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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Review: Focus: A Simplicity Manifesto in the Age of Distraction

Focus: A simplicity manifesto in the Age of Distraction by Leo Babauta

This review applies to the free version of Focus; there are larger, more extensive versions available for purchase, both on Kindle and on the Focus Manifesto website (see link above). I cannot comment on either one.

I came across this during my recent reading and thinking on minimalism, and download it because a) focus is something that I can always use practice on and b) the price was right. I realize that the second may not be the noblest reason for getting a book, but hey, it worked for me.

The free version of Focus is (as you might expect from an author writing about Zen and minimalism), short and to the point. Babauta breaks the book up into five sections. The first, “stepping back”, is sort of a manifesto of the manifesto. It explains what the purpose of the book is, who the author is, and why he believes focus is both extremely important, and extremely difficult to come by.

Sections two, three, and four, provide the meat of the book, with a variety of solid ideas, drills, and tools to help the reader clear distractions away from their life. I don’t know that any of them are extremely groundbreaking, but they are all worthwhile.

The fifth section discusses dealing with others in your question for focus, particularly those who aren’t as supportive as you’d like them to be. It also includes a chapter for parents, and a chapter for business managers.

I liked this book. A lot. Babauta writes in a simple, clear, and unpretentious tone, which is extremely refreshing. One of the things that has bothered me about some of the minimalist writers I’ve read is that they come across with this holier-than-thou, “just throw all of your possessions in a dumpster, you worthless human being” sort of way that is not only uninspiring, but downright unhelpful. Babauta, by contrast, acknowledges that some of what he’s suggesting is challenging (if it was easy, everyone would do it), but offers a lot of useful guidelines on how to make his ideas work for you. With each activity, he suggests a few variations if one doesn’t work, but always reiterates the point that the goals is to find something that works for you.

I don’t know if I will buy the full version of this book or not. Probably not yet…frankly, there’s enough stuff in the free version for me to work on without adding things, and it seems silly to purchase more until I feel like I need it. But if you’re one of those folks who feels like there is never enough time, or that you just can’t find your focus, I suggest grabbing some version of this. It’s worth the read.

Addendum, because this a martial arts blog: a lot of what Leo is writing about applies to the martial arts. Many of us, especially those who have trained for a long time, accumulate a whole lot of cruft in our training. We get distracted by weird drills or even whole systems/styles that take us away from whatever we were originally training for. The ideas here are very useful for anyone looking to simply their training (JKD guys, I'm looking at you). Don't ignore this just because it's not about how to kick ass.

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