Doing Less: A 5-Step Practice To Get More Done

Nov 2, 2021

With somewhat of a compulsive personality, stepping away mid-project can be almost impossible at times. The "busier" I feel, the more difficult is it to step away from being "productive". That "busy" feeling and drive to be productive are just symptoms of mental clutter, disorganized thoughts, and fixating on little issues for too long in one sitting. There is one thing I do that breaks me out of the anxiety of not being productive enough, and often, leads to solutions revealing themselves, new ideas sparking, and an increase in actionable accomplishments. Meditate.


Someone you might see as successful/productive/together may have mentioned meditation to you - or you've heard the Tony Robbins/Tim Ferriss/guru-types talk about meditation like a super power. The thing that frustrates me, more than anything, is they never tell you what they do. I have no idea what they do. The one person out there I've really heard talk about how he meditates is Naval Ravikant (@naval on Twitter). He has a great post on meditation (Read the thread on ThreadReader). Even Naval would tell you to take his meditation recommendations with a grain of salt - so take mine with no more weight.

I do think Naval gets it right when he says the purpose is to do nothing. Humanity has only been in this single-track mind of constant productivity since the late 1800s. That's like 3 to 5 people ago, depending on how young your ancestors had their babies.


Over the last two years, when I get stuck in the course of work or start to feel the subtle mental shake that is anxiety starts to reveal itself, I've begun to train myself to stand up from my desk and decompress. Here's how I do it:

1. Sit (or lay) somewhere with minimal potential distractions. I'll sit in what's called the half lotus. That's just what's comfortable for me. Do what's comfortable for you. (Or don't - remember, I told you to take this all with a grain of salt 🤌).

2. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. I'll pay particular attention to the position of my body. How are my hips aligned? Am I hunching my back? Where are my hands?

I've found that putting my hands on my knees, instead of in my lap, and sitting with my shoulders and back straight actually forces my chest to open up, which leads to deeper breathing.

3. Don't try to actively clear your mind. I'm not sure it's possible. Visualize yourself stepping back from your thoughts. Watch them like the stock ticker on the bottom of business TV. Just take notice - see what comes up. The point is not to fight it or resolve all the issues. It's just to watch.

4. Notice your brow - if you find yourself stuck on a particular thought, try to feel the position of your face.

Try this: I want to you close your eyes right now, and picture an object, like an apple. Envision it. I'll wait.

Did you notice your facial muscles actually contracted as if you were looking at something physical in front of you? We can't control that physiological response, and we end up actually, physically, looking at the thoughts. When you get stuck, intentionally relax your face, let your eyes roll back in your head, and the thought may just float away.

5. Do this until you can't any longer. It might suck. It might not be fun for the first bit, while you clear out your "mental inbox". Stick with it. You'll soon start to find you need less time to bring your mind back to the center. You'll find that some insult from 20 years ago still really bothers you and that you can let it go. You'll remember that thing that you said you'd do two weeks ago and never did, and you might realize that it was fine that it didn't get done.

Ultimately, what you'll realize is that you're not just carrying around the weight of today - you're probably carrying years of mental paperweights around all the time.

Taking a pause, forcing myself to "do less", and just sitting, processing, breathing deeply, and watching my thoughts float by (haven't gotten to every day yet, but I'm trying) has unlocked a world of creativity, ideas, solutions, and honestly, just made my life more peaceful.

I hope it can do the same for you.