Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

On Doing Nothing

Lying around. Being a sloth. Doing nothing productive.

If you spend any amount of time, no matter how brief, doing nothing then you’re taking the risk of being branded. And not in a good way.

You’re branded as being lazy.

I’m constantly surprised at how many people blanch at the mere thought of spending a portion of their personal time doing nothing. I often talk about the idle hands syndrome (as in The Devil makes work for …), and far too many people are afflicted with it. Unless they’re spending all or a majority of their waking hours undertaking a constant stream of activities or tasks or projects, they feel like they’re wasting time.

Recently, I spent several Saturdays doing nothing. Well, nothing of consequence. It helped that I was nursing some nagging injuries and that the days were gray and rainy. Both of which sapped my motivation to do things. Instead, I read articles that I saved to Instapaper. I did some cleaning. I spent time with my wife and daughter.

No running around doing various errands. No spreading my energies thinly on things that turn out to be unimportant. And guess what?

I didn’t feel like a sloth.

I wasn’t anxious about getting things done.

I didn’t miss out on anything.

In fact, I felt more relaxed than I had in a long while.

Being Idle Isn’t a Waste

Assembly line productivity usually is.

You don’t need to fill every moment with activities or actions.

The human body and brain are wonderful things that are capable of doing a lot. But the body and brain need time to rest, to refresh, and to reflect. All of that gives you more and better focus when you get back to work.

But just as important is the fact that taking time to do nothing lets you appreciate what you have and what you’ve done. Not just appreciate it, but also enjoy it.

Taking time to do nothing lets you enjoy the company of family and friends.

Taking time to do nothing lets you take in the wonders, no matter how small or slight, of the world around you.

And that’s more worthwhile than filling those moments with work or projects or tasks that can wait for another day.

How to Do Nothing

For many people, that isn’t easy. At one time, doing nothing would have been tough for me too. But here’s what you can do.

Start off slowly. Spend a half hour or a hour a few times a week to do nothing. Ease yourself in. Then, take longer breaks until you’re comfortable with going a whole day without doing much.

Learn to let go. Of stress. Of guilt. Of the misguided desire to do something that I thought was productive.

Next, learn to tell yourself that you deserved a break. It takes a little while to actually believe it, though.

Finally, remember that whatever you think you’re missing probably isn’t going to ruin your life, your relationships, or sanity.

It sounds simple, but it isn’t. It takes time and some discipline to comfortably do nothing. You’ll have to consciously stop yourself from doing those little jobs or from reaching for your phone or tablet. But the results are well worth the effort.

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