The 4 Taoist Secrets to Doing Less and Getting More Done

The 4 Taoist Secrets to Doing Less and Getting More Done
Image by bbjee (license).

Note: This is a guest post by Lori Jewett.

I sometimes feel like I have spent the first half of my life struggling to get ahead and haven't really gotten anywhere to speak of. I'm always in a hurry…no time to talk, I've got “THINGS to do.”

Sound familiar? Western society is terribly goal-oriented and it's almost impossible to avoid being indoctrinated into this accomplishment mindset. We're so anxious to move beyond where we are; to escape our current circumstances and to get to wherever it is that we think we are going. An old Taoist story illustrates my point nicely:

“There was a man who disliked seeing his footprints and his shadow. He decided to escape from them, and began to run. But as he ran along, more footprints appeared, while his shadow easily kept up with him. Thinking he must be going too slowly, he ran faster and faster without stopping, until he finally collapsed from exhaustion and died.

If he had stood still, there would have been no footprints. If he had rested in the shade, his shadow would have disappeared.”

Ancient wisdom can be eerily timely, can't it? Hurrying to escape where we are and to get where we are going, we often rush headlong into disaster. Our fast-paced lives wait for no man (or woman) and create a sense of desperation and time-pressure that can be draining. The anxiety we feel breeds muddled thinking which leads to poor choices. Poor choices lead to suffering and pain. It's a race to the finish that we're destined to lose.

Taoist wisdom suggests that there is another way. Tao, in fact, means “the way” and it refers to living life in the way that nature intended. Many of us spend our time and energy doing battle with life when the key is to live in harmony with it.

So, how does this work?

How do we live in harmony with life?

How can this help us to do less, and get more done?

We can start by listening to the wisdom of voices from the past. While I am only recently acquainted with the principles of Taoism myself and have admittedly limited knowledge, what I have learned so far is just too good not to share.

Here are four Taoist secrets to doing less and getting more done that I have found. I hope they will help you as much as they are helping me.

1. Cultivate Inner Quiet.

Okay, this is no big surprise. The Dalai Lama, Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer, your Aunt Crystal…they've all been saying this for a long time (but I'd venture to guess that the Taoists were among the first). Taoism offers us the same wise advice skewed to the practical.

Meditation, Tai Chi, Taoist Yoga…any of these methods can be used to help us calm our anxious minds and reduce stress, but Taoist philosophy suggests that it can do even more. Cultivating inner quiet helps us to clearly see, not only what is around us, but what is inside of us as well. It enables us to…

2. Live in the Moment.

As members of Western society, we tend to focus our lives on goal attainment, on the great reward that awaits us when we get “there.”

Taoism, like many other philosophies, teaches us that most of life is made up of the long spans of time between accomplishments or goals. Our lives consist mostly of time spent on the journey. Yet we waste most of this time struggling, striving and clawing our way towards our goals; sacrificing enjoying the journey for what amounts to a brief moment of joy when, and if, we reach our destination.

Then we quickly get bored with our accomplishment and it's back to the hamster wheel we go. The Taoists seem to believe that a focus on the present moment and on “what is” will not only create inner peace and help you to enjoy your journey through life, but that it will help you to move forward in life toward your goals quite effortlessly as well. For those of us who are reluctant to let go of our goals, refusing to take our eyes off of the prize, this is added incentive. How does being focused on the now help us to accomplish things? It helps us to see more clearly and choose more wisely…

3. You Can't Save Time…You Can Only Spend It.

Okay, Taoists aren't the only ones saying this either but, again, they can best speak to its practical application. Being attentive to the current moment, you are able to see “what is.”

Seeing “what is”, rather than “what we think should be there”, is immensely helpful. It allows us to recognize our inner nature (who we are and what we have to work with) and to clearly see the circumstances around us. That enables us to get more done with far less effort.

Think of it this way; when we are racing around trying to do everything quickly, we miss the many clues that are around us everyday, clues that can help us on our journey. It's like being in a car that's racing down the highway at 90 mph. How likely is it that you are going to be able to read the road signs that are there to help get you to where you are going?

It's the same principle. The world provides us with many signs that we are on either the right or the wrong track…a hurried mind blows past these signs, seeing nothing more than a blur. Taking time to read the signs helps you to…

4. Go with the Flow.

Tai Chi and other Taoist martial arts require the ability to go with the flow, to yield rather than to resist. Advantage is gained by neutralizing the opponents force or by using it against him rather than by struggling and meeting force with force.

This is often illustrated by the flow of water. When water in a stream is confronted by a rock in it's path, it allows the rock to push it aside, thereby flowing effortlessly around it, rather than trying to plow its way through the rock. Put into practice, this enables us to we work with, not against the circumstances in our lives to get where we are going.

Like all philosophical or spiritual systems, Taoism has much to say about life and I have only managed to touch the tip of the iceberg. While there are as many philosophies of life as there are people, I think that the beauty of Taoism is it's simplicity and its applicability to everyday life.

For more on Taoism, read my post Come On Get Happy – The Taoist Approach to Life at Between Us Girls.

Lori Jewett is a counselor who shares information on health, wellness and personal transformation on her Between Us Girls blog.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Eric Liao

    I personally experienced the image moments recently while I start to take sabbatical leave. I stop scheduling any thing and be more sensitive to inner voice and outside. Realized use heart instead of mind make better decision and solve problem easily.

  • Great article! I have been trying to follow the Taoist way of living, with its emphasis on going with the natural flow of things, for many years. My own blog explores some of these ideas.

  • “If he had stood still, there would have been no footprints. If he had rested in the shade, his shadow would have disappeared.”- These are the golden words to be printed in BOLD. Yes…There is a perfect solution for all problems. we should think positively to get rid of any insane.

  • Tony

    Thanks for this post. It is very timely after the long holiday weekend. The day after a long weekend or holiday seems to put living-in-the-moment to the test.
    Your article was a great reminder to slow down and breathe.

  • Hi Lori… & thanks for the great post.

    I really like the Taoist story. Just print the article. VERY useful, I really felt that you’re talking about me in some sentences!


  • Lori –

    Great post. You and I have great similarities when it comes to our thoughts. Living in the present moment and simplicity are my favorite Mantras.

  • You Can’t Save Time…You Can Only Spend It.

    Now that is sound advice! Great article. ;-)

  • Eric,

    While there is a time and a place for logical analysis, most of us tend to rely on it much too heavily. Sometimes you just have to turn off the analytical side of your brain and listen to your heart.
    I read once that if your having a hard time deciding if a particular path is right or wrong, you should stop evaluating and start listening to what is going on in your body. Tuning into your gut reaction so-to-speak can quickly answer you questions. Is your stomach churning? Do you tense up your jaw or clench your fists when you think of that new job or your upcoming marriasge? That tells you all you need to know.


    I’m glad to hear from someone who is successfully applying Taoist principles. I’m doing my best, but old habits die hard! I find that I need to read up frequently to keep me on track. Maybe your site will give me some inspiration…I’ll have to check it out!


    You’re right…those words should be in bold! I love that story.


    I’m glad I could help you start your week off right!

  • Kaled,

    I’m glad you could relate to my post…it’s funny how sometimes we read a post on someone’s blog and it’s just what we need to hear at that moment, isn’t it? I’ve had that happen a few times myself.


    We do think alike…but I’d dare say you are perhaps a little better at walking the walk than I am at this point. I’m trying to follow your lead. Thanks for the encouragement.

    Marc and Angel,

    Thanks for the positive feedback…I’m glad I could brighten your day.