Zen is you – Be.

Doing less with less

Posted in satisfaction by dave225 on September 10, 2008

I ran across this blog post yesterday about being a monk – or, like a good, capitalistic member of modern society – take a lesson from a monk. Good thoughts if you can make them work for you. One rule in particular struck me though:

Do less. A Zen monk doesn’t lead a lazy life: he wakes early and has a day filled with work. However, he doesn’t have an unending task list either — there are certain things he’s going to do today, and no more. If you do less, you can do those things more slowly, more completely and with more concentration. If you fill your day with tasks, you will be rushing from one thing to the next without stopping to think about what you do.

I combined this lesson with the way I run larger projects – I committed myself to working on specific tasks for a set period of time. When the time is up, it’s time for a new task. By first prioritizing what I really, really want to get done today, I can start by making a conscious decision about what I will not do today. So when someone asks me about anything that’s not on today’s list, I can respond with, “That is not my focus for today.” Also, by timeboxing (committing a defined duration to work on a task) I have to be sure to get the most out of that time period that I can. So if my goal for the hour is to draw a picture of my dog, I’m going to start with a rough sketch of a dog, and I’ll save the characterization of the fleas until later, if I get to that at all.

Well, I thought this would work out pretty well … But an hour into the day it fell apart. A meeting ran long. And when I returned to my desk, I found six messages waiting for me that a good portion of work from earlier in the week had somehow disappeared. Oh, how I hate a crisis! Side note: When my colleague came to my desk to alert me in person, before she could say anything, I said, “I want to read a quote to you.” The quote was something I had Tweeted earlier in the day:

“Today, I timebox everything. 1 hour to work on project definition. 1 hour to review documents, etc. No exceptions, no emergencies.”

Then I said, “Sorry, but I already claimed dibs on my day. Can’t help ya.” We both laughed and then started to work on the issue. I was prepared to chuck the plan if I needed to – but I think it also helped both of us to start with some levity.

Then I went to lunch and wrote this post.

The afternoon may not end up being any better – the issue from the morning is still unresolved. But I have taken my timeboxes for today, reevaluated them, moved some to tomorrow and kept some for today. So I feel good about having a plan, even if that plan doesn’t work out.

“The plan is nothing. The planning is everything” – Churchill

And I know this method will not work when you have ten hours of work that MUST get done today and something else comes up. But if that happens regularly, back up and plan at the week level or the month level. (Build in some contingency time too, if you need to.) It’s either all going to get done or it’s not. So when it’s “not” – plan so that something gets done, rather than a whole lot of things that get almost done.

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2 Responses

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  1. Make a List « Zen is you - Be. said, on April 13, 2009 at 6:08 am

    […] The point isn’t to help you remember all the stuff you have to do – in fact, if you can do less stuff, that would be my first piece of advice.  And failing that, I might even tell you to let stuff […]

  2. dave225 said, on May 15, 2009 at 9:43 pm

    Related reading: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/232977361

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