“What have you been doing recently?”
Me: Nothing really. Just been busy with work, studying, meetings, checking my Instagram, mailing, replying to messages…
While I’m waiting for the train to arrive, I’m surrounded by many people. Some talk to each other, eat, move around, while others type on their phones, simply swipe through it, or listen to music. Apart from just waiting, everyone is always doing something else. I’m frequently listening to music as well, sometimes moving to it, or else checking my messages, reading an article, or working on another writing. A while ago, when I couldn’t use my phone for a while, I was simply left waiting, with nothing else on my hands. I got me thinking: what was the last time that I had done nothing? Nothing at all?
Before you start your “it’s impossible to do nothing at all, because you’re always doing something, or else you’re dead” arguments: hear me out. (Spoiler: It’s not “nothing” in the literal sense.) We all know the importance of working hard consistently, being effective and efficient, and taking some time to relax now and again. Do you also know the feeling of doing all of these things and still being continuously tired? Exhausted even? Frequently stressed out? I do (obviously). Why not take it down a notch then? Personally I would say “cause it costs too much time,” which I’m always lacking and “I’ve got more important things to do,” refering to the never-ending to do list in my head. Sound like valid arguments, right? Hmm…
“Doing nothing” isn’t wasting your time, or sleeping, or sitting still and letting your mind do the work out. It isn’t brainlessly swiping through Insta Stories either. Though nothing is inherently tiring or wrong with either of these things, “doing nothing” goes a bit deeper than that. The idea is to no longer get stuck in the feeling of rushing through life. A rich life isn’t measured by the amount of activities one can cram into a week, a day, or an hour even. The concept of “doing nothing” expands to our actions day to day becoming influenced by our instincts instead of routines, shoulds, and musts. When all activities flow from one into the other, your mind gets no room to catch a breath. Days or weeks might feel like a drag, with consequences such as exhaustion and stress. Both of them have plenty of side effects we know all too well.
When we are constantly multitasking, we use up more energy than we think. For example, when scrolling through social media during breakfast, with music playing in the background, most of us aren’t specifically paying attention to any content that our senses are picking up. Even when you’re not paying attention in particular, your body and mind constantly use energy to process what comes in. The collective of all tiny movements exhausts your body, while bits and pieces of unrequired content pollute your mind. It’s not as if you’re gonne be able to remember any of the posts, songs, or full conversation from the radio. You might even forget how your breakfast tasted exactly. Why waste energy on random bits, when you can also have a relaxed start of your day?
Why is multitasking so highly valued?
What’s wrong with doing nothing? I’m constantly busy, with either work or play, if not physically then with thought after thought flashing through my head. Yet, in that rare occasion, where I do nothing in particular, I feel guilty for it. Over-productivity is rooted deep into our society. Just take a look at the amount of people with burn-outs, people who are continously stressed out, or for whom sleepless nights and ritalin are regulars. I’m not claiming to solve all of this, but doing nothing more often might very well reduce lots of problems.
It isn’t holding us back in any way. Even more so, this concept compels us to do our work even more efficient, effective, and reduce the stress activities can bring with them. I am talking about being present in the moment, completely aware of your surroundings without a specific purpose in mind. Put all focus on work when needed, and let it go completely once you leave your desk or other work area. If you’re not interested in soaking up information, try leaving it out, or find a less content-intensive alternative. When continously fast-paced music is replaced by lower bpms, a bike ride can become a way to let go of stress and enjoy fresh air instead of a physically intensive way to get from A to B. When we let go of the notion that every activity needs to encompass maximum productivity, rather than purely desired by instinct, a shift will be noticeable. Looking back on your week, you will remember what you did, saw, and experienced, while feeling even more energetic to continue. The feeling of having done “nothing really” gets transformed into experiences to share and stories to tell. This will probably also be translated into increased motivation and work efficiency.
I hope you agree with Vienne’s statement. “Doing nothing” hasn’t become a second nature to me yet, but I’m definitely giving it a try. Seems to be working so far. We already do so much. Our lives are so full. Being completely present alows me to also feel that I live a rich life. If, after reading this article, it still sounds vague to you, I recommend to try it out. I mean, there’s little to lose, unless you prefer being exhausted of course.I’m full of plans and goals, thus I’m gonna be working hard for a long time. So, here’s to doing nothing and enjoying every bit of it. Feel like joining?
– Katrin –
Note: Véronique Vienne is to be credited for writing The Art of Doing Nothing. I haven’t fully read it, unfortunately, though I’ve stumbled upon it many times while researching. Her book might provide you with a more thorough explanation, in case you find yourself interested.
Cover photo by Lua Valentia