Doing nothing

It is better to do nothing than to be busy doing nothing.

Doing nothing is refreshing, a chance to recharge if only for a little bit. Your mind is free to wander where it may, with or without conscious intervention. Free association of thoughts runs rampant, resulting in ideas that would never have come to you otherwise. I’m sure you’ve had these moments, where you stopped trying to solve a problem and the answer came to you, “out of the blue”.

(Just to be clear, I’m not talking about meditation or anything like that. While that is no doubt beneficial, meditation is doing something, not nothing.)

On the other hand, being busy doing nothing is mentally draining, an imposition of purposeless order on your thoughts that prevents your mind from resting and recharging.

And yet there are many people – including what I would estimate as a high percentage of managers or other “leaders” – who are made very uncomfortable just by the idea of doing nothing. Never mind actually doing nothing. Or, heaven forbid, letting their employees do nothing.

This mentality comes in large part, of course, from the factory approach to work: if you are not doing something, nothing is getting made. But that just isn’t true in many forms of work today. New, good ideas are the products of today, and these can’t be created on an assembly line.

But this discomfort with our own thoughts also comes from the anxieties and worries that we keep with us. It is hard to willingly let you mind wander when you know that it may wander to places you’d rather not go.

Alannis Morrisette describes this quite well in this snippett of song:

Why are you so petrified of silence,
Here can you handle this?
(silent pause)
Did you think about your bills, your ex, your deadlines
Or when you think you’re gonna die?
Or did you long for the next distraction?

Take some time today to do nothing. And then go out and do something.

2 thoughts on “Doing nothing

  1. Kim,

    Great example.

    I’m curious, what did management think about the situation after the fact, once the business cycle came back around?

  2. My story of recommending doing nothing:
    Years ago I managed a small department. Occasionally there were slow months. Management came to me during one slow period and asked me for a solution (to the slowness). I said, “We could do x and y and z, and it about a month business will begin to pick up. Or we could do nothing and in about a month business will begin to pick up.” (I had detected the ebb and flow patterns of our department.) Management was extremely uncomfortable with my recommendation to literally do nothing, but we did just that… and business cycle came around and we had the predictable busy months.

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