Today, I spoke with Leo Babauta, who is one of the most well-known and respected bloggers in the world. He blogs at Zenhabits.net and has been writing for decades on work concentration and management. We talk about his success story, why it’s important to work smart (not just hard), how to stay afloat in the bad economy, what it takes to have a killer blog and the steps he’s taken to build his personal brand over time.
A few years ago you quit smoking, lost weight, tripled your income, started a successful eBook company, created an extremely successful blog called Zen Habits, and began to truly enjoy your life. How did you do it?
One thing at a time.
Seriously, as I talk about in The Power of Less, I’ve found myself to be much more effective at achieving goals and creating new habits if I focus on one goal or habit at a time, and concentrate the full power of my focus on it. I also used a number of effective habit-change principles that I learned through quitting smoking to create each new habit — to learn more about this, join The Power of Less New Year’s Challenge on thepowerofless.com.
So I focused first on quitting smoking, then on running, then on waking earlier so I could run, then on eating healthier, then on becoming more frugal and eliminating debt, and so on. One habit at a time, then focus on the next thing. Before I knew it, the list of accomplishments was incredibly long — more than I ever dreamed possible within a year or two.
It is possible to do more with less, even under intense corporate pressures and a poor economy?
It’s absolutely possible, as I’ve proven and as many others have shown as well. Not only is it possible, it’s even more imperative with intense corporate pressures and the tough economic times we’re facing.
“If you don’t do more with less, you’re liable to lose your job or go into bankruptcy.”
With intense corporate pressures, you have to learn to focus more, and become more effective with the time that you allocate to work. You can spend that time by being incredibly busy, doing a ton of tasks, but at the end of the day having little to show for all of your busy-ness … or you can spend it by focusing on just a few really important, high-impact tasks that will do a lot for your business in the long run. Which is a better use of your time — the high-volume, low-impact approach, or the low-volume, high-impact approach?
With the tough economy, you will also need to learn to cut back to the essentials, so you are not sacrificing quality of life as you become more frugal. It doesn’t cost much to be happy and live an incredible life if you have the things you really love and value in your life, and cut out the rest. I’ll soon be releasing an ebook companion to The Power of Less, called “Thriving on Less: Simplifying in a Tough Economy”, on my site thepowerofless.com.
How do we break our goals down into manageable tasks?
Start by focusing on one goal at a time. Pick the first goal on your list of goals — the one that will have the most impact, that you can accomplish in the next year — or even better, in the next 1-3 months.
Then, for that one goal, focus on just the next task you have to complete. If it’s a task that will take an entire day or several days, break that task into a smaller task that will only take an hour or less — 10-30 minutes might be even better, but no more than an hour.
Then focus just on that task, clearing away all distractions, until that task is done. Move on to the next task and finish that one, and so on. You can’t do more than one task at a time anyway, so it’s better to stop trying to switch between tasks and focus on one task at a time, and become more effective.
You have around 80,000 RSS subscribers to your blog. For any new blogger starting out, what would you recommend to them?
Start small. Don’t worry about getting thousands of subscribers – just worry about writing your next incredibly useful post. Creating great, useful, valuable content is the only way to get new readers — if your writing is great, you can attract visitors and keep them. Be genuine, write about what you know about, and be passionate in your writing.
Once you have a dozen or more really useful articles, do guest posts on other blogs, as often as possible. Again, write really useful guest posts and you’ll attract readers to your blog.
I started by thinking about my core message — what was I excited to write about, and what desires in my potential audience would that tap into? From these questions I created a message of simplicity, and I’ve tried to stay as consistent about that message in everything I do and create: from the title of the blog, to its design, content, headlines, to guest posts and comments and emails. If you’re not consistent, you will send a mixed message and your branding efforts will be diluted.
I also tried to find my target audience on other blogs and repeat my brand (Zen Habits) and message of simplicity to this target audience as often as possible. Read more about these topics on my blog for writers and bloggers, Write to Done, in an article called “Branding 101.”
Leo Babauta, is the famous Zen Habits blogger, which is one of the top blogs in the world and author of The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential…in Business and in Life. He’s been writing for 23 years and served as a staff reporter, newspaper editor, and freelance journalist for 17 of them. He has done freelance for some of the most popular blogs, including Lifehack.org, Dumb Little Man, Web Worker Daily, FreelanceSwitch and others.