Stop Doing Things

May 17, 2012 § 7 Comments

The Master does nothing,

Yet he leaves nothing undone.

The ordinary man is always doing things,

Yet many more are left to be done.

Tao te Ching, Chap. 38 (Stephen Mitchell translation)


Our lives often seem like nothing but doing.  Making lists, moving from task to task.  Doing, doing, doing.  Worse yet, we are judged, and we judge ourselves, by what we get done- or fail to get done.  Relentlessly.

I used to be a very important person.  I knew this because I was so busy working on so many important deals.  My days were nothing but coffee, cigarettes, and doing.  Busy, busy in my head- thinking, thinking, thinking.  Knocking down the tasks, one after the other.

But here’s the problem.  The busier I got, the longer my list grew.  And my performance- when I was honest with myself- was often not so great.  I became what I called “the busiest and least productive person I know.”

The Tao lesson shows us the way out of this trap.  “Do nothing” does not mean go to some mountaintop and sit there.  It means that while you navigate your busy, engaged life, you must seek to move out of your dualistic way of thinking.  There is no you and the task.  Just one thing.

We each know what this feels like.  Immersed in reading or riding the exercise bike or designing the building, we can lose the conscious awareness of the activity.  We are just reading, just spinning, just creating.  These aren’t simply moments of immeasurable pleasure; they are also the times of our highest productivity.  Sadly, for most of us, those moments are too few and too far between.

So stop doing things.  Seek to immerse yourself in each moment and feel the weight of dualistic thinking fall away.  Do this and you will become the least busy, and the most productive, person you know.

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§ 7 Responses to Stop Doing Things

  • Wally says:

    Hey Tom, here’s an interesting blogpost by a “recovering lifehacker” that reflects, in a different way, some of the concepts you’re talking about: Keep up the good work! Wally

  • Julianna says:

    Balance is the key, right? We can “do” so long as we’re actually focusing on “being” (e.g. chop wood, carry water). Or at least, connect in with our Being as often as we can – even if it’s just as we are on our commute, brushing our teeth, or lying down to go to bed each night. Baby steps…it’s only the zeroes that don’t add up…everything else accumulates to make a difference!

    • Thomas Ross says:

      Julianna, balance, absolutely. Finding and holding this balance is everything.
      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I visited your blog and it is a stunning composite of image and word.

      Will be happily following your work.


  • Tracie Louise says:

    This is so brilliant and so timely for me. I can totally relate to the busiest person in the world feeling. I have been feeling increasingly time poor lately and the stress of it all almost caused me to collapse. I was the queen of multi-tasking, never just doing one thing at a time. This is just wonderful and inspirational advise… thanks so much.

    • Thomas Ross says:

      Tracie, first, thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment on the piece. I visited your page and the photography is so lush, so interesting. So please don’t collapse. Just keep creating the striking images. Tom

      • Tracie Louise says:

        Thank you Tom.. much appreciated.. and I look forward to reading more of your wonderful thoughts. xxoo

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