- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The less you do the more productive you can be. Really? That sounds counterintuitive, to say the least.

Not at all, says Marc Lesser, Zen teacher, entrepreneur and author of “Less: Accomplishing More by Doing Less.”

According to Mr. Lesser, many of us are so stressed out - particularly in the workplace, but also at home - that we don’t ever stop to feel and figure out our priorities. We simply power through, crossing out one thing after the other on our never-ending to-do lists whether the items truly are important or not.

“We often confuse activity with productivity,” he says.

In other words, we’re not always clear about purpose and goals and what tools we need to achieve them. Literally.

“A carpenter who doesn’t take the time to sharpen his tools will work a lot longer and harder than a carpenter who stops and makes sure his tools are up to the challenge,” Mr. Lesser says.

Same goes for the world’s best athletes. They know more isn’t necessarily better. Being efficient with your resources, though, is.

“The world’s best tennis players can even lower their heart rate between points,” Mr. Lesser says.

OK, that might be a little much to ask from the rest of us, but we can learn to be more efficient with our resources, Mr. Lesser says.

The first step is to clear the mind through meditation, whether it lasts for a minute or 30 minutes. The main thing is to focus on the breathing and the state of the body. Is it tense? Is the breathing short and shallow?

Then, for a moment, try to abandon the to-do list for the day, the week, the month and, instead, appreciate life in all its mysteriousness and fragility.

“It will give you a greater sense of ease and perspective and help you distinguish what’s important and what’s not,” Mr. Lesser says.

Mr. Lesser has taken his teachings to managers and leaders of major companies to unleash creative energy.

David Levy, a San Francisco entrepreneur and chairman of On the T Capital LLC, a social profit-holding company, is one such leader who says he has benefited greatly from Mr. Lesser’s “less is more” teachings.

“I’ve learned to practice stopping to access creativity,” Mr. Levy says. “Stopping in the middle of business allows us to get out of our heads.”

Out of the hamster-on-a-wheel mode and into what’s-important-in-life thinking. Meditation ultimately helped Mr. Levy do just that. A few years ago, he stepped out of a high-paying job at an investment bank into uncertainty.

It ultimately led to doing what he wants, helping others find their creativity and mindfulness: One of Mr. Levy’s companies is a retreat, the Mayacamas Ranch in Calistoga, Calif.

Mr. Lesser’s teachings, however, are not limited to the workplace. They can be used by anyone, particularly at this time of anxiety about the state of the financial world - our own and the one at large - he says.

“This is a time when people are feeling a lot of pain and a lot of fear,” he says. “I can’t think of a better time to step back and say, ‘What’s really important to me?’ ”

He recommends meditating in the morning - to get you off to a good start - and then repeating it throughout the day, if only for 30 seconds at a time.

Meditation, which Mr. Lesser says has been shown to reduce the amount of stress hormone released by the brain, can help counteract today’s ubiquitous frantic way of life.

“Busyness has become the new ‘fine.’ When you ask people how they’re doing, they respond ‘Busy,’ and you get extra credit if you say that while checking your BlackBerry,” he says.

In the end, being efficient and productive is not about making a to-do list or even managing your time.

“It’s about managing your state of mind,” he says.


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