The Importance of Doing Nothing
Monday, August 7, 2023

The Importance of Doing Nothing

Leaning in to some planned laziness is good for you on many levels.

How often do you find yourself with nothing to do? Probably not very often. There’s so much pressure on us to be productive and busy at all times. In the service industry, there’s a saying “If there’s time to lean, then there’s time to clean,” and many of us can definitely relate to “So much to do, so little time to do it.”

Technological advances have made us more efficient, enabling us to get more done with less effort. Yet the majority of us are still working as much and as hard as ever. Juggling the demands of work, home life, and social commitments keeps us all busy.

However, contrary to popular belief, carving time out in our day to do absolutely nothing could be the ticket to being healthier, feeling happier, stimulating creativity, and improving productivity.

The Art of Doing Nothing

The idea that doing nothing could be good for us isn’t new. Back in the 1930s, British mathematician, logician, and philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote:

“I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous.”

In his essay “In Praise of Idleness,” Russell observes that the industrial world places too much emphasis on promoting and rewarding productive work. Instead, he suggests people should embrace idleness and have more leisure time, as great ideas come when we have nothing to do and the mind becomes more curious and creative.

Times have changed since Russell’s day. The modern-day employee works fewer hours and has more leisure time than their 1930s counterparts. But unfortunately, many people don’t know what to do with this newfound downtime.

The Difficulties of Doing Nothing

Stressed out, multitasking businessman.

Technology makes it very difficult to do absolutely nothing — constant notifications, 24/7 connectivity, rolling news, social media feeds, and entertainment on tap. There are always distractions within easy reach that help keep us busy even when we don’t want to be.

In the work environment, people feel guilty if they’re doing nothing. It’s as though idleness is a sign of failure, of time-wasting, of laziness. Instead, people find something to do to keep up the appearance of being productive.

Breaks are important for our well-being and performance, but people still try and power through without taking a break. Even the sacred lunch break is disappearing. In 2018, research found that 68% of Americans chose to eat lunch at their desks. And, things haven’t changed with the move to remote working. The majority of workers still sit in front of their computers or laptops during their lunch breaks, and work longer hours to boot.

Even when we have a few minutes to ourselves, it’s too easy just to reach for the phone to find out what’s going on in the world.

Benefits of Doing Nothing

Man relaxing in hammock.

Doing nothing may seem pointless. After all, why do nothing when you can be doing something productive? But, you may change your mind once you know how beneficial the practice can be.

Improves Mental Health

People underestimate just how enjoyable and therapeutic doing nothing can be. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the stresses of work or family responsibilities, taking a moment to be with your inner thoughts transports you away from those situations. The mind has a chance to relax and rejuvenate, relieving tensions and leaving us more prepared to deal with life.

Studies also suggest that spending time alone could make you happier and lead to a more fulfilling life.

Aids Problem-Solving

Stepping back from a problem helps clear your mind. It improves your ability to think logically and, when you’re not fixated on an issue, you’ll be surprised how often the solution quickly presents itself.

Boosts Productivity

Downtime is the ideal tonic for the brain. Giving yourself time to step away from the job at hand revitalizes the mind and restores energy levels. You’ll return to tasks with renewed vigor and enthusiasm, helping you concentrate and focus better, thereby boosting productivity.

Inspires Creativity

Doing nothing is a great way to get the creative juices flowing. Removing distractions and being inactive help the mind relax and become inactive, letting unconscious thoughts come to the fore. The perfect way to stimulate the imagination.

Improves Relationships

Removing yourself from the distractions and stresses of everyday life and using the time for quiet reflection lets you delve more deeply into your innermost feelings, thoughts, and convictions. With a better understanding of yourself, you’re able to look beyond your own needs and desires, helping foster kindness, empathy, and compassion as you begin to identify with and understand the people around you.

Better Set to Cope With Change

Life is unpredictable and has a habit of throwing the unexpected at us. Idleness and solitude can make you more flexible so you’re better equipped to cope with changes. A 2018 study of 204 students found that those who embraced the positivity of solitude were more mature and able to handle unpredictable circumstances better than those who rejected solitude.

How To Do Nothing

Man relaxing on couch listening to music.

With every minute of every day seemingly taken up with something, it’s hard to find those moments when you can sit back and do nothing. And, when you do have time to yourself, how do you actually do nothing? Try incorporating some of these tips into your life to ensure you carve out some time for downtime.

Tell Yourself It’s OK to Do Nothing

When other people catch you doing nothing, they may instantly jump to the conclusion that you’re selfish, idle, or lazy. This stigma causes many of us to feel guilty when we’re doing nothing.

The first step to embracing idleness is shaking the guilt. Tell yourself it’s OK if you’re taking some time out to do nothing. You’re using the time wisely, letting your mind recharge and allowing thoughts to flow freely. Ultimately, you’ll see the benefits in your increased productivity, renewed enthusiasm, and more creative thinking.

Identify the Optimum Moments

It’s not always easy to identify when you’re stressed and need to take a timeout. Learn to identify the moments during the day when your mind will most benefit from doing nothing. If you struggle to identify when you’re feeling overwhelmed, try using a stress tracker to monitor when your heart rate and breathing increase. These handy gadgets are a good indicator of times of heightened stress.

Schedule Idleness Into Your Day

It may sound strange, but scheduling time for doing nothing in your day is beneficial. Take a few minutes to yourself after every work session. Use one of your regular breaks to remove yourself from reality. Drink your morning coffee alone and in silence. Fit in idleness around your current schedule, and dedicate a few minutes every day to doing nothing.

Eliminate Distractions

You’ll never reap the benefits of doing nothing if you’re distracted from being idle. Find somewhere to be alone and, if possible, switch off your phone during your moments of nothingness. If that seems an impossibility, at least turn-off notifications or put the phone in silent mode. Remember, it’s only for a short period and many distractions are unimportant. Your mind will thank you for the break.

Doing Something While Doing Nothing

It can be hard to sit and do absolutely nothing. Idleness can feel awkward and counter-intuitive. After all, we’re programmed to be busy at all times. If you struggle to stare off into the distance or close your eyes and switch off for a few minutes, try these few activities to help get the most out of doing nothing.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness has long been used as a way to relax, ease stress, and channel your thoughts and energy into the here and now. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation, mindful breathing, and body scanning can be done anywhere and at any time, and are easily incorporated into your day.

Enjoy Nature

Observing and enjoying nature is a great way to switch off and simply focus on what’s around you. Take a walk in the woods. Sit quietly on a park bench. Look out the office window at the birds flying around the city. There are plenty of ways to do nothing but distract your mind from the task at hand.

Try Daydreaming

Daydreaming is a great way to spend your idle moments. Conjuring up images of pleasurable things and the future rather than fretting about the here and now has been proven to improve working memory, help the mind relax, and stimulate creativity.

Embrace Your Thoughts

If you’re anything like the average person, you have more than 6,000 thoughts per day. When one finishes, another thought replaces it. Every time one enters your mind, you have a choice whether to follow the thought or dismiss it and focus on what’s going on right in front of you.

It takes effort to refocus and dismiss every thought that enters your mind. Instead, take some moments to embrace those thoughts and ideas.

The Importance of Being Idle

Doing nothing is difficult in this day and age. Technology helps us in so many ways, but it also works against us when we try to take some time for ourselves. And, other peoples’ attitudes towards your idleness may force you to feel guilty for taking a few minutes out.

So, even though it may go against everything you’ve ever been taught and may seem counter-intuitive, stick with the plan and don’t feel guilty about those moments when you do nothing.

Whether you use the time to practice breathing techniques, daydream, or simply stare out the window, do nothing knowing that you’re really benefiting your mental health, stimulating the mind, and boosting your productivity.

Jackie Smart
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