mnmlist: the creativity of constraints

Re-posted with permission: Original article by Leo Babauta

On this site, I embrace a 400-word limit (unless it doesn’t make sense). It forces me to be concise, to focus on smaller topics, to choose the important, to be creative.

Yes: constraints force us to be creative.

Often, constraints, limitations, are seen as a negative, but to me they’re a feature. They might restrict freedom and force sacrifices, sure, but they also force us to choose. And to work within and around the constraints.

When we must work within limits, we have to figure out how to make those work. This forces us to think outside our normal mode of thinking, to think of new ways to make things work.


  • When we have a small home, we must find new ways of living within that small space, instead of being lazy and doing whatever we want with lots of space.

  • When we must use fewer words, we must choose them wisely, instead of spilling them out carelessly.

  • When we eat fewer calories, we must choose more nutritious and yet tasteful foods, to make them count.

  • When we have less storage space, we must choose only the most important things, and make do with less.

  • When we limit ourselves to four sentences per email, we must say the essential, creatively.

I could go on all day, but that would be contrary to my point. What constraints can you place on yourself, and how can you work creatively with them?


mnmlist: stop making it complicated

Re-posted with permission: Original article by Leo Babauta of mnmlist

Now that I’ve learned to look at things with the lens of simplicity, I can see others making mistakes I’ve made in the past.

I want to gently say to them — and to my past self — “Stop making things so complicated!”

I’m not going to criticize how other people do things in this post, but rather talk about things I did wrong in the past.

The biggest problem came when starting a new endeavor — starting running, trying to get organized or productive, starting blogging, getting out of debt, even the act of simplifying.

I’d always make things so complicated — looking back on it, I either want to cringe or laugh. And yet, I know that life is a learning process, and those early mistakes helped me to get to where I am. Even now, I make tons of mistakes, learning as I go.

Example 1: I wanted to be more productive, so I learned GTD (Getting Things Done, an excellent book by David Allen). I bought tools that other GTDers recommended, set up a series of lists, tried out a couple dozen different software (and paper) approaches to lists. Every GTDer knows this problem. GTD, and many other productivity systems, can end up being complicated.

Today, my advice to my former self is: stop making it complicated. Productivity, such as I care about it today, is simple. You pick the most important thing you want to do today, clear distractions, and start on it. You don’t even need a list, though having a list for remembering what else needs to be done later is fine. Have one list, but don’t fiddle with it. Just pick one thing, and start working.

Example 2: When I wanted to get out of debt, I tried various financial software, I made spreadsheets, I made schedules for payments, I tracked everything, and so on. It was complicated, believe me.

Now I know it’s simple. First, stop the unnecessary spending (I know, easier said than done, but once you learn to recognize it and stop your impulse urges, it’s not complicated). Second, put everything you can to one debt at a time (first creating an emergency fund of at least $500), pay off that one debt, then pay off the next.

Example 3: When I started blogging in January 2007, I looked at dozens of different blogging platforms/software, themes, ad platforms, ebooks, articles on every possible blogging topic. This is natural, as I was just learning the field.

But today, I know it’s simple: you pick a topic, and write. Then hit publish. Share your stuff via Twitter or Facebook if you like, but don’t worry so much about that. Just write interesting and/or useful stuff, and people will find you eventually. Just write, and publish.

When you start something new, sure, there’s a learning process. But also realize that while the learning is good, the doing doesn’t have to be complicated at all. Find the simplest way to do things, and just start doing it. You’ll learn by doing.


Four Agreements

Every so often a friend will send you something that sticks in your brain and really makes you think. While he could not site his source (let me know if you are the author) I had to repost this in hopes that someone will read it and appreciate its simple clarity.

Four Agreements

1. Be Impeccable With Your Word
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

2. Don't Take Anything Personally
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.

3. Don't Make Assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

4. Always Do Your Best
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.


Today is New Years Day

OK, not even really close yet, but then I ask, "Why not today? Why not now? Why not this very moment in time?" What is it about change that makes it this forever future endeavour that needs some event to catalyse it into action? I have been a procrastinator for most of my life until now. See? No longer a procrastinator - I just did that right now. Easy. Done.

But to my point, in recent memory, they persons that I have encountered that have been the happiest, the most full of life; are those who have had a brush with death. Persons for whom the reaper has been by to escort off a loved one or to essentially say, "See you soon." People who have become acutely aware of the impermanent nature of things. This should be all of us.

Life does not start on some obscure date "out there" - it is and it is happening right now. So if, right now, you are not sucking every ounce of joy from the day through a huge ass straw - time to rethink things. Honestly, did you think you'd be where you are right now five years ago? One year ago? Last week? Goes by quick doesn't it?

Marathoners have heart failures. Teetotallers are run down by drunken drivers. There are insects and bacteria that can kill you. Do not grow old, do not collect social security, go directly...you see my point. If you hate your job, quit. If your marriage is a sham built on obligation, file for divorce. If you are sitting about waiting for the world to right itself and have good things land in your lap, stand up, go to the mirror, look yourself in the eye and say, "The only person who can change my life is me." Repeat this until you believe it.

Start small today, just for an hour - power off your computer, mobile device, and anything else that could distract you. Go outside and just be. Take in the wonder around you and just be. Do not speculate about the future or where you need to be sixty-one minutes from now - just be in the moments as they pass. If you cannot be outside; stare out a window, find a good book, really focus on an enjoyable hobby. Do this for you and for no one else - remember you are not "wasting time", you are reclaiming it. It is yours to spend, you do not know how much you have, and I recommend investing every bit of it in you and in those you love.


The wisdom of 1802

While I cannot take credit for this content I thought it facinating and thought provoking enough to share. Thanks the the anonymous posting on CostaRicaLiving (a free and open Yahoo! group) - here you go:

Thomas Jefferson in some cases could be called a prophet.

The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.
Thomas Jefferson

It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world.
Thomas Jefferson

I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.
Thomas Jefferson

My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.
Thomas Jefferson

No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.
Thomas Jefferson

The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.
Thomas Jefferson

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.
Thomas Jefferson

To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.
Thomas Jefferson

Very interesting quote in light of the present financial crisis, it's interesting to read what Thomas Jefferson said in 1802:

'I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our
liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow
private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by
inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will
grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property
until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers


The death of a dream never born

Started reading Reclaim Your Dreams by Jonathan Mead the other day wherein there are several "exercises" - you know, the kind you usually skip over for the sake of just completing the book. However, this one was different in that by not doing it, I likely gained more insight than the exercise could have offered. The exercise consisted of a single question requiring you write down your answer. The question, "What are your dreams?"

As I skipped past this silliness a small part of my brain lingered on these four words. Continuing to read without actually processing the words on the page my mind became consumed by the void that was the answer to this question. Just one year ago this would have so simple, so straight forward, so very easy at that time in my life. But when was that? That was when the quality of my life was determined by the things in it that I controlled: my cars, plasma televisions, carbon fibre bicycles, and all of it in my "better than your" house. My list would have taken a small notebook less one sheet of paper.

Now this emptiness grew so I moved quickly to fill it with some form of fodder even I did not know the origins thereof. "I dream of having no mortgage payment." "I dream of having no car payment." "In my dream the house does not need paint next year." All of it utter bullocks. These are not dreams but aspirations driven by the trappings of the life I dug myself into. Not even that, these were preferences - who would prefer not to make a car payment? Had I become so shallow, so trite that a zero balance on a credit card was a dream?

Then the superficial set in - I had to be better than this. Fantastic marriage to the love of my life - uh, got that. Inner peace and calm as I live in the moment and embrace life every day I wake - I thought that's BS and I prove it every time I leave for the office in the morning rather than stay home with my great wife and fantastic dogs in our lovely home. My charity work...never mind.

There must be a context I can put this in that will allow me to dream. Truly dream while awake and see what it is that is my purpose. So absorbed with the grind of life, the goals that typify most of us, that my dreams have been crushed under the weight of unattainable goals. Worse yet, they are not even my goals.

I still do not have a list of dreams - but they will come. What I have derived is a purpose - to live my dreams, whatever they might be, and tell the story of how I did it in hopes of inspiring others to do the same. Clearly there are already books on this topic, so the concept is not new. However, we must know that inspiration strikes in a moment, can come from anywhere, and can forever change your life. With my story in the wild, perhaps I can be that motivation that strikes in some moment and inspires. Perhaps there will be a stumbling, or a missed key stroke that will bring someone here for just the moment necessary. Of course, to fulfill my purpose I will have to keep going now won't I?



This morning I learned that the daughter of a friend and colleague has developed stage four stomach cancer at the age of two. While we all retain hope and wish for the best - I fear we all know the end is too soon in coming - stealing the life from this girl who has not yet even lived.

Life is too short. In all that we do, whatever that might be, we must do so without ill will or misguided intentions. Find what makes you happy and go for it without hesitation. Spend the rest of your living for you right now and not for what might or might not be tomorrow.

I take refuge in the fact that this event will inspire and drive me to do more. To do more now and to remind me that the moment we live in is all that we truly have. Tragedy happens every day. Some days it happens close to home. Tomorrow it could be even closer...