Zen Productivity: One Principle That’ll Change Your Life

This one started out as a post I wrote a few years back about how to use Zen principles to massively boost your productivity.

Now, here’s the incredible thing though: It’s still true to this day that the very same principle I explain in this guide is still the only reason why I’m able to get so much done, so quickly.

To put it into perspective, I’m now able to wrap up my whole day’s work in about two and a half hours, while it used to take me anywhere from 6-10 hours for the exact same output.

Well, I say “exact same,” but the truth of the matter is, that the increased flow made such a positive effect on what I’ve bee putting out. It’s no longer as “disjointed” as it was in the beginning, which is something I really notice when I look back at my old writing.

So, since the information in this post is still just as life-changing as it was back then, I’ve decided to let it resurface on the internet with a

Let’s jump right into it.

A Samurai’s Secret

You may or may not have heard about a certain masterless samurai who, through his mastery of Zen Buddhism, strategy, and swordsmanship, became renowned for his record of going undefeated in as many as 60 duels during his lifetime, often without even using a real sword, and sometimes using two swords at once. His name was Miyamoto Musashi.

The interesting thing about Musashi’s invincibility, is that it’s not unheard of in Zen.

In fact, there’s even a word for it: Fudoshin.

Fudoshin is a mind of indomitable will, filled with the determination to surmount every single obstacle in its path: Never stopping, never distracted, and impervious to fear.

Zen Master Takuan Soho said that with this flowing state of mind, even if ten people were to come at you with swords slashing, you would be able to defeat each one in turn. Musashi himself at one point took on an entire sword school at once and still managed to defeat them, all because he had this same undivided spirit.

What Exactly is Fudoshin?

Takuan explained it very simply as “not stopping the mind.”

He said to think of it in this way:

When you first see a sword moving to strike you, if you think of meeting that sword just as it is, your mind will stop at the sword in that position and you will be cut down by your opponent. That is what is meant by stopping.

Now, if ten people, each with a sword, were to come at you with swords slashing, if you parry each sword that moves to strike you without stopping the mind at each action, and go from one to the next, you will not be lacking in a proper action for every one of the ten.

That is Fudoshin. And it’s not just for warriors too. There’s this amazing story I’ve always loved about Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki which perfectly illustrates how you can use this in your daily life.

It takes place at the Tassajara Zen Center in San Francisco, on a day when he and his students took some tools and climbed up a long, hot, dusty mountain trail to work on some project.

It wasn’t long after they had reached the top of the mountain before it dawned on them that they had forgotten the shovel, so they began discussion to figure out should go back and get it.

However, after they had decided who should go, they realized that Shunryu wasn’t there.

He was already halfway back down the mountain, on his way to pick up the shovel.

Now, this is exactly the kind of productivity that you’ve been chasing all this time. Think about it. If you were like this all day you’d get an absolute ton of stuff done.

“You’re a MACHINE,” they would say.

And rightly so. Not because you’re actually mechanical or something, but because you nail each task without stopping before each action. Because you do each thing to your fullest without even the slightest delay between them.

You see, we place way too much importance on trying to do things faster, to try to work harder or for longer, completely ignoring the fact that we actually waste far more time through ineffectiveness rather than inefficiency.

The difference between the two is simple, but knowing that difference is the absolute key to productivity. It’s the difference between these two:

  1. Being busy all day, multitasking and slogging your way through, yet getting barely anything of any value done.
  2. Doing each thing at a relaxed, natural pace, yet finishing everything you needed to accomplish with plenty of time to spare.

Pareto’s law captures the essence of this madness perfectly. It’s a rule of thumb more commonly known as the 80/20 rule, but don’t get too hung-up on the numbers.

Pareto’s Law: The 80/20 Rule

The idea is that roughly 80% of the effects of something come from 20% of its causes; that 80% of your output comes from 20% of your input.

Basically, it states that you’re basically wasting most of your time doing things the way you do normally. You’re 80% inefficient.

On the contrary, fudoshin is the mind that cuts out that entire wasted 80% of your work time that’s spent dithering, wavering, and just plain spacing-out. What’s left, is pure productivity.

The principle here is to spring into action immediately, and to not stop the mind at anything at all. That even means even going from one task to the next without interval.

If you act without stopping to choose, without hesitation and without second guessing yourself, you’ll find quickly yourself in a state of flow that seems to solve all those questions and considerations that you thought you needed to address before moving on.

That’s because the very act of self-consciousness observation causes you to completely mess up your capacity to perform whatever task it is you’re doing at the moment. All stopping is simply the habitual re-entrance of self-consciousness.

Think about it. Even if you needed to use your mind to work something out or picture something, there’d still be no stopping there.

So, in the end, there really is no place for stopping anywhere at any point when you’re trying to be productive. It just artificially inflates the time you spend doing things with mental busywork.

Make things easier for yourself, and just keep moving on.

At first it’ll feel just plain weird to keep moving forward when you’re so accustomed to stopping every 10 seconds, but the key is in understanding that you don’t need to be so conscious of what you’re doing. The truth is, the unconscious machinery of your brain and nervous system together are far more suited to this than you are.

Self consciousness simply occupies the faculties of that machinery in you. It gets in the way, and doesn’t contribute anything to solving the problem in front of you.

When you talk things through in your head, who are you talking to? Well, obviously yourself. But if it’s you you’re talking to, the amount of information passed on is effectively zero. If you didn’t already have the information in the first place, then you wouldn’t have been able to say it to yourself at all.

See what I mean? We’re going round in circles by doing that, and it’s all because we’re addicted to trying to get “in” on the action.

We’re trying to become conscious of what doesn’t need to be conscious, and by doing so, we completely mess up our inner workings by getting ourselves in a twist.

This all too familiar phenomenon was summed up perfectly in an old rhyme:

The centipede was happy, quite,
Until a toad in fun
Said, “Pray, which leg goes after which?;
This worked his mind to such a pitch,
He lay distracted in a ditch,
Considering how to run.

It’s called the centipede effect, named after that rhyme, and it’s the bane of your existence. Well, it’s the bane of your productivity at the very least, and that’s what we’re trying to solve here.

So, go away and get something done. Don’t stop after reading this post. Start to develop trust in your unconscious machinery, and you’ll honestly surprise yourself with how time flies by, as well as how fast your output piles up, all while actually reducing work fatigue, because you’re no longer opposing yourself all the time.