Efficiency: Slow it down

Marc Lesser has a new book just out, “Less: Accomplishing More by Doing Less.”

I ordered it automatically, based on my resonance with his previous book, “Z.B.A. – Zen of Business Administration.”

I’m not disappointed.

Lesser contrasts one form of “busy,” as in feeling great being busy earning a living, effectively leading others, achieving artistically, with the other form he calls “busyness – that crazy, nonstop, way-too-busy ceaseless activity that exhausts our efforts and yet leaves us feeling as if we are getting nowhere.”

When we’re caught in this kind of busyness, we usually have monkey mind, debilitating stress, self-doubt, angry outbursts or other emotional explosions and avoidance of difficulties. We feel like the guy Lesser wrote about at the beginning of his new book: “A man is 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!'”

We are pelted with news about the economic crisis. It’s easy to feel and act like the crisis itself is that horse, and we’re just hanging on for dear life. We might fantasize that if we work extra hours, neglect family and social life, and tear around in a state of “busyness,” maybe we will hang on  to our business through this crazy, galloping time. I can just hear Dr. Phil asking, “And…how’s that working for you?”

The central theme of Lesser’s book is that less effort accomplishes more. You may well identify with some of the sports analogies he weaves into the theory. I do.

I’ve way too many ugly memories of tensing up, picturing the tee shot that I was going to send flying through the atmosphere. Now I’m back into tennis and find I can perform the same awful trick, gritting my teeth for that killer shot which ends up in the net. Trying too hard – how many times have we said that to ourselves?

Lesser recommends a host of methods for expending less effort and getting more results. To perform well, we want a calm, composed mind. Think of Captain Chesley Sullenberger’s landing in the Hudson River.

A host of things fight against the ability to enter a calm, composed state: tension, trying too hard, anxiety, an overly busy mind, our inner critic or a negative inner voice. Lesser maintains that less striving, less trying, less racing and less pushing can lead to surprisingly better results.

I think we all know this in our depths, but get caught up in the myth of busyness as a cure. Unfortunately, it causes more difficulties, including screwed-up relationships, health problems, shrinking respect from our peers and usually a worsening of the situation we are in a frenzy about.

Lesser is a businessman and a Zen priest, so throughout the book he encourages readers to meditate. I invite all my clients to do this simple “sitting,” this focus of attention on one thing, the breath, for example. The invitation is met with a lot of resistance which I understand. Still, any of us who sit in a quiet meditative state for even a few minutes daily know the benefits.

Another suggestion is to “Take a break for a breakthrough.” We need the bubbling of our creative spirits now more than ever. And creativity refuses to be rushed or cornered. Taking a walk with attention devoted to nature,  relaxing in a bubble bath, even fully engaging in play (jacks, Twister, Comedy-Sports, you name it) – these are the times when our smart unconscious mind will deliver great ideas or solutions.

There are many forces making it difficult to simply pause and relax. The gadgets are always there, and maybe we’ll just check e-mail or the latest headlines. We entrepreneurs can easily get hooked on an adrenalin rush that accompanies busyness. Usually we have to commit to taking a break. We have to schedule it and stick to the schedule, in order to take even a 10-minute break every day. The break is a time to let go of your agenda, to gently give your attention to your walking, breathing, to the environment. You want open-ended mental wandering, says Lesser.

I hope you play around with Lesser’s refreshing suggestions. One of his chapters starts off with this bit of wisdom from Henry David Thoreau: “It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” 

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