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.