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Zen master: Sharpen your focus, supercharge your career

By Eliza Ridgeway for CNN
Blogger Leo Babauta has attracted a following with his advice on how to live a more focused and efficient life.
Blogger Leo Babauta has attracted a following with his advice on how to live a more focused and efficient life.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • At the start of your workday, pick just a few priority tasks to focus on with intensity, says Leo Babauta
  • Time magazine named his blog, Zenhabits, the best blog of 2010
  • If you're nervous about abandoning your to-do list and closing your e-mail, try it out just for 10 or 15 minutes and see if your fears play out, he suggests
  • By prioritizing your top tasks, you'll give yourself a chance to excel at what's most important

(CNN) -- You've probably heard it before: get ahead at work, and in life, by simplifying your day and focusing on what's really important to you.

But how many people can follow this advice when facing an onslaught of work e-mails and epic to-do lists?

Leo Babauta, who has drawn 200,000 subscribers and millions of viewers to his blog Zenhabits -- which Time magazine named the best blog of 2010 -- wants to convince professionals to think again, and try again.

Babauta makes his message personal, explaining how his strategies work in his own life, but he says they can apply to a variety of careers.

The Zen master, who has just published a new book, "Focus," that includes pointers on how to get ahead in your career by doing less, shared with CNN four ways to make big changes by starting with simple actions.

Revamp your to-do list

If you have list of 10 or 15 or 20 things to do, simplify it down to three, says Babauta. People tend to put off their most important tasks until the end of the day, he says, so the most crucial work ends up being pushed into the next day, and the next

If you really pour yourself into the important tasks, they are going to have a much bigger impact on your business and your career.
--Leo Babauta, author of "Focus"
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"You need to make choices about what are the most important things that you have to do today, the things that are highest impact on your business, your career, your life, and focus on those first," he told CNN.

"I think we know what's important and we build it up as being something big that we really need to do, and because of that we start to fear it," he said.

It's important to look at why you're afraid of something, whether it's writing the first chapter of a book or writing a business proposal that's going to bring in a lot of money to your company, he noted.

Try a test run

If you're hesitant, test out an idea by working on it for just 10 minutes, and see what happens, Babauta says.

This applies to taking the plunge with a business proposal, or trying a new workplace strategy like not checking your e-mail for an hour every morning to focus on other work.

"A lot of times I think it's because we're afraid we might fail or we don't know what we're doing and we're afraid we're going to look stupid," he said.

It's worth taking a chance on the really important subjects, Babauta says, because the rewards can be so significant.

Keep your eyes on the prize

You're only productive if you are doing work that moves you towards a goal, Babauta says.

"If you really pour yourself into the important tasks, they are going to have a much bigger impact on your business and your career," he said.

He's applied this rule in his work. He made the unconventional business decision to remove advertising -- a major income stream -- from his site because he found that managing that aspect of his business detracted too much from the foundation of his product: his writing.

Disconnect to intensify

Letting go of things that seem essential but aren't related to your core tasks will let you focus on your most important work, Babauta argues.

"It's amazing how we all have become trained that we need to be connected, that we can't shut things off for half an hour," he told CNN.

But if you manage expectations -- if your co-workers and manager know you're working on something really important for the business -- they'll understand why you want to carve out time to focus on one important task exclusively, he says.

"You can put if off for half an hour and you'll still be okay." he said. "Test it out and see if the world collapses."

How do you stay focused at work? Share your tips in the comments suggestion below.