplify by eliminating anything that is not essential.

This part is easy.  Stop doing anything that you have not identified as essential.  Spend your time on your most important priorities.  This simple principle will do more to advance your real goals that almost anything else you can do.  The heart surgeon does not perform the janitorial duties in the operating room, even though he may be perfectly capable of it.  His valuable time is best spent on the patients.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.


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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Lance July 28, 2009 at 10:01 pm

Hi Stephen,
Well…this one hits home for me. I have several things I do, and they all bring me much joy. However…and this is a big “however”…I have one big “essential” that I keep putting off. And I’ve been thinking much about this recently, although you’ve given me a new angle with which to tackle this (and that’s a good thing!). Stephen, thanks much for giving me an “aha” moment here. It doesn’t mean I’ve solved it all for me, but it does really give me some things to think through…
.-= Lance´s last blog ..Less Stuff, More Meaning =-.


Oscar - freestyle mind July 29, 2009 at 2:09 am

I have finally read the book and I would have read it before. It’s incredible well written and useful.
.-= Oscar – freestyle mind´s last blog ..My plan to make 10,000 euros per month =-.


Steven Aitchison July 29, 2009 at 2:25 am


What a timely post, I have recently freed myself from doing the non essential things in my business and personal life and it makes such a difference.

It especially makes sense in the business world as doing things to grow your business can involve a lot of non essential stuff. This non essential stuff can also be outsourced if you believe it will help in the long run, it would just mean freeing up your own time and passing it on to someone else. For example Bill gates doesn’t get involved in the programming side of things of his business but realizes it is necessary and pays someone else to do it and he can concentrate on the essential growing of the business.
.-= Steven Aitchison´s last blog ..The power of Focus =-.


Zeenat-Positive Provocations July 29, 2009 at 2:43 am

Hi Stephen,
What an awesome post. Just perfect timing for me too. Only recently i had started re-evaluating my time and how i spend it, and i drew the conclusion that i wasting it big time. I stopped watching usedless and in the background TV,which was my worst time hogger and started reading and doing things i enjoy more. Thats the reason i can do identify with this post. IThere are still alot of things i want to reduce & savour more in my life. I think the list of questions you posted will help immensely. But Stephen, simplify is easier said than done…sometimes we end up being so addicted to certain thing or activity that we don’t even think of it. I guess realizing is the first step.
.-= Zeenat-Positive Provocations´s last blog ..Wants vs. Needs =-.


Arswino @ Inspirational Quotes July 29, 2009 at 5:55 am

Hi Stephen,
I like the idea of eliminating anything that is not essential. Even now I have been learning to simplify the things which I must do.
Thanks for sharing, Stephen.
.-= Arswino @ Inspirational Quotes´s last blog ..Blind Bus Passenger =-.


Vin - NaturalBias July 29, 2009 at 7:36 am

This is a great topic! I’ve been very busy this past year and always seem to have more to do than I can realistically get done. As such, this perspective of prioritizing tasks according to their influence on my goals and values has been extremely helpful.

I have Leo’s book sitting on my bookshelf and am looking forward to reading it. The problem is that I have about 20 other books that I’m looking forward to reading as well. 😉
.-= Vin – NaturalBias´s last blog ..Can Cheerios Really Reduce Cholesterol? =-.


Robin Easton July 29, 2009 at 10:39 am

I think this is exceedingly powerful. I resonate with this more than I can express in words. In fact I am going to print this out and read it to my friend who doesn’t go online. It is just fabulous. So essential for a rewarding life, a major key to joyous living. Thank you my friend.
.-= Robin Easton´s last blog ..Journey of Soul =-.


Dragos Roua July 29, 2009 at 11:31 am

Good one. No, VERY good one!

Identifying the essential forces you to challenge your core, to see what you really want. It goes from finding your personal mission up to a proper insertion in your social life. Now you really made me curious about the book 🙂
.-= Dragos Roua´s last blog ..How To Write Compelling Content For Your Blog =-.


Diggy - July 29, 2009 at 1:09 pm

Hey Stephen!

This is the key to building something up for real.

The only hard part is actually doing it.
I myself waste hours a week online doing nonproductive things, but yet i find it hard to focus my attention all the time.
I feel i am more creative when i take a break to watch my favourite tv show, or listen to music, listen to a podcast or read a blog article. None of those are essential, yet I feel they contribute in some way to my progress.

Of course there are things I can cut out and have a lot of time left.

Hard to find a balance, but will keep this in mind next time im wasting time on something non-essential:)

Keep well!
.-= Diggy –´s last blog ..How to get more dates =-.


Stephen Mills July 29, 2009 at 7:14 pm

Diggy, I think you misunderstand. I happen to believe that down time is very essential. Listening to music or reading a blog article? Those activities may in fact might be essential to what you want. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned reading blog articles. Even a TV show once in a while is not a problem. If that’s what you do to relax and get some entertainment then go for it. Laughter is indeed the best medicine and I have laughed my ass off at the 20th viewing of a sitcom. All of those things may very well contribute to your long-term well-being and be “essential”. I probably watch an hour or two a week max and I question anyone who watches hours a day, but it may actually be the thing for some people.

The key is wasting time when it goes beyond recharging or being creative or just pure fun and entertainment.


Diggy - July 30, 2009 at 12:48 am

Hi Stephen!
Yes I understood that although I may not have been so clear with my comment:)

Thanks for the post!
See you next time 🙂
.-= Diggy –´s last blog ..How to get more dates =-.


BunnygotBlog July 29, 2009 at 2:34 pm

This article hits home for many of us. It has encouraged me to take this weekend off and do the things I have been putting off for a long time.

Reply July 30, 2009 at 4:32 am

hmm simple and effective approach to eliminate what is not necessary, and concentrating on the things which are really important in life.
.-=´s last blog ..Leo Babauta’s Experiment of Getting Rid of Email =-.


Jodi at Joy Discovered July 30, 2009 at 3:47 pm

Hi Stephen, wonderful post. I believe in simplicity. Everytime I’ve faced a “crisis” in my life, I’ve ended up donating carloads of stuff to Goodwill. I can see more clearly when I have space around me and mostly the things that matter to me deeply. Thanks for this, you have inspired me as always!
.-= Jodi at Joy Discovered´s last blog ..Live the Dream Now =-.


Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills July 30, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Hi Stephen, I really like this series so far. Anymore, it takes a conscious effort to keep the non essentials from filling up our lives and consuming our time. I think I’ll walk through these questions and see what can be eliminated.
.-= Jonathan – Advanced Life Skills´s last blog ..Is Your Why Good Enough? =-.


Ching Ya August 2, 2009 at 11:25 am

Hi Stephen,
Your post reminds me of a saying ‘Less is more’, simple is sweet sometimes, isn’t it?
Apart from what you’ve shared in the post, another good thing about knowing the essentials is that you are able to pinpoint the root cause of your existing problems. May we all treasure what we have today, and right now.

Social/Blogging Tracker
.-= Ching Ya´s last blog ..My Big Move To WordPress, So Long Blogger! =-.


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