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Wash Your Bowl

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wash your bowl

A monk told Joshu: “I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me.”
Joshu asked: “Have you eaten your rice porridge?”
The monk replied: “I have eaten.”
Joshu said: “Then you had better wash your bowl.”
At that moment the monk was enlightened.

This is a famous Zen story that I’ve come across many times. There are a lot of different interpretations of it but I thought I would share mine.

It’s the idea that you take care of the right things in the moment. Not later. Not tomorrow.

No, right now.

When you finish eating, you wash your bowl right away. When you finish writing on your computer, you close all your application windows. When you’re done working for the day, you clear your desk.

If you’ve been with us for a while you will notice that it’s very similar to our popular Clearing To Neutral habit. It’s when you clear things and set things up for next time, so you make it easy for your future-self to get started. This minimizes friction which makes it harder for procrastination to kick in.

When you make Clearing to Neutral habitual, you won’t ever have to worry about procrastination again. Maybe this mantra of “wash your bowl” will help.

The next time you’re about to finish something, just say “wash your bowl”. It’s catchy, easy to remember and it can act like a trigger to initiate your Clearing to Neutral habit.

This is one of my personal favorite productivity tips that I always share with others. Want more? Check out The AE Primer.

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4 Comments

Posted by Chantal  | December 2, 2013 at 5:56PM | Reply

Thank you :) . A great reminder.

Posted by Melissa  | May 10, 2016 at 8:09PM | Reply

I love this!

About a month ago I cleaned my entire apartment and got into the habit of putting things away immediately. No excuses. The habit has built up over time and I’ve gotten to a point where I don’t even have the urge to set things aside anymore!

Having this short little mantra should only strengthen this and help me apply this to other aspects of my life! So thanks!

Posted by Alexandra  | June 30, 2016 at 6:11AM | Reply

Whenever I don’t stick to the “wash your bowl” policy, I end up with too many tasks and have a hard time finding my way back to efficiency.
Thank you for the reminder, Thanh!

Posted by A  | July 12, 2016 at 11:21PM | Reply

This is a koan. It’s intended not to have a specific answer so as to convey the futility of logic.

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