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How to Be Insanely Productive by Doing Nothing

October 15, 2010

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Facing the Brick Wall

Have you ever struggled to get going on something?  Ever stared for hours at the vast white emptiness of a blank screen thinking, ‘what on earth am I going to write?’  Or started on some new creative project only to stumble at the first hurdle and spend days going round and round in circles wondering what to do next?

Sound familiar?

Well, the next time you hit this wall just remember that the best thing to do is nothing.

What’s that you say?  I should just lie in bed all day or crash out into front of the TV?  Well, not exactly – what I really mean is that the best strategy is to develop the skill of ‘effortless action.’

Action Without Action

The ancient and beardy Chinese first hit upon the idea more than two thousand years ago when they invented the practice of Wei Wu Wei, literally ‘action without action.’

In his Tao Te Ching, Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu pretty much summed up the idea with the enigmatic phrase:

“The Tao does nothing yet leaves nothing undone.”

To Lao Tzu, effortless action occurs when you stop stressing out about the end result and just focus on the job in hand – the gentle scratch of the pen on paper or the tap of fingers on keyboards.

Wu Wei has also been translated as ‘creative quietude,’ or the art of letting-be – and in this way it’s very similar to the idea of flow that I talked about in my post on 10 foolproof ways to a two hour workday.

The Art of Do Easy

If all this seems a bit vague (and let’s face it, what wouldn’t after 2,000 years), a few other pioneers from the modern age have also mastered the art of doing nothing as a route to being creative.

One notable example is renowned space-cadet/beat-junkie William Burroughs who talked about the technique in his brief essay on the art of Do Easy, where he says:

“’Do easy’ is a way of doing.  It is a way of doing everything you do.  ‘Do easy’ simply means doing whatever you do in the easiest most relaxed way you can manage which is also the quickest and most efficient way, as you will find as you advance in DE.”

It’s also summed up in this short Gus Van Sant film:

So, for all you people stressing out about what to write in your next blog post or even about what to cook for your next meal, just remember that the secret actually resides in just letting go and doing what you enjoy.

For two bang up to date takes on this ancient art, particularly on how to use it to find your niche and start making money out of what you enjoy doing, take a look at the brilliant The Power of Enjoyment by John Anyasor and the Zero Hour Work Week by Jonathan Mead.

A Peaceful Easy Feeling

I’ll leave you with perhaps the best modern interpretation of effortless action from the guys over at Dudeism, who have created an entire cult around the film The Big Lebowski.  In their spoof Dude De Ching they describe Wu Wei as follows:

“The dude does not act, yet leaves nothing undone.

Not greedy

All the Dude ever wanted was his rug back.

And to take it easy, man.

Listen, you might learn something:

A peaceful easy feeling.

It’s down there somewhere.

Let me take another look.”


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