I enjoyed this New York Times article titled “The Case for Doing Nothing.” First few paragraphs:
Running from place to place and laboring over long to-do lists have increasingly become ways to communicate status: I’m so busy because I’m just so important, the thinking goes.
Perhaps it’s time to stop all this busyness. Being busy — if we even are busy — is rarely the status indicator we’ve come to believe it is. Nonetheless, the impact is real, and instances of burnout, anxiety disorders and stress-related diseases are on the rise, not to mention millennial burnout.
There’s a way out of that madness, and it’s not more mindfulness, exercise or a healthy diet (though these things are all still important). What we’re talking about is … doing nothing. Or, as the Dutch call it, niksen.
It’s common in self-development culture, especially of the red-pilled masculine variety, to glorify “the hustle” or “the grind,” which values around-the-clock busyness with every minute of your time meticulously planned out and accounted for. This can be valuable if you’re looking to, say, rid yourself of procrastination or begin radical improvements in multiple areas of your life, but after a certain point it becomes unnecessary and even detrimental. I sometimes need to remind myself that I’m a human being with varying desires, interests, and energy levels, not a robot programmed for maximum efficiency and activity. In fact, doing nothing actually makes us more efficient, productive, and happy in the long run, as you will soon see. Anyway, back to the article:
It’s difficult to define what doing nothing is, because we are always doing something, even when we’re asleep.
Doreen Dodgen-Magee, a psychologist who studies boredom and wrote the book “Deviced! Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World,” likens niksen to a car whose engine is running but isn’t going anywhere.
“The way I think about boredom is coming to a moment with no plan other than just to be,” she said.
Sandi Mann, a psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire in Britain, added that niksen can be “when we’re not doing the things we should be doing. Because perhaps we don’t want to, we’re not motivated. Instead, we’re not doing very much.”
More practically, the idea of niksen is to take conscious, considered time and energy to do activities like gazing out of a window or sitting motionless. The less-enlightened might call such activities “lazy” or “wasteful.” Again: nonsense.
We at Smarter Living have long been fans of taking regular breaks throughout the day, as study after study shows that feeling drowsy, exhausted or otherwise mentally depleted during the workday drastically hinders performance and productivity.
In other words: Whether at home or at work, permission granted to spend the afternoon just hanging out.
I’ve discovered that there’s a difference between busybodies and productive people. Busybodies are those people who rush from task to task, see inactivity as stagnation or weakness, and can’t ever seem to chill out. They compulsively check their smartphones and emails and conceive of productivity as the practice of squeezing as many tasks into their waking hours as possible while refusing to rest until they’re all completed. Productive people get their tasks done, but they prioritize a couple big tasks over numerous smaller tasks, which allows them to work more deeply and not feel so stressed out. Furthermore, they understand that rest is important in both their short- and long-term health, that spending some time “being” instead of “doing” allows them to be more creative and be better problem solvers. Productive people are consistently energetic and efficient, whereas busybodies eventually feel overwhelmed, run out of energy, do their tasks inefficiently, and burn out. The article continues by affirming exactly that:
Generally speaking, our culture does not promote sitting still, and that can have wide-reaching consequences for our mental health, well-being, productivity and other areas of our lives. Technology doesn’t make it any easier: The smartphone you carry with you at all hours makes it almost impossible to truly unplug and embrace idleness. And by keeping ourselves busy at all times, we may be losing our ability to sit still because our brains are actually being rewired.
Indeed, the benefits of idleness can be wide-ranging.
Ms. Mann’s research has found that daydreaming — an inevitable effect of idleness — “literally makes us more creative, better at problem-solving, better at coming up with creative ideas.” For that to happen, though, total idleness is required.
“Let the mind search for its own stimulation,” Ms. Mann said. “That’s when you get the daydreaming and mind wandering, and that’s when you’re more likely to get the creativity.”
Counterintuitively, idleness can be a great productivity tool because “if our energy is totally shot, our productivity is not going to be good because we’re not going to have fuel to burn with which to be productive,” said Chris Bailey, a productivity expert and author of the blog “A Life of Productivity.”
Niksen can help you solve problems as well.
“It takes you out of your mind, and then you see things clearly after a while,” said Manfred Kets de Vries, a professor of leadership development and organizational change at Insead in Paris.
The article ends with a few practical tips on how to implement more rest in your life. The first one, my favorite, is to figure out the times of day when you’re at your most and least productive, and set aside time to do nothing at those least times of day. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to sit there; you could get up and move around, go for a walk, eat lunch or snack, or put away all your technology for a few minutes.
Go here and scroll down for the rest of the tips. Again, if you’re a lazy person with hardly any goals or ambitions, this is not the article you should be reading. But if you’re overly busy or stressed out, then by all means read and absorb it.