LESS At Work
LESS At Work:
Antidotes to Busyness; Finding More Calm,
Meaning, and Productivity
By Marc Lesser
lost sight of our goals we redouble our efforts.
There is an old story of a
man riding very fast on a horse. As he rides past his friend standing on the
side of the road, the friend yells, "Where are you going?" The rider turns
toward his friend and yells, "I don't know, ask the horse!"
The pace and intensity of
our lives, both at work and at home, leave many of us feeling like that person
riding that frantically galloping horse. Our daily incessant busyness--too much
to do and not enough time; the pressure to produce and tick off items on our
to-do list by each day's end--seems to decide the direction and quality of our
existence for us. But if we approach our days in a different way, we can
consciously change this out-of-control pattern. It only requires the courage to
do less. This may sound easy, but doing less can actually be very hard. Too
often we mistakenly believe that doing less makes us lazy and results in a lack
of productivity. Instead, doing less helps us savor what we do accomplish. We
learn to do less of what is extraneous, and engage in fewer self-defeating
behaviors, so we craft a productive life that we truly feel good about.
Just doing less for its
own sake can be simple, startling, and transformative. Imagine having a real and
unhurried conversation in the midst of an unrelenting workday with someone you
care about. Imagine completing one discrete task at a time and feeling calm and
happy about it. Imagine focusing on and appreciating whatever activity you are
doing, without thinking about or worrying about what you will do next.
Every life has great
meaning, but the meaning of our own can often be obscured by the fog of constant
activity and plain bad habits. Recognize and change these, and we can again
savor deeply the ways we contribute to the workplace, enjoy the sweetness of our
lives, and share openly and generously with the ones we love. Less busyness
leads to appreciating the sacredness of life. Doing less leads to more love,
more effectiveness and internal calmness, and a greater ability to accomplish
more of what matters most--to us, and by extension to others and the world.
In response to the
increasing pace of our lives and our frantic busyness at work, many theories
have recently been put forth regarding the best way to increase our satisfaction
and productivity at work. Some say to forget about old-fashioned time-management
techniques, but instead to manage productivity. Others say that the real secret
of avoiding busyness while staying engaged is to manage energy. Still others say
that the key to success and satisfaction is to have a clear purpose, clear
values, and a clear internal compass to cut through distraction and busyness. In
a Zen way, I'm tempted to say: not time management; not productivity management;
not energy management; not purpose management. Instead, manage your state of
mind. In truth, I believe that all these approaches contain important elements,
that all deserve attention. And, in order to reduce habits and patterns that
hold us back and increase both our satisfaction and productivity, we must learn
to manage our state of mind.
Instead of doing more,
here are five activities in which to engage in less. The practice of noticing
and of reducing our patterns and habits in these areas is what I call the "Less
These activities are:
Fear--Begin to pay
attention to and become friends with your fears. We all have fears. What
fears get in your way, accelerate your sense of busyness, and hold you back
from finding more meaning and satisfaction? You might consider beginning a
regular meditation practice or going on retreat to better know and understand
your fears. Experiment with naming your fears and developing new habits.
brilliant assumption makers, but often our less-than-accurate assumptions,
about ourselves and about others can be a hindrance to our happiness and our
productivity. To reduce assumptions, find ways to get open and honest
feedback from others. Pay attention to the information and feedback you are
already receiving. Make small adjustments in your approach.
enjoy certain kinds of distractions, the "other" kind, those that keep us from
being focused and engaged, get in the way of our happiness and productivity.
Experiment with staying focused--without checking emails, surfing the web, or
answering phone calls. Have a clear vision of what you really want to
accomplish. Write it down. Take regular breaks to refresh and recharge.
changes. When we stop resisting what is and when we reduce grasping at what we
have or want, we see that change is neither good nor bad. By accepting change
you have more choice and more freedom--in not only what you do, but how you do
it. Begin by noticing your resistance, the places where you are swimming
against the current and getting in your own way.
Busyness - There is a
story about two Zen teachers from seventh-century China. One teacher is
sweeping some stone steps inside the monastery with a wooden broom. He is
approached by the other teacher, who looks at him and remarks, "Too busy."
(This is a way of saying, "Why are you sweeping when you should be meditating
or undertaking some type of contemplative practice?") The first teacher,
holding his broom, responds by saying, "You should know that there is one who
is not busy."
Though we often associate
busyness with activity and speed, and lack of busyness with stopping or slowing
down, this is not always the case. It is possible to be actively engaged and not
be busy. Not being "busy" does not require that you stop, slow down, or step out
of the activity of your life. Most of the time, we learn, we adjust, we find our
composure, right in the midst of the activity and intensity of our lives. We
Begin to notice and play
with effort and effortlessness, with exertion and letting go. Ask
yourself--What am I doing that is extra? See if you can find "the one who is
not busy" right in the midst of the intensity of your life.
Lesser is CEO of ZBA Associates, an executive coaching and workshop company
based in Northern California. His website is
www.doingless.net. Based on the book Less: Accomplishing
More by Doing Less. Copyright
2009 by Marc Lesser.
Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA.
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