Bruce Lee is one of history’s most productive people, which is amazing considering he died at 32 years old. He was an action film star, martial artist, instructor, screenwriter, director and philosopher. Here’s just a little bit of what we can learn from him.
Get Rid of the Unessential
Bruce Lee created Jeet Kune Do as a system of martial arts and philosophy. The basic philosophy of this system was to reduce movement and thought to just the essential actions. In Lee’s words, it’s to “Hack away at the unessential” because “the height of cultivation always runs on simplicity”.
Lee constantly talked about efficiency, directness and simplicity as being the “economy of motion”. In his martial arts, it was about reaching the target as quickly as possible with maximum force — or, to put it another way — doing it quickly, correctly and without a lot effort.
From a productivity point of view, this is one of the basic ideas Lifehacker is founded on. Lee talked a lot about what we talk about in simplicity, focusing on the essential and minimalism. The easiest way to make something simple? Get rid of every extraneous part until it’s just what you need. This isn’t just about what you already have either. Lee was fond of telling people to absorb what they found useful and discard everything else.
Pay Attention to How You Interact with Others
With any type of martial art, you need to pay attention to not only yourself but what people are doing around you. For Lee, this awareness was a foundation for looking at yourself:
Awareness is without choice, without demand, without anxiety; in that state of mind, there is perception. To know oneself is to study oneself in action with another person.
The idea that you should pay attention to how you interact with others isn’t just about martial arts, of course. It’s about all types of communication. From the office to your relationships, having the ability to study yourself and how you communicate will make you better at it than someone who only looks at themselves.
Balance Your “Thinking Time” and Your “Doing Time”
Depending on the type of person you are, it’s often easy to go overboard with your preparation time or how much time you spend on actually doing a project. Of course, you can’t do one without the other, and Lee recommends a very careful balance between thoughts and action:
When our mind is tranquil, there will be an occasional pause to its feverish activities, there will be a let-go, and it is only then in the interval between two thoughts that a flash of UNDERSTANDING — understanding, which is not thought — can take place… Balance your thoughts with action. — If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.
We’ve talked plenty about the idea of thinking time in all forms, but it’s incredibly easy to get lost in that rabbit hole of preparation and forget to move yourself toward action. Thankfully, getting started is all it takes sometimes.
One of Lee’s main goals with Jeet Kun Do was to create a system that could adapt to situations and people. To a point, this was about fluidity. Lee thought that we should all be able to function in any situation we’re thrown in and that awareness of is about being able to adapt:
Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. That water can flow, or it can crash. Be water my friend.
Lee’s main point here, and with a lot of his ways for living, is that we need to remain flexible as often as possible. That means adapting to situations at work and in life. It’s also important to cultivate knowledge and try to see from another point of view so you can react to situations. For a lot of us, this is really about training ourselves so we’re more aware of our surroundings.