The noble art of leaving things undone

Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of  non-essentials.

Back in the 1930s, the Chinese author, Yutang Lin, shared the above thought in his book ‘The Importance of Living’. I must admit that when I first read these lines, my reaction was a somewhat cynical ‘Sounds great – not going to work for me though’.

Sometimes I feel like a plate-spinner. I was talking about this with my husband at the weekend: how sometimes just staying on top of things feels like an exercise in perpetual motion. That conversation was about life in general but it’s just as relevant to my work. In an effort to be super-efficient, I seem to lose sight of the relative importance of each task.

Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wi

What if I were to take a leaf from Yutang Lin’s book and seek to eliminate all of those   non-essentials? Even the thought of that makes me slightly nervous: that nervousness suggests to me that I’ve lost perspective somehow and that things are out of balance.

A lot of the things I do are to save time. However, in order to save time later, I spend time now. Is that always a good transaction? What if some of those tasks actually don’t make much difference? What if I’m just doing them because I’ve got into the habit?

What would happen if I left them undone? What would happen if I not only left them undone but also chose not to feel guilty about it?

This is what I’m going to try: I’m going to list everything I consider I need to do on a particular day. I’m going to ensure I list everything, whether major responsibility or tiny task. Then I’m going to review it and remove half of it, taking away those things which I’m not absolutely required to do. I’m going to list those removed items on to a different piece of paper, squirrel it away in my desk and agree to come back to it 3 days later: then I’m going to forget about them.

When I return to the list, I’m going to assess the impact (or otherwise) of setting aside those tasks. Did the economy collapse? Did I irretrievably lose ground at home or at the office? I can say right now that I’m pretty certain that won’t be the case. So did I actually need to do those things when I first scheduled them? Do I actually need to do those things now? Do I choose to do some of them anyway because they will be fun or useful or satisfying?

Now I’ve thought about it, I’m rather looking forward to this experiment. Want to join in?

This week’s pebble for your pondering:  how will you practice the noble art of leaving things undone?

Any thoughts?

Michelle

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’d like to make progress in your work and life, why not email me to see how we can work together?

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2 Responses to The noble art of leaving things undone

  1. Michelle. I wish you well in your journey. I believe that Yutang Lin left us with some subtle, often overlooked but extremely helpful advice – particularly as citizens of a disordered and chaotic information based society. How can we stay informed, stay connected and yet not keep adding to the list of daily tasks?
    My answer is based within the practice of Tai Chi that provides us with many physical routines to help accomplish this lifestyle. Some of which I have gone into detail over at my blog on http://www.teapotmonk.com, where we take the idea of non-intervention as a tool of not doing less, but of achieving the same, or even more by interfering less. And it seems to work.
    I´ll be awaiting eagerly your updates as to how you fare. Thanks for your article.

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