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Chop Wood, Carry Water

Updated: Apr 22, 2023


A few months ago, while listening to a meditation podcast, the speaker quoted an ancient Zen teacher, "Chop, wood. Carry water." Since then, I have printed this out on a small piece of cardstock. As I sit typing at my desk, I can see it out of the corner of my eye. It is a simple phrase but one that has become a mantra for me.


I tend to be easily distracted. In grad school, my very studious roommate was frustrated by my study habits. I would write a sentence or two and then get up and make a cup of tea. Sitting back down, I would look up something, and type a sentence, then pop popcorn. Then a few minutes later, I would be looking out the window. Now I recognize there may be something bigger than distraction at work here - but I have never had a diagnosis. I always got my assignments done and was at the top of my class. Which probably frustrated her even more.


I still struggle with distraction. However, now I have tools to keep me on track. One of these is this simple piece of cardstock by my desk. What does "chop wood, carry water" have to do with focus, distraction, and productivity? When you are chopping wood, focus on chopping wood. When you are carrying water, just carry the water! Focus on the task at hand! So for me, when I look at that reminder out of the corner of my eye, I am reminded to stay focused on the particular task in front of me at the moment. It has been very helpful.


It is one of many tools I use. Do you have tools that you use to help you with focus? I would love to hear.


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