Another Day’s Useless Energy Spent

IMO at least half the time people spend working is wasted.   Of the remaining half, about a quarter is actually counterproductive and only the remaining three eighth is usefully employed.    This is not scientific and it varies from time to time and person to person.  But this accounts for how people can be busy all the time and yet produce so little.

This fact came to me when I was walking up my street and saw the pruning job on the tree across from my house.    This tree needed to be pruned.    There was a crack in one of the big side branches.  But as a casual glance at this picture shows, much of the pruning effort was wasted and some actually is damage.   You can see this clearly in something like this tree, but you know this is happening all the time in other walks of life.

The tree will recover and after some years it will look good again.    People will say that the effort was worth it.    But it won’t be true.   It will have recovered from damage done.    Just because the damage is not permanent doesn’t mean it was a good thing.  It is too easy to take credit for something that would have happened naturally, even sometimes for things that would have happened naturally sooner if somebody had not messed with it.

I had an argument with a computer technician a few years back.  He “fixed” my computer and it was slower.   He patiently explained to me that I just didn’t understand the usefulness of his efforts.  Maybe he was right.   But I told him that my philosophy was simple.   If it made it easier and better to use my computer, it was good.  If it made it harder or worse to use my computer, it was bad.  If it did neither of these things, it was a waste of time.    I don’t think this guy really knew what he was doing and tried to hide his incompetence behind a wall of ostensible effort.   It happens a lot.

How much of our daily work could we just not do w/o any negative outcome?   We should just stop doing it.  How much is actually creating more useless work for ourselves and others?   There is a line in the ancient Book of the Tao, “In the pursuit of success, something is added every day; in the practice of Tao every day something is dropped.”  Sometimes it makes more sense to do less or maybe do nothing.    

It is hard to do that in today’s world where we can often not measure outputs or outcomes and so we give credit to inputs or what looks like activity.  But look again at the two trees. I prune the one on the left, but I only prune what I can do with my hand tools and I don’t do much. I look at it for a long time and then I cut as little as I think I can.  I also cut early.  I got the lower limbs when I could still do it with a hand trimmer. Total inputs are low because I am lazy.  Isn’t lazy sometimes better?