Karo Tosen — Summer Furnace, Winter Fan 夏炉冬扇

Doing the right things at the right time is one of the most important concepts necessary to understanding success.

Karo Tosen 夏炉冬扇 [pronounced “ka-roh toe-sen”] means “summer furnace, winter fan” — and sets up a very important understanding about the necessity to do things at the appropriate time to maximize productivity, the chance of success, and the efficient use of focus and resources.

But it also refers to the important understanding that what is appropriate at one time may no longer be appropriate at another time later.

The Right Time for the Right Thing

We can understand Karo Tosen 夏炉冬扇 from a number of different perspectives.

In terms of our own personal productivity, understanding the times of day or the days of the week when we are feeling at our most focused and energetic is an important planning tool. It's even worth keeping an informal log or journal for a few days or weeks to chart your "energy" levels and your productivity to see the times and days that you're at your best.

Once you understand the timing of your peak focus and productivity, you can schedule working on high-value tasks during those times. And you can save mechanical and rudimentary tasks for those times when you're not at your best.

Plan Tactically

A good way to visualize this is to think of a to-do list that you might have. Maybe you have an important presentation to prepare, a complex report to write, and perhaps a handful of "maintenance" tasks like reordering cleaning supples or inventorying office materials.

If you find that you are at your most focused and most energetic early in the morning, you should not be spending that time reordering cleaning supplies. Or doing anything else that requires little focus and energy. Instead, that time is for writing the report, working on the presentation, and doing the hard things and the things that will move forward your tasks and goals.

Then later in the day, perhaps focus wanes and energy-levels go down. This is the perfect time of day to inventory the paperclips and reorder some supplies.

The key point to consider, in this regard, is to be self-aware (think of zanshin – read more here) of when your peak focus and energy levels occur during your day, or week, or month, and to use that information tactically to make the most of that peak energy and focus.

The Strategic Right Time

Karo Tosen 夏炉冬扇 also has significant implications for strategic planning, on both a personal and an organization level.

In so many endeavors, timing is everything. And not just timing, but also the sequencing of tasks.

For instance, many complex projects require tasks to be completed in a certain sequence. Some critical steps can't be completed, or even started sometimes, until other tasks are finished first.

Or resources may be an issue instead of sequence. Perhaps the resources aren't yet available to complete a task and move the project forward.

In all these cases, one must consider the strategic implications of what the "right time" is to do a task. This can take very long-term planning, or at the very least, significant thought as to the right time and place to begin or continue an important task.

The Right Time Evolves

And finally, there is more thought to consider in regards to Karo Tosen 夏炉冬扇.

Today may not be the right time. But perhaps tomorrow will be. Or the day after. Or next year. What may seem out of reach today may become eminently doable in a year or two. Imagine what seemed so out of reach for you five years ago – and perhaps today is now a part of your daily life.

The right summer for a cooling fan may not be this summer. But it may certainly be next summer. Karo Tosen 夏炉冬扇 teaches us that as long as we evolve our capabilities and remain aware, the right time and right place will eventually appear.

We just have to be prepared to recognize it.

Kanji/Katakana Meaning
夏炉 summer furnace/heat (karo)
冬扇 winter fan (tosen)

Editor's Note: This lecture was first delivered by Sensei at the Goju Karate NYC dojo on 28 February 2024.