We’ve been taught to define our lives by busyness. Just look around you at the coffee shops, on any given street, subways, buses, train stations. People are glued to their mobile devices, with briefcases and purses slung on their arms, quickly moving to get somewhere.
Busyness as it turns out makes us feel important, even special. If we’re not busy then we’re said to be lazy or aimless. We’re wasting time, wasting life, or just plain irresponsible. People think we don’t take life seriously, or do we?
“Crazy busy” is the catch phrase of the day. And I’m right there with you. There always seems to be more to do than can realistically be done in a day. So we cut sleep, skip meals, and overlook exercise in order to keep up that image of ‘always busy, ain’t got time.’
Busy is practically my world. Work. Grad studies. Writing. More writing. Thesis. Research. Interviews. Tutoring. Family. So on and so forth. The list seems to grow, not reduce. A social life? You can forget about it. It seems so out of balance, on a see-saw that’s always up, up, up.
I’ve found though a pretty effective way to juggle it all: Consciously set aside time when you just do nothing.
I know, I know. We’ve all heard it before: Don’t let your mind wander. But cutting the leash off your mind and letting it run wild has many benefits. Not the least of which is finding new solutions to problems or developing ideas that can change the world.
Doing nothing feels like the exact opposite of productivity but it is only that way because we have been conditioned to think that being busy is important. Give it a try. Allow yourself 10 minutes twice a day to absolutely nothing and see how beneficial it can be for you.
Many tech companies like Facebook and Google willfully give their employees lots of free time. Why? Because free time induces creativity. Most people cannot function properly under pressure. It is when they are on their own to do whatever they like that some of the best ideas hit their brain and then are later implemented to create innovative products and great services.
Doing nothing for a short space of time does not mean sitting in front of the television or playing video games or listening to the radio. It also does not mean obsessively thinking and worrying about stuff that has to be done.
Many people say they are simply too busy to sit around and do nothing. Yet they spend hours rummaging through their to-do lists, watching TV or calling up work partners to check on projects that they are too concerned won’t get done because they are working on them.
Pico Iyer, author of the book, The Art of Stillness, writes in a CNN special, “It takes 25 minutes to recover from a phone call or an e-mail, researchers have found, and yet the average person receives such an interruption every 11 minutes. Which means that we're never caught up; we're always out of breath, running behind.”
And when we feel like we are always behind and must run to get caught up, we increase our levels of stress and anxiety. This is why just over 30% of companies incorporate stress reduction programs into their organizations for their employees. Doing nothing gives time for introspection and reflection, lost arts of today’s society.
Many organizations applaud work addicts. You know the type, first ones in in the morning, last ones to leave at the end of the day. Of course, we should be dedicated and passionate about our work, but being addicted to it isn’t necessary. A workaholic environment and personal attitude can contribute to serious mental health issues and a breakdown in communication not only at work but also at home.
So forget about feeling guilty for not working. Take a few minutes to unplug, to detox, to purge all the information you’ve received, to get away from the noise, to shut down the devices, to stare into space or look out the window. You’re doing something. That something is nothing.
It’s important not only to cease doing anything physically during these times, but also don’t allow yourself to do any mental work either. No reading emails. No checking social media. No listening to podcasts or audiobooks. Just disconnect from everything and allow your mind, heart and soul to get in sync with each other, renew, refresh, and replenish.
Once you have learned to let yourself rest, you can enter into a state of balance where you are able to do nothing while at the same time allowing new ideas and solutions to come in to your mind. Let’s cal it actively doing nothing. When you’re actively doing nothing, you allow yourself to relax but also are open to being refreshed and reenergized to get back to your work.
Doing nothing tends to stimulate the subconscious thought processes. For example, let’s say you’re facing a major problem. You’ve thought and thought about how to handle it. Maybe you’ve even talked it over with some people. But you haven’t gotten a clear solution. You sit down to do nothing for ten minutes and then being aware of your thoughts, the solution pops into your head.
Many times, the solution seems so obvious and simple that you pinch yourself for not thinking of it earlier. Why? Because we are always subconsciously thinking even when we’re not consciously thinking. It is this subconscious part of our pain through which we generate ideas and mentally create solutions that we possible could not have come up with because we were so busy.
As it turns out, doing nothing really is everything. The next time you become aware of your busyness, take a moment to do nothing at all. Allow yourself to become aware of the great opportunity that it is to allow your mind to work for you. Let it wander. Let it run wild.
In simply choosing to do nothing, we just might be able to remake ourselves and revamp some part of the world for good.