“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” – Mark Twain
I’ve just finished reading The Power of Less by Leo Babauta, yet another book that promises greater productivity with less effort. His principles are sound, and reading the book takes very little time.
Putting those principles into practice and creating those life-changing habits… Yes, you still have months and years of hard work ahead of you, but Babauta packs this slim volume with oodles of tips to keep you motivated during that tedious reprogramming phase, as we train ourselves to focus on the things that really matter to us.
Reprogramming in action
For me, the timing was especially interesting because I’m living through the slow, frustrating process of creating a new habit. Specifically, I’m teaching myself to touch type with the Dvorak layout after two decades of Qwerty. (Why? Because of yet another productivity book, Bit Literacy by Mark Hurst.)
After several weeks of Dvorak practice, while typing in Qwerty for work because I couldn’t afford the drop in productivity, a switch in my brain flipped. Now, my fingers instinctively move to the Dvorak positions, although not with their former speed and accuracy. Switching to Qwerty no longer gives me a huge boost in speed because my fingers are caught betwixt and between the two layouts.
Unexpected benefits (to me and to others)
Two weeks ago, I made the full-time switch to Dvorak. Emails and edits that previously took minutes have become laborious typing drills.
My writing has become tighter and more focused as a result.
No longer able to tap out lengthy paragraphs at 95 words per minute, I carefully consider each word that goes into a message or document. Recent correspondence has become short and to the point, almost to an extreme.
No one has complained. (In fact, I suspect at least a few contacts are grateful since brief emails take up less of their time.)
Set limits… and write better
As Babauta explains in his first chapter, we need to start by setting limits. Working within these limits forces us to make stronger choices.
Here are a few ways you might limit your writing to punch up the impact:
- Write a headline of 15 words or less
- Write a blog post of 500 words or less
- Limit your home page copy to 200 words
- Set a 5-line limit for emails
The original limits we set may not be the right ones, but they provide a starting point for refinement.
Think it can’t be done?
According to literary legend, Ernest Hemingway once won a bet (or some other challenge) by writing a six-word short story: “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”
What are your thoughts on the “less is more” approach to writing? Please share, as well as any defenses of long copy promotions.