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Be More, Do Less

Photo by Jon Jacobsen
It is the stillness that will save and transform the world. ~Eckhart Tolle

Several years ago I lived with a good friend who spoke English as her third language. While she spoke fluently after years of experience, there was one phrase I used that she had trouble grasping at first: Just be.

As in, “After we finish grocery shopping, let’s go to the beach and just be.” She’d always want to finish the sentence. “Just be … relaxing. Just be … writing.”

When I explained what I meant, that I would really just like to sit, observe and exist, without any expectations, she was delighted.

This, she declared, was a very un-American, very un-Western thing to do, which would make sense that why after fifteen years of learning English she’d never heard the phrase.

I read once that we’re called human beings, not human doings, and so I’ve tried in the last several years to just be on a daily basis.

It isn’t easy in a world where we’re constantly plugged in, where calendars beg to be filled and obligations loom around every corner. But it’s not impossible either, and it’s totally worth it.

1. Just being doesn’t mean doing nothing

This was a concept that took me a while to wrap my head around.

For a long time I thought that in order to be, to just be me and nothing else, I must sit and do nothing. That I must be like Henry David Thoreau in Walden, staring out the doorway from sunrise to sunset.

While that sounds nice, it certainly isn’t practical, and for me seems a bit extreme. While I do enjoy sitting on the porch with my tea in the early morning listening to the birds, I also love typing away at my computer after a good workout.

The trick is to be in that moment. As I write away on my latest masterpiece, my vision might go soft for a few seconds as I just sit there, breathing calmly and enjoying it for what it is.

I’m not doing yoga. I’m not meditating. I’m working. But I’m alive in that moment, choosing to do it.

2. Do one thing at a time

I remember when multitasking was something I valued dearly. I was proud of my ability to do several things at once, juggling deadlines and phone calls while walking on the treadmill.

I’m not 100 percent sure here, but I think multitasking is addictive in a way. I found myself pushing to get more done at once, and I started making mistakes. And while I was getting more done, time went so quickly.

When you focus on one task and do it well, you finish more quickly and with fewer mistakes. But you also feel more whole. The phrase “I’m all over the place today,” was common in my vernacular before I adopted this attitude.

Now I feel more calm. More me.

3. Move with purpose

Whether it’s a workout or walking to the bathroom, make deliberate movements. Each one is a choice we make with our body, our vessel while we’re on this planet.

Sometimes when I’d work out, I’d just let my mind wander somewhere else, most of the time to the mental calendar in my head.

I started noticing I was doing this when I was shopping, cooking and even while I was biking on a busy street. I was putting myself in danger by allowing my body to move without my mind. I’d “come to” later and be astonished at how foolish I had been.

When you actively involve your mind in your movements, in your literal actions, you become more responsible for them. You become more integrated and tend to act in harmony.

This allows for greater peace as you’re a more whole being. The side effect of this is that you get better results, without “doing” anything more.

4. Schedule yourself into your day

After my monster to-do list was done, that was when I could spend time just being, I used to tell myself. But as most people can attest, to-do lists never quite disappear.

There was always something else to do. Something more that could be done before it was time to cash in my chips for the day and turn in, wondering again why I couldn’t sleep.

Now, my to-do list includes things like “Be awesome. Knit. Dance like an idiot.” You know, important stuff.

I find the best way to do this is to alternate tasks throughout the day. So if your list includes finishing up a big project, start there. Then do something nice for yourself.

Obviously if you work in an office you’re probably not going to be able to take a five mile hike. But you can go grab a coffee or take a quick walk outside.

Afterward, make that quick phone call about your cable bill that you’ve been putting off. Head back to work on some research for a project.

Then maybe lock yourself in an empty office, turn out the lights and breathe for five minutes. That was one of my favorite things to do when I worked the nine-to-five.

You’ll find that even though you’ve taken a few minutes several times out of your day for yourself, your productivity will soar at work (so your boss will have nothing to complain about) and in life (so that to-do list will still get crossed off) while you’re actually doing less.

And the bonus? Time slows down and you feel so much more alive.

5. Take it easy

Something that has been hard for me to swallow is that just being is a life-long pursuit. I have trouble with the fact that this isn’t something you do for a while, cross of your list and move on. It’s the “doer” in me.

Whenever I get a little worked up about something, my husband will quote one of our favorite comedies: “Take it easy, man.” No matter how crabby I am or how serious the situation seems, I stop and smile. And it’s great advice.

I can’t crack the whip when it comes to just being. I’m not going to get better at it by being more disciplined. It’s a giant paradox, and sometimes, so is life. The only thing you can do is sit back, do what you can, take it easy and enjoy what’s happening right now.

~~~

When I look back at the first twenty-odd years of my life, they’re like a reel in fast-forward. I really don’t remember doing any of those things. Not vividly anyway.

But if I consider my last five years when I’ve been working more on just being, I’m amazed and grateful for the richness, vibrancy and color of so many memories, big and small. And things still get done.

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About the author

Rebecca is a fierce optimist who believes in the power of making life happen. After realizing optimism doesn't jive with journalism, she left newspaper to use her writing to help others. Now she coaches folks using writing as a tool. Balance and mindfulness are her latest pursuits, along with exploring her new home, Germany. Read her blog and follow her on Twitter for her latest enthusiastic (and sometimes witty) remarks.

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13 thoughts on Be More, Do Less

  1. Ah, the art of just being. I find that I often NEED these moments every so often where I just be to counter off the intensity of daily life. It allows me to recalibrate, reevaluate, and find my sanity again.

    Life is fast and as Ferris Bueller says, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

  2. cj

    Your writing style is very engaging and entertaining, Rebecca.
    My wife and I have been working so hard lately and just put our first book out. Now comes all the promoting and the like. So on Saturday, while she was at book club, I simply sat on the front porch, cracked peanuts (the entire bag) and watched cars pass by. It was fantastic!

  3. Vincent: Love that you quoted Ferris Bueller. It’s sooooo true. And that movie rules.

    cj: Thanks so much for the compliment. Glad you enjoy my writing. And congrats on the book … and the bag of peanuts!!

  4. I love sitting and just being. Taking in your surroundings and the beauty all around is so important to living a relaxed and grounded life. “Take time and just be” is something people can consider adding to their to-do lists :)

  5. I think your article brings light to the cliche “calmness in the storm” about not ever being thrown off from anything and having awareness. I think this is what you’re talking about when you mean “be more & do less”

  6. ecka

    just being – easy in theory, but very difficult to do.

    as i seem to encompass what ever i am thinking or doing.

    so the i of the being, becomes one with what ever i am thinking or doing.

    so i may take time out to read the paper & relax, but then i become the thoughts in the newspaper. am i then being, or really just thinking the newspaper articles.

    its difficult to distinguish just being from just singularly thinking!

  7. Rebecca, it is as if this entire post should go up on the mirror. I found that when I lifted weights I was able to do more when I was focused, present. When I was off in la-la land, I lost count and tired more easily. Now I just watch the trees out my window and lift..one..more..time.

    When I was working as a public school teacher, I really could have used five minutes in the dark just breathing. I barely had time to take a restroom break.

  8. I love just be-ing. It is when that peaceful easy feeling takes hold of my very existence, and I am smiling. Great post! It’s exactly where I am at in my life right now. Taking time to just be! Thanks for sharing.

  9. Brittany: Totally agree that people should add it to their to-do lists! Or pencil it in on their calendars.

    ecka: You bring up a good point. I guess it’s different for everyone. I find that if I am present in the moment I don’t lose myself, regardless of my activity. So I guess in your example I would say I’m aware of myself reading the newspaper and then thinking of what I read, instead of maybe reading while thinking about who I was going to share this with or where I could use it later. But I still think it’s also good to just chill and do nothing too!

    Tammy: Thanks for the kind words. I’m pretty sure that post would cover my whole mirror! And I hear you about being a school teacher. The woman who taught me that trick of breathing in a dark room is now a second grade teacher in a high-risk school and I doubt she’s used that since she started. It’s tough work!

  10. Great reminders to be present! I particularly resonated with letting my mind wander when cooking. I’m going to try to be more aware the next time I’m making dinner. :)

  11. Great article. There is way too much multi-tasking in our society. This results in half done, basically junky work. Concentrating on a task or project will allow you to give it your all and bast work. Also as you suggest, just enjoy the ride. When I was younger, I was thinking about the next thing on the horizon instead of enjoying where I was at. Now I take it a step, hour, day at a time and enjoy the process.

  12. GREAT blog! I love #4: “schedule yourself into your day!”
    Wonderful reminder to make time and take care of ourselves too!

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