“Really Skillful People Never Get Out of Time, and Are Always Deliberate, and Never Appear Busy.”

“Speed is not part of the true Way of strategy.  Speed implies that things seem fast or slow, according to whether or not they are in rhythm.  Whatever the Way, the master of strategy does not appear fast….Of course, slowness is bad.  Really skillful people never get out of time, and are always deliberate, and never appear busy.”

–Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings

I often think about how to incorporate the quality of “unhurriedness” into my life, and I recall this passage often. If you want to read more about that, check out Happier at Home, chapter on “Time.” (You can read it as a sample chapter here.)

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  • Emily Allen

    That’s an interesting contrast to our society that thinks we should ALWAYS appear busy, or else we aren’t doing enough.

    • rlepkan

      I totally agree. It seems that if you don’t appear busy and in a rush then you aren’t successful.

    • Cyndi

      I agree. I wonder if this stigma streches past “American” culture and if so how much?

  • That sort of perspective is interesting. I try my best to be deliberate with my time and when I succeed it feels absolutely amazing.

  • John

    Yes, appearances should never be the metric, only end-of-the-day productivity and results. However, human nature runs unfettered in the workplace like a screaming child with scissors.

  • Penelope Schmitt

    The way our society values busy-ness infuriates me, frankly. I am a person who creates and gets things done by staring at the wall a lot–I always was. Then, when I have my mind set, I can get through something quite steadily. I never have been a ‘smoothly running engine of production’, that’s just not my style. Because my ‘product’ was good, my vague-seeming work habits were accepted.
    I learned in my career as a civil servant that people who were always ‘crashing on projects’ or ‘working until 2 a.m.’ or multitasking or ‘keeping seven balls in the air at one time’ could usually be found, underneath it all, to be avoiding a personal problem by making a big kerfluffle about work, or were over-committing and under-performing in many ways. They managed to maintain reputations for being workhorses despite their dubious level of productivity.
    I had great admiration for my colleagues who could walk in at 0800, sit down and just start to quietly churn out work without making any fuss whatever. What they seemed to have was a total lack of RESISTANCE to getting started or to keeping on with what they intended to do. It WAS a Ninja-like skill. One particular friend devoted part of every Friday to clearing out obsolete files, and every office she ever worked in was the better for her unobtrusive, cheerful, steadiness at work.

  • LizCat

    I have an aunt approaching 70 who always, always has moved very slowly and deliberately, even when she was young. She’s by far the most productive person I know, but her methods are invisible. So many times I’ve had a huge holiday dinner at her house and tried to figure out how she manages to cook, visit, and clean up (refusing help) without ever appearing to do any work at all. Unfortunately, I’m the opposite–I get frantic over the smallest task, like trying to pack one suitcase. I’ll have to look further into developing more deliberate ways.

    • Kate

      That’s funny, LizCat, as my response to this post involves an aunt as well. Once I made a road trip up to visit my aunt and uncle and upon my arrival, found my aunt making a pie in honor of my visit. After greetings all around I sat in the kitchen, chatting with my aunt while she assembled the pie. (I offered to help but she said she was fine.) I remember getting internally antsy because every motion of hers was so deliberate and felt so slow. Rolling out the door, walking leisurely over to double-check the recipe, carefully taking out a piece of baking equipment, etc. I feel almost twitchy like c’mon c’mon why are you so SLOWW???

      And yet, once the pie was in the oven and I glanced at my watch, I realized that she’d put this pie together in the same amount of time I would have made a pie, with all my rushing around and being busy and hurrying….

      • Sarah

        Do you think it is not multi-tasking? Doing one thing at a time (assembling a pie, though chatting, is really focusing on one thing) is more focused and attentive. Could that be it?

        • Penelope Schmitt

          oh YES. Try JUST washing the dishes. It is not easy to really do one thing at a time, but it is much more enjoyable and effective.

  • I strive for deliberateness but readily admit my tendency is to be busy, frantic, frenzied. Not a quality I like about myself.

    LizCat, I love the story about your aunt. I aspire to exactly that.

    • johanna knaus

      very interesting posts…thank you cyber friends.

  • Lisa H.

    I long to be deliberate, unhurried, and aware of all my responsibilities as I choose what to do and when to do it. How does one attain that?! So often I feel like many things are falling through the cracks while I manage the most urgent things.

  • remotegate

    Great post looks very nice to see.
    Sliding Gates

  • Holly

    I think many folks confusing being busy or looking busy with being important. I recall in the 80s and 90s (and still today) folks that brag about being too busy to take vacation.

    Being organized (in whatever fashion works for you) is the key. Most people don’t have a system and thus they keep doing things the same way every day. Nothing changes.

  • Margaret

    I like to think I stay busy, but rarely look busy. I would much rather be deliberate with each move I make, rather than hurry through a task which can make for a haphazard product or less-than-stellar performance.

    It’s not about the number of things you accomplish. It’s about how well you complete the things you do accomplish.

  • Jeanne

    So much of the busy/rushed thing goes back to overcommitment. The inability or unwillingness to say NO and set priorities. Also the idea that if you’re not frantically busy you’re a loser or something. We in America are so afraid of missing out on something. Read Eckhart Tolle in the Power of Now on staying present. It’s all about doing things deliberately, which usually means more slowly.

  • Crazyworld

    I’d like to meet such a person, who gets it all done – full time job, kids, exercise, cook three meals from scratch, house in order, bills paid, yard work done, have time for fun. Without the aid of a secretary, nanny and housekeeper. If found, this person should share with the rest of us their skill.

  • I love that message. Being busy and in a hurry so easily becomes a way of life. When you slow down and tell yourself you have more than enough time, life is simpler and more beautiful. Great inspiration this morning, thank you 🙂

  • Kathy

    I love this quote and concept. I fight against feeling hurried all the time, and mostly that feeling is self-inflicted–I get caught up in the do-more, hurry, hurry culture we live in. Thank you for posting this.

  • Just recently I had a great discussion at dinner about the business that consumes us, specifically in context of eating our meals.

    I wondered if our desire to eat as quickly as possible was instinctual, back to the cave -dwelling days where food may be stolen from us. Just watch the way animals eat, they are defensive and quick about it.

    Eating slower has been linked to lower stress (and greater enjoyment), but this is also counter to the way our minds process enjoyment (Duration Neglect). We won’t remember any greater enjoyment by eating slower, but we will remember more intense feelings.

    It’s been a fun practice to sit at the table, maximizing our time there and eating slower and evaluating how we feel afterwards.

  • Deb

    Penelope, Loved reading your comments below. You are SO right! Deb

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  • Ginger

    GREAT quote… a former pastor of mine used to say, “There is enough time in the day to do gracefully all the things you need to do.” The implication is that if you’re not getting something done, or not in a “busied” manner, you’re doing something that’s not needful.