A moment with Marc Lesser


lesserMarc Lesser is an executive coach, business leader, entrepreneur, Zen teacher and author of the new book Less: Accomplishing More by Doing Less. Lesser was an undergraduate at Rutgers University when he first realized that he needed to find a way of doing less, not more. He traveled from New Jersey to California and spent the following ten years as a resident of the San Francisco Zen Center and five years living at Tassajara, the first Zen monastery in the West. He develops and leads retreats that combine contemplative and leadership practices for business people.

Lesser is founder and CEO of ZBA Associates, a company that provides leadership and communication coaching to corporations, small businesses and non-profits. He has taught at Stanford, lectured at Google and teaches at the San Francisco Zen Center. He is currently Chairman of the Board of the Zen Center and a Board member of Social Venture Network. His first book is Z.B.A. Zen of Business Administration.

The following is a brief Q & A with the author.

What factors are playing into the busyness epidemic?
Two factors that fuel the busyness epidemic are technology and our assumptions regarding time. The internet and all of its many uses (email, blogs, online purchases, newsfeeds, twitter, etc. etc.) and our ability to carry all this technology, and more, in our pockets is one factor underlying our non-stop work and non-stop busyness. We can become addicted to staying connected, checking our email, blurring the lines between work and not-work.

For the most part, I believe our over-reliance on these otherwise useful tools gives us a false, and often comforting, sense of being in control, as well as filling in any uncomfortable spaces we might have in our lives. This desire for control, and avoiding what is difficult, takes us away from the people and natural beauty that is right in front of us. And, as a result, instead of being more satisfied and productive, we find ourselves anxious and depleted. Which, brings me to the second point: our assumptions about time.

Our crazy busyness is also fueled by our attempt to have more control over our lives by how we conceive of time – to see time as linear, as something that can be saved or spent. The more we develop technology and the further we move away from natural rhythms and cycles, the more this false view of time is reinforced. Though we all need to live in the realm of “clock-time,” we also need to be able to feel the truth and power of living in the present moment, outside of clock-time. Though we need to learn from the past and plan for the future, the real challenge, and gift is to learn to appreciate just being alive, this breath, this body and mind.

What exactly is the Less Manifesto you talk about?

The Less Manifesto consists of five core activities to engage in less, in our work and lives: Fear, Assumptions, Distractions, Resistance, and Busyness. Sometimes to even notice these undermining behaviors, we need to slow down or create some other habits or routines – such as pausing during a busy day, a meditation practice, or taking some kind of retreat. The point is to find more meaning, more happiness, and greater productivity through understanding and changing these specific patterns and habits in our lives

How can I possibly do less when my job and my family are screaming more, more, more?
Yes, this is like the carpenter asking, “How can I possibly stop to sharpen my tools when I have so much work to do?” This question also reminds me of the Mark Twain quote: “Having lost site of our goals, we redouble our efforts.”

By doing less, by taking the time to sharpen our tools (you are the tools!) we are actually able to accomplish more with less effort.

I like being busy. Why would I want to change?

Yes, being busy feels great. We all want to be busy. After all, there is much that needs to be fixed, people to take care of, and work to do.

I’m not referring to this kind of busy. I’m referring to the non-stop, over-the-top, going from one thing to another busyness – which we find depleting, which we want to stop, but don’t know how. This kind of busyness often involves avoiding and turning away from difficulty. LESS provides antidotes and practices for undoing this kind of busyness.

My employees look to me as a leader. This requires hard work and lots of it. How can I possibly do less and keep my business afloat?

Yes, running a business and being a leader requires lots of hard work. But, like a great athlete, we need time to replenish and recharge. In order to be most “on” our game, we need time to practice; we need to understand our habits and patterns, and have time for developing new ways of working. We also need time to reflect, to think, to step outside of the usual demands of our lives. All of these activities of doing less lead to more satisfaction, more innovation, and more productivity.

You talk about meditating and going on retreats – I just don’t have time for that in my life. Any other recommendations?
Just taking a few conscious breaths during the middle of the day may help you to renew and recharge. Try it – for the next five days, remember to stop at least once during the day and be aware of taking three breaths. A meditation practice can begin with sitting quietly for five or ten minutes first thing in the morning. What a gift, to just have a little time, when nothing is expected. The way to take a retreat is to put it on the calendar. The world will go on if you take a day or a weekend away. Returning more refreshed, everyone around you will support you taking regular retreats. And you will feel better, and work better!

Visit Marc Lesser’s website at www.doingless.net.

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