Ilona L. Tobin, Ed.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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

We tend to focus more on gratitude and giving thanks in the fall. Consider, however, all there is to be grateful for every single day.

  1. Color. Sunsets, Gauguin paintings, green peppers, blue eyes. Imagine a world without color.
  2. Beauty. What do your eyes feast on? What splendor makes your soul rejoice? It is all around us every day. How often do you stop to drink it in?
  3. Music. What inspires you, lifts your mood? Rock & roll, African drumming, violin concertos, Turkish ud, gospel? A nightingale?
  4. Young children. They model for us innocence, faith, resilience, playfulness and unconditional love.
  5. The ability to learn. There is no age limit on learning. When we stop learning, we really stop living.
  6. Opportunity. It’s our steady companion, and it’s always ready to take us down a path yet unknown. (Hint: We just have to say “Yes!”)
  7. The plant world. From the productivity of a late-summer tomato plant to the delicate unfurling of a fern, nature’s exuberance and tenderness is something to behold.
  8. The ability to give. Every act of love benefits the giver as much as the receiver.
  9. The senses. Sight, sound, touch, taste and smell—daily miracles each of them.
  10. Change. It’s unavoidable; the only constant. Change can be unsettling or challenging. But the mystery of it and what lies beyond it can keep us young at heart.

Too much to do, too many places to be, too little time to do it all. It’s like our national anthem.

In all areas of our life—home, work, school—we are increasingly imprisoned by the perception that time is a scarce and limited resource. We rush from one commitment or activity to another and believe that we haven’t a minute to spare. We yearn for more time, yet we often feel anxious and guilty when idle.

Is this how life is supposed to be?
No! Nor does it have to be.
But until we change our relationship to time, our lives will continue to speed away from us—at enormous cost to our health and to direct experience of ourselves and the world around us.

“There is no issue, no aspect of human life, that exceeds this in importance,” says Jacob Needleman, author of Time and the Soul. “The destruction of time is literally the destruction of life.” Read the rest of this entry »

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These days, almost all of us have so many demands placed on our time and energy, life can feel like a three-ring circus. And if you’re not up there on the tightrope, you’re down on the ground in the midst of tigers and lions, in charge of keeping a couple of dozen plates spinning in air.

Maintaining balance isn’t easy. It requires holding steady with the many responsibilities that are a normal and everyday part of life: home, family, friends and work, while at the same time recognizing and fulfilling personal needs and wants. Finding and maintaining balance when life can be so complicated and demanding is both an inside and outside job.

Inside: Only you can take care of yourself
Consider how well you take care of yourself, physically and emotionally.

  • Do you eat healthfully and exercise regularly?
  • Do you get check-ups and take preventative precautions? Do you set aside personal, quiet time for yourself?
  • Do you make time to enjoy nature and art, filling yourself up again and again?

Outside: Reaching outside yourself gives meaning
Think about how you reach outside yourself for sharing and giving meaning to your life.

  • Do you spend quality time with family and friends?
  • Do you give back through your time, energy and experience? Contributing to the larger world provides connection and purpose.

Balance: The key to a rich and fulfilling life
To discover how well-balanced your life is, keep a log of how you spend your time. In a little notebook you can carry with you, write down the hours you spend under the broad headings: “for me” and “for others.”

Also make notes of requests for your time (from family members, from co-workers or professional obligations). Include “requests” from your physical and emotional self: “I wish I could take time for a walk today.” Or “Gee, I’d love to take a nap.”

Jot down your feelings about the time you’re putting in. Do you resent the responsibilities at home? Do you feel like you never get to do what you want to do? Do you re-arrange your time, taking away from what you’d planned to do for yourself in order to do something for others?

How does that feel? Honestly?

After a week or two you can expect to have some pretty clear messages on where there is balance in your life and where there is not.

You might also come to see what’s important to you, and how you can make changes that will create a life of health, well-being and joy