The Answer Is Not Better Productivity and Efficiency
Does the thought of doing absolutely nothing for an entire afternoon seem as wasteful as throwing a week’s worth of groceries out with the garbage?
But there are bills to pay, you might say to yourself. I’ve got to get the laundry started. Oh, and return those screws that were the wrong size. While I’m out, I should stop by Costco and then drop off those boots that need new heels. And the garage is just sitting there, waiting to be cleared out…how can I just do nothing?
Free time with nothing to do can generate near panic if you’re chronically overloaded and time-starved.
“We seem to have a complex about busyness in our culture,” says Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul. “Most of us do have time in our days that we could devote to simple relaxation, but we convince ourselves that we don’t.”
And yet, the harder we push, the more we need to replenish ourselves. As Stephan Rechtschaffen, author of Timeshifting, says, “Each of us needs some time that is strictly and entirely our own, and we should experience it daily.”
The importance of this downtime cannot be overstated. We see more clearly, we hear more keenly, we’re more inspired, we discover what makes us feel alive.
On some level, we know this already. But claiming time to ourselves— time that is often labeled “unproductive”—and sticking to it can be difficult. We need to establish formal boundaries around our idle time to ensure that others—and we, ourselves—honor this time. Some ways to do this are:
- Make a date with yourself. Get to know someone who deserves your attention—you.
- Stand firm. Learn how to say “no” to co-workers, children, a spouse or a friend. In just a short while, you can say “yes”; now is your time.
- Be clear about your needs. It’s not, “I need more time to myself.” It’s more like, “I’d like to spend 20 minutes by myself in the morning before everyone gets up.”
- Be on the lookout for stolen moments. Use a canceled dental appointment to sit on a park bench watching pigeons.
- Practice doing nothing. “Doing nothing” is an art, and like all art, you need to practice it to reach your highest potential.
How we define idle time varies by individual. For one person, gardening may be meditative downtime, whereas for another, it is one more item on the to-do list (to be done as quickly as possible). A walk through the woods is, for some, an opportunity to be in and with nature; for others, it’s a great place for a power walk while dictating letters into your phone.
Our idle time should be like a beautiful flower: it has no purpose– it’s just there–yet it refreshes us and reminds us of nature’s glory.
Do something that has no purpose other than joy. Take a half-hour a day to surprise and delight yourself. Keep it simple, and keep it consistent.
There’s a good chance you’ll find yourself happier, kinder, more inspired— and more successful with all that you do