Doing Nothing. A man sleeping on a sofa.


I did absolutely nothing and it was everything I thought it could be.

~Peter Gibbons from the movie, Office Space

Don’t underestimate the value of doing nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.

~Winnie the Pooh

Every once in a while, a voice inside me says, “I’m done.” I’ve used up all my energy and concentration, and I need some downtime. I need to spend some quality time doing nothing.

All of us need downtime—some need less than others and some seem to need way more than others. Why is this? One of the reasons might be what people do when they’re doing nothing. Some people waste their time when they’re wasting their time; and end up needing more time to waste (stay with me here).

The point is that we need to understand how to do nothing effectively. Take Brian and Eddie. Brian seems to be “on” all the time. He puts in 12-hour days and is still answering e-mails just before he goes to sleep. When he is not working, he is taking exciting vacations, engaging in physical activities, or following creative pursuits. It’s exhausting just being around him.

Then there’s Eddie. His job is very physical, but it doesn’t require long hours. Eddie is usually home by 5:00 and his TV is on by 5:10. On an average day, he watches between five and seven hours of TV. When he finally goes to bed, he’s a zombie and does not sleep well. He wakes up, goes to work bleary-eyed and uninspired, and repeats the process.

What is the difference between Brian and Eddie?

For one thing, they need different amounts of downtime. They also use their downtime in very different ways. These two differences may or may not be related.

Brian doesn’t have much downtime, but he is able to recharge by using his mental and physical energy in different ways—by switching gears. Because his job is sedentary, he doesn’t need to physically relax during his downtime. However, as he spends so much time thinking about work, it’s important for him to think about something else when he’s not working. He can’t just watch TV or think about nothing. Of course, not everyone’s like Brian. Some people have to do something “mindless” to recharge.

Eddie, on the other hand, is physically tired when he gets home. His first impulse is to flop down on the couch, and he ends up staying there. So why is Eddie still tired when he goes to bed? Maybe it’s because doing something mindless doesn’t recharge his batteries. He might need to do something while he is doing nothing.

For most of us, downtime is a balance between creative or recreational pursuits and doing things that don’t require physical or mental energy. The trick is finding that balance.

I have to have some mindless time on occasion (Captain Picard and I are very well acquainted), but I also need physical and creative outlets.

It might seem counter-intuitive to strive to do nothing effectively, but it’s important. Think about what you do during your off hours and consider what gives you the most pleasure. What reinvigorates your mind, body, and spirit? What is it that makes you look forward to the other parts of your life?

Doing nothing can also mean just that: doing nothing. We can use the time to reflect on our life, where it’s heading, and how we’re spending it. Take the time to notice all the things you don’t usually see, to hear the things you don’t normally hear, and “not bothering” (Winnie is a wise bear!). Without exception, all of us need this kind of downtime. Make sure you’re fitting it into your downtime agenda.

Finally, get serious about sleep. Not only is sleep essential for health, happiness, and productivity, but it’s also a really fun thing to do. When’s the last time you took a two-hour nap, or slept ten hours straight, or woke up at noon? Although I struggle with insomnia, sleep will always be one of my very favorite things to do. I try to change it up—do it in different places, at different times, and have fun with it.

Like any aspect of life, doing nothing requires some thought and some planning.

Ultimately doing nothing can be as rewarding as any something you could possibly think of.

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