THERE IS AN OLD story of a man riding very fast on a horse. As he rides past his friend standing on the side of the road, the friend yells, “Where are you going?” The rider turns toward his friend and yells, “I don’t know, ask the horse!”

The pace and intensity of our lives, both at work and at home, leave many of us feeling like the person riding that frantically galloping horse. Our incessant busyness—too much to do and not enough time; the pressure to tick off items on our to-do list by each day’s end—seems to decide the direction and quality of our existence. But if we approach our days in a different way, we can consciously change this out-of-control pattern. It only requires the courage to do less.

This may sound easy, but doing less can actually be very hard. Too often we mistakenly believe that doing less makes us lazy and results in a lack of productivity. Instead, doing less helps us savor what we do accomplish. We learn to do less of what is extraneous and engage in fewer self-defeating behaviors, so we craft a productive life that we truly feel good about.

As the CEO of an executive coaching and consulting company, I am certainly not immune to the pressures of balancing work, family, and relationships. Since I am also a Zen priest, I have spent much of the past 25 years exploring how to apply Zen practices to work and relationships, as well as how to apply work and relationships to Zen practice. Recently I have organized some of my insights about productivity and well-being into a five-step practice. “The Less Manifesto,” as I call it, focuses on engaging less in five self-defeating habits in order to experience more ease, more composure, and better results in our own lives and in our relationships with others.

I have compressed each of the five habits into one word—one behavior or activity we can do less of—but each represents a huge arena of human emotion and psychology. The list is inspired by the traditional five hindrances of Buddhism, but I have adapted it to the day-to-day challenges I observe in working with clients. The activities or categories are these: fear, assumptions, distractions, resistance, and busyness.

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