Haiku Productivity: The Power of Limits for Increasing Focus

A decade ago, I wrote about “Haiku Productivity” and how limits can make us more productive, more focused, and better able to prioritize and simplify. The idea comes from haiku poetry, in which the poet is limited to three lines and (essentially) 17 syllables. Such a crazy limit, and yet the poetry that can be produced is often very powerful. The secret: The poet is forced to choose, simplify, and find the essence of the message. The constraints are actually a very powerful thing, because constraints force you to be disciplined and understand that because you have limits, every element in the container must be important. You can’t waste words. Over the years, I’ve often lost sight of this wisdom, but I keep coming back to it: When a container is unlimited, you’ll just fill it with anything. When you have constraints, you’ll be more careful, be more appreciative of your limited space, and explore what’s important to you in more depth. This applies to every area of life: Productive Time If you have a long list of things to do, and the entire work week to do them, it doesn’t feel that urgent, and you often fill your days with little things—answering emails, messages, group chats, or reading things online. But what if you only had an hour a day, and you had one really important project? You’d be more focused. More on this below. Clutter If you only allow yourself to have 33 items of clothing for each season, you’ll be more conscious about what clothes you have in your life. This is true of any possessions: a smaller home means you’re forced to choose. A limit on how many books you have makes you pick those that are dearer to you and those you think you’ll actually read. Projects It’s easy to say ‘yes’ to new work or personal projects, and then suddenly your life becomes overfull and you’re not doing a good job with any of the projects. What if you forced yourself to pick just one? Or two? How would that change the way you worked? You might find more focus and fewer complications, and do an amazing job with each project. People Some of us keep adding new relationships, making new connections (other people have the opposite problem, not actively seeking relationships, but that’s not the topic of this post). Making new relationships is a beautiful thing, but when we realize that we only have a limited amount of time to create deep relationships, it’s worth thinking about who we want to spend our limited time with, and curate our relationships. Life Life is limited. We all know this, and yet we act as if we have an unlimited supply of life and we can use it up however we want. We fritter away our days on little things, not really appreciating the miracle of each moment, not really taking advantage of the incredible opportunity of each day. What if we saw each day as precious and made the absolute most of it? The list could go on much further, but what I really want to talk about is the power of limits in increasing our focus on the meaningful work we really want to do—whether that’s creating art, creating a new business, creating happiness in our team or customers, or working on something meaningful in our personal lives. Limits and Focus During a trip to Japan and Guam, I had many things going on with family and other things I needed to get done, which meant my time to do work was sharply limited. Maybe I had an hour a day, maybe a little more, but sometimes even less. This was fantastic for my focus. I didn’t waste (as much) time on distractions, and when I needed to write something, I got down to it without delay. I knew my time was limited, and I knew how important it was to use that limited time wisely. This is Haiku Productivity, the power of constraints. We often rebel against constraints, but they work for us. Limit yourself to one habit change at a time, and you’ll be much more focused—and much more likely to succeed with it. Limit yourself to one important project at a time, and you’ll be much more focused—and more likely to do an amazing job with it. Limit yourself to one task at a time, and you’ll be able to bring your entire being to bear on it. One task at a time. A limited time box to do that task. Pure focus, with a mindful appreciation of how precious that limited time really is. Here’s what you might try: Pick one task to do in the next hour. Make it a hard deadline by promising it to someone by the end of the hour, and making other appointments after the hour is up so you can’t extend the deadline. Your time is limited, and you need to get it done. Now see what changes with your focus. See if you waste less time and fill your hour with fewer distractions. See if you appreciate that hour more. This is the power of constraints, and I’d love for you to apply it to a few areas of your life in the next month. Leo Babauta is the author of six books; the writer of Zen Habits, a blog with over 2 million subscribers; and the creator of several online programs to help you master

Haiku Productivity: The Power of Limits for Increasing Focus

A decade ago, I wrote about “Haiku Productivity” and how limits can make us more productive, more focused, and better able to prioritize and simplify.

The idea comes from haiku poetry, in which the poet is limited to three lines and (essentially) 17 syllables. Such a crazy limit, and yet the poetry that can be produced is often very powerful.

The secret: The poet is forced to choose, simplify, and find the essence of the message. The constraints are actually a very powerful thing, because constraints force you to be disciplined and understand that because you have limits, every element in the container must be important. You can’t waste words.

Over the years, I’ve often lost sight of this wisdom, but I keep coming back to it: When a container is unlimited, you’ll just fill it with anything. When you have constraints, you’ll be more careful, be more appreciative of your limited space, and explore what’s important to you in more depth.

This applies to every area of life:

Productive Time

If you have a long list of things to do, and the entire work week to do them, it doesn’t feel that urgent, and you often fill your days with little things—answering emails, messages, group chats, or reading things online. But what if you only had an hour a day, and you had one really important project? You’d be more focused. More on this below.

Clutter

If you only allow yourself to have 33 items of clothing for each season, you’ll be more conscious about what clothes you have in your life. This is true of any possessions: a smaller home means you’re forced to choose. A limit on how many books you have makes you pick those that are dearer to you and those you think you’ll actually read.

Projects

It’s easy to say ‘yes’ to new work or personal projects, and then suddenly your life becomes overfull and you’re not doing a good job with any of the projects. What if you forced yourself to pick just one? Or two? How would that change the way you worked? You might find more focus and fewer complications, and do an amazing job with each project.

People

Some of us keep adding new relationships, making new connections (other people have the opposite problem, not actively seeking relationships, but that’s not the topic of this post). Making new relationships is a beautiful thing, but when we realize that we only have a limited amount of time to create deep relationships, it’s worth thinking about who we want to spend our limited time with, and curate our relationships.

Life

Life is limited. We all know this, and yet we act as if we have an unlimited supply of life and we can use it up however we want. We fritter away our days on little things, not really appreciating the miracle of each moment, not really taking advantage of the incredible opportunity of each day. What if we saw each day as precious and made the absolute most of it?

The list could go on much further, but what I really want to talk about is the power of limits in increasing our focus on the meaningful work we really want to do—whether that’s creating art, creating a new business, creating happiness in our team or customers, or working on something meaningful in our personal lives.

Limits and Focus

During a trip to Japan and Guam, I had many things going on with family and other things I needed to get done, which meant my time to do work was sharply limited. Maybe I had an hour a day, maybe a little more, but sometimes even less.

This was fantastic for my focus.

I didn’t waste (as much) time on distractions, and when I needed to write something, I got down to it without delay. I knew my time was limited, and I knew how important it was to use that limited time wisely.

This is Haiku Productivity, the power of constraints. We often rebel against constraints, but they work for us.

Limit yourself to one habit change at a time, and you’ll be much more focused—and much more likely to succeed with it. Limit yourself to one important project at a time, and you’ll be much more focused—and more likely to do an amazing job with it. Limit yourself to one task at a time, and you’ll be able to bring your entire being to bear on it.

One task at a time. A limited time box to do that task. Pure focus, with a mindful appreciation of how precious that limited time really is.

Here’s what you might try:

Pick one task to do in the next hour. Make it a hard deadline by promising it to someone by the end of the hour, and making other appointments after the hour is up so you can’t extend the deadline. Your time is limited, and you need to get it done.

Now see what changes with your focus. See if you waste less time and fill your hour with fewer distractions. See if you appreciate that hour more.

This is the power of constraints, and I’d love for you to apply it to a few areas of your life in the next month.

Leo Babauta is the author of six books; the writer of Zen Habits, a blog with over 2 million subscribers; and the creator of several online programs to help you master your habits. Visit ZenHabits.net