“Practice not-doing and everything will fall into place.” – Lao Tzu
By Leo Babauta
How many of us don’t get lazy every now and then? Of course, some of us get lazy more than others — my mom (always a hard worker) once told me she gets lazy, but then she just does the work anyway. I replied, “Mom, that’s not lazy! That’s the opposite of lazy!”
Lazy is often seen as a bad thing, but I disagree. Lazy is an amazing thing.
Here’s just a few reasons why:
- Lazy means that your body and mind are tired and want to rest. That’s a sign that you should actually rest. When you ignore these signs, that leads to burnout. So rest, and feel good about it!
- Lazy means you don’t want to work too hard, which often leads to figuring out how to do less work. Just about all of the advances in technology come from laziness: we drive cars instead of walking because we’re too lazy to walk, we use washing machines because we’re too lazy to do it by hand, we use computers because writing things out by hand is hard. Of course, reliance on machines isn’t a good thing, but using laziness to figure out better ways to do things is a good thing.
- Lazy people don’t start wars. Who wants to go through all the trouble to fight a war? Peace and friendliness is much easier.
“Simple Productivity” has been the motto of Zen Habits from its early days (even though I talk about a lot of other things as well) … and today I’d like to set out the reasons “Do Less” is one of my Four Commandments, and why it’s the ultimate extension of Simple Productivity.
Do Less: The Ultimate Simple Productivity
It may seem paradoxical that Do Less can mean you’re more productive — and if you define “productive” as meaning “get more done” or “do more”, then no, Do Less won’t lead to that kind of productivity.
But if instead you define “productivity” as a means of making the most of your actions, of the time you spend working (or doing anything), of being as effective as possible, then Do Less is the best way to be productive.
Consider: I can work all day in a flurry of frenetic activity, only to get a little done, especially when it comes to lasting achievement. Or I can do just a couple things that take an hour, but those are key actions that will lead to real achievement. In the second example, you did less, but the time you spent counted for more.
Let’s take the example of a blogger: I can write a dozen posts that really say nothing, mean nothing, but take up my entire day … or I can write one post that affects thousands of people, that really reaches to the heart of my readers’ lives, and takes me 1.5 hours to write. I did less, but made my words and time count for more.
If you’re lazy, as I often am, then the choice is simple. Do Less.
But do it smartly: Do Less, but make every action count. Send fewer emails, but make them important. Write fewer words, but make each word essential. Really consider the impact of every action you take, and see if you can eliminate some actions. See if you can achieve a great impact doing less.
This doesn’t mean “less is more”. It means “less is better”.
Do Less: Of Everything
But Do Less means much more than being productive. It goes to the heart of everything we do, of our society. Do Less is nothing less than a two-word manifesto for living.
Here’s how the two-word manifesto of “Do Less” can change everything:
1. Do Less buying. If you spend less, shop less, acquire less, then you will own less, need less, get into less debt, be in better financial shape, have less clutter, and have more time for things that are truly important.
2. Do Less busy-work. Instead of running around doing lots of little things, slow down. Do Less. Live a calmer, more peaceful life. Be content to sit, to do nothing. Relax a little. Smile and be happy.
3. Do Less managing. If you are in a position of authority over others, whether it’s as a manager, executive, or parent … the less you do the better. Many people over-manage, or over-parent. This gives their employees, or children, very little freedom, room for creativity, room to learn on their own, to succeed and fail. The less you do, the more others will figure out how to do things. Do little things to guide and teach, but for the most part, back off and let them be.
4. Do Less communicating. Less talking, less yelling, less arguing, less emails and IM and Twittering, less phone calling. While I think communication is extremely important, and should be one of the keys to any relationship, I also think we do it too much. Especially as most of it becomes nothing but jabbering at each other, with very little actual listening. It is noise. Let silence into your life. Let stillness pervade our minds. When you do communicate, make it count, make it sincere, and more than you talk, listen. Make every email count. Only IM when it’s necessary. Spend less time on the phone and Twitter and Blackberry and iPhone, and more time with humans, more time with yourself, more time in the present.
5. Do Less complaining and criticizing. I won’t rant about how these two things can drag down you and those around you … but instead will say that if you did less of these two things, your life would be better. And we all do them — fess up! I do, and I try to do less of it. Instead, do more kindness, compassion, understanding, accepting, loving.
6. Do Less planning and worrying and future thinking. Spend more time in the moment. We worry too much, and it does us no good. We think about things that haven’t happened, instead of what’s happening now (and yes, I know that’s the name of an old sitcom). And while some planning is necessary, too much of it is a waste of time — there’s no way to predict the future, and trying to control every little thing that’s going to happen is futile. Learn to go with the flow, look for opportunities, find the natural path of things, and do what is needed in the moment. You can’t control outcomes, but if you learn to work more fluidly (instead of rigidly following plans), you can get to outcomes that are good.
7. Do Less judging and expecting. Acceptance is something I’m trying to learn to do more. And that means I need to be less judgmental, and stop having expectations from everything and everybody. If you have no expectations, and don’t judge things, you can accept them. And acceptance leads to peace, leads to happiness. So when you find yourself judging, think “Do Less Judging”. When you find yourself expecting someone to be a certain way, think “Do Less Expectations”. People won’t disappoint you that way, because you’ll learn to accept them as they are, and learn that they are already perfect, as they are.
“Be Content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” – Lao Tzu
How to Do Less
If you are sold on the two-word manifesto — Do Less — you might be saying to yourself, “Self, that sounds good, but how exactly do I go about doing less?” It’s simple:
1. Do Less. Yes, it really is that simple. Do Less. Take how much you usually do, and Do Less than that. If you’re smart, you’ll naturally choose the more essential things to do, but it’s possible that you won’t, and you’ll just choose whatever is easy or convenient or fun. That’s OK. Go with that. Eventually you’ll probably have to do the important stuff, because it probably has to be done sometime. Or maybe you won’t, and you’ll end up getting nothing done. Then you’ll think to yourself, “Self, there has to be a better way. Either I have to go back to doing more, or I have to choose more wisely in what I do.”
2. Then Do Even Less. If you followed the first step, and you’re now doing less than you were before, congratulate yourself! Pat yourself on the back! Celebrate by going to take a nap. Now, when you’re ready to get started again, try to do even less than you were doing in Step 1 above. Pare some of your actions down. Look for more fat to trim. See if some things really aren’t as necessary as you thought they were. Pass some things on to others, automate other things, delay on still others, and get out of doing still others by calling up someone or emailing them and explaining, “I’m sorry, I just can’t do as much as I originally planned.” Now you’re doing less than before!
Repeat. Keep doing less until you’re doing almost nothing. When you’ve reached that point, congratulations! You’re a master. When you can get by with doing nothing at all, you’ve reached Nirvana and enlightenment and you should really be teaching me instead of the other way around.
Some other ideas to consider when learning to Do Less:
- Go with the flow. Imagine the effort required to swim upstream compared to moving with the flow of a river. If you go with the flow of things, rather than against them, you will naturally do less, and with less effort.
- Don’t force things. A common mistake — trying to hard, forcing something that doesn’t want to be forced, forcing people to do things they don’t want to do. A lot of effort, action, and time is wasted. Instead, find a smoother way — think of water, which flows around things rather than trying to force its way through them.
- Find the pressure points. In martial arts, instead of using maximum force, you are wise to find the points in the body where less force can be used to greater effect, whether that’s to cause pain or imbalance or some other effect. Well, I don’t advocate finding pain, but the idea of pressure points is a good one: if you can find the little spots where a little action can change everything, can go a long way, you have mastered the Do Less philosophy.
- Let others do. Give others the room and freedom to move, to create, to invent, to learn, to work, to do, on their own. Less time, effort and action spent trying to control others means that you do less, but let others make things happen. It means letting go of control, but that’s a good thing. Other people have creativity, imagination, dedication, good ideas too.
- Let things happen. Often our actions interfere with events that would happen without our actions. In other words, if we took no action, things would happen without us. Sometimes it’s better to let things happen. Step back, don’t act, things will happen without us.
“Doing nothing to disturb the spontaneous flow of things.” – Lao Tzu