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Monk Notes 17 - Productivity and Subtraction

The path to productivity — and to a fuller life — is a path of subtraction, not addition.

This is the reason the lives and environments of monks are so simple. They know that the only way to give our fullest yes to the most important things, is to first say no to everything else. They have come to understand that when we take away as many distractions as possible, our deeper goals, desires, and potential can flourish.

This idea is quite counter cultural. We intuitively equate more with better, and that extends into our view of personal growth. We set new goals, make new commitments, build new habits, form new relationships. We see these additions as inherent goods and that of course we should pursue as many of them as we are able.

But this is in complete opposition to the path of real growth and flourishing.

Any gardener will tell you that in order for a rose bush to flourish, you need to remove anything that gets in its way. Each part of it that is no longer thriving or is going in an unwanted direction gets pruned. Every plant that begins to grow next to it naturally is considered a weed — to be eradicated as soon as possible before it kills the roses. The skilled gardener ruthlessly protects the rose bush and its intended form.

Any editor knows that crafting a great work requires not more but less. They know that the main idea often gets lost amongst the smaller ones, and that a great piece of writing is found when you cut away all the excess. Beauty often dwells not in extravagance but in simplicity, and a skilled editor identifies the beauty and removes every distraction.

​In pursuing our goals and in productivity in general, intentionality is a path of pruning and deleting. We become more intentional not by adding more, but by removing distractions.

All the best,

Steven Lawson

“Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.”

- Pablo Picasso


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Featured Art: One Hundred Views of Mt. Fuji - The Shadow and the Fishing Net, Katsushika Hokusai (1834)