We live in a hyperactive world in which active lifestyles and overachievers are celebrated. In fact, we try to squeeze as much as we can into the day — with no time to spare. When we’re not busy multitasking, we’re racing from activity to activity. Right? So when was the last time you did nothing, simply because you thought doing nothing was time well spent?
The truth is, we’re so busy keeping busy that it’s easy to reach a point of diminishing returns –– we lose more than we gain. You’d think we’d learn something from watching a hamster run around on a treadmill. What do we lose by constantly being on the run?
Make Something Out of Nothing
Stop for a second. Take a deep breath. Are we busy to a fault?
Dream. Ever wonder why you get great ideas driving, in the shower, or running on the treadmill? Research shows that you’re more likely to have an “aha!” moment when you’re relaxed and allowing ideas to percolate in the back of your brain. So, to all the folks who eat lunch at their desk . . . it’s time to take a break.
Reflect. Sometimes we’re so busy doing stuff that we fail to consider whether it makes sense. Are we addressing what’s important or what’s next on our to-do list? Is there a better way to accomplish our goals? Stepping away from a situation often provides valuable perspective. Take the time to reflect.
Observe. Sometimes the best answer is right under our nose, but we’re too busy to see it. If most answers seem obvious in retrospect, maybe we’re not spending enough time searching for the obvious.
Bond. Clear your calendar. Spend a quiet evening with your spouse. Have dinner as a family rather than grabbing meals on the fly. Listen to your children today and be part of what they’re doing tomorrow.
Relax. We work the whole year just to take a few days off. Then we spend vacations enjoying the simple life –– relaxing on a beach, hiking through the woods, or watching a beautiful sunset. Why wait? Perhaps the only thing stopping you from relaxing is you. Instead of adding activities to your busy schedule, try eliminating some and then . . . relax.
Embrace life. When you spend your time counting every minute, you’re bound to miss precious moments. Keep in mind that it’s the moments, not the days, that you’ll remember one day.
Show gratitude. Are you too busy to show the people in your life that you care? It doesn’t take much effort and you’ll certainly make their day.
Think. Some managers look at an employee staring out the window and think she’s goofing off; others look at the same person and think, “Good she’s in deep thought.” Think about that.
Learn. Kick off your shoes and learn something new. Explore new territory. Shift your focus. Open your mind. Leave familiar turf. Break out of the rut. See the big picture. Connect the dots. Change your outlook.
Recharge. Are you busy to a fault? Take some time to rejuvenate. Quiet your mind. Unplug. Meditate. Nap. Learn how to take a five-minute vacation.
Wander. Forget your aspirations for a moment. Take a walk to clear your head. Stroll without a purpose. Get lost within yourself. Who knows what you’ll find.
Nothing Is Something Worth Doing.
While some believe that keeping a frantic pace helps us accomplish more each day, the jury is still out. The only sure thing we may gain from our hectic lifestyle is stress and anxiety. Maybe it’s time for this hamster to get off the treadmill. The truth is, we’re so busy keeping busy that we fail to see the error of our ways. In fact, as Sydney J. Harris, the journalist, said, “The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”
Life is not a race to the finish line. What matters is not how much you do but rather, the quality of the things that you do. As Lao Tzu said, “Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing.”
Start doing more by doing less. Cast aside the guilt and reintroduce yourself to the world around you. Savor life’s simple moments. Taste your food rather than gorging it. Listen between the lines rather than hearing words. Reignite relationships rather than passing like visitors in the night. Make a moment rather than counting the minutes. You just might get the BIG idea when you expect it least. And you’ll feel more relaxed, less distracted, and blissfully rejuvenated to greet another day. Sometimes you accomplish more by doing less. You DO get something for nothing!
What do you think?
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Carol Anderson says
Well said, Frank, and as I have done in the past I may take your life lessons and apply them to leadership lessons in my own writing. This is the crux of why leaders aren’t leading – they think they don’t have time.
Great article in May HBR – Your Scarcest Resource. Talks about time being a finite resource, and if you’re going to add something, you have to take something away.
We are an ADD culture….
Frank Sonnenberg says
I’d be honored if you’d use this post as the core of your leadership post. I really enjoyed the last time you did that. And thanks for the heads-up on the HBR article. I’ll take a look today.
I love this post Frank. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:
“Whatever you do with your time, you pay for it with your life.” -Ardeth Kapp
Time is our only real currency in life. When we get to the end of a blizzard of activity week, and can’t think of anything to say when asked “What have you been up to?” It says something profound about how we’re spending our currency. I’m glad I took a deep breath and the time to read this as a reminder! Thanks.
Frank Sonnenberg says
WOW… Great advice. “Time is our only real currency in life. When we get to the end of a blizzard of activity week, and can’t think of anything to say when asked “What have you been up to?” It says something profound about how we’re spending our currency.”
BTW, I love the quote. ““Whatever you do with your time, you pay for it with your life.” – Ardeth Kapp”
Thanks for advancing the conversation.
Bob Vanourek says
Superb advice, Frank. I need to learn to do that more, but, frankly, it’s hard once you’ve spent so much time running on the treadmill.
Frank Sonnenberg says
We all need to learn this lesson, myself included. It’s hard to break old habits.
Have an awesome day!
Marc DeNatale says
Excellent read Frank. It truly shouldn’t be something we need reminder of but it unquestionably is. I especially love your mention about reaching the point of diminishing returns. I think we all know people so busy being busy that they don’t even see how destructive their super-productivity can be – to themselves, their families or the things they used to love. I’m sure I’ve been there at some point, too. It’s hard to see the forest through those trees sometimes.
I might have a different idea of relaxation than others but I would agree that some of my better moments of clarity have been doing (close to) nothing – bobbing on the water waiting for the next wave to roll in or taking a nice long run with no set distance, speed or goal in mind.
I’m sure I’ve been observed at the beach by others with a surfboard under my arm and a grin on my face and many people think I’m spending my free time doing just that – nothing. And that’s an OK assumption with me.
The favorite nothing I’ve done all week was lay in bed an extra 10 minutes with my wife and son, both of us smiling as he sounded off gibberish that we’re sure to him was meant to mean anything but nothing. But we’ll have to wait a bit longer to find out if he was telling us to stay and relax or go and get busy making him breakfast. Either way, I’m sure neither of us at that moment were thinking of deadlines or projects.
Thank you for illustrating this point so well. It’s really great advice I look to take when things get too busy.
Frank Sonnenberg says
Thanks for dropping by.
I think all of us have been busy to a fault. As you say, “It shouldn’t be something we need a reminder of, but it unquestionably is.”
I must say… I got such a charge out of your 10 extra minutes in bed with your wife and son story. That’s what life is about isn’t it? Kids grow up faster than you can blink an eye. I know you’ll cherish every moment.
Have an awesome day. (Happy surfing)
Oya Ertay says
You made an exact translation my feelings recently. I am fed up with that treadmill for the last couple of years and trying to figure out another way of existing in this crazy big city life. I get up early- to have some time before work- sit alone and listen to silence. In Turkey we have a new concept called “slow city”. Some cities are given that “honor” and tired people go and enjoy their slowness together with peaceful environment, at least during vacation time.
Frank Sonnenberg says
I understand your frustration. The first step in solving any problem is recognizing that you have one. I know you’ll find a way to get the peace and quiet that you need.
Lou Beierle says
Thanks for the reminder…
frank Sonnenberg says
Thanks Lou 🙂
Jose gonzalez says
What really does “doing nothing” mean? I was resting and began to think what could I do now? Then I said to my self, how about –nothing. This is not a usual thing for me a major multi-tasked. So I thought let’s just stair at the ceiling. This is doing nothing to me–not watching a movie or any activity. May gazing at the ocean would also qualify or at a sunset with no GOAL in my, nothing to accomplish but inactivity.
Frank Sonnenberg says
That’s a great question. We’re so busy being busy that we’ve forgotten what it’s like to relax. It’s important for you to find out what works best for you. It can be listening to music, meditating, yoga, taking a walk, gardening –– anything to relax and clear your mind.
Along these lines, approx. ten years ago my firm created a program called, Ready, Set, Relax!” for a local town. The goal was to hit the pause button by stopping all extracurricular activities, for one day. This would give parents and kids a chance to reconnect without any other competing interest. (The program was so successful that it received national recognition) To your point … If you can believe it, one of the parents asked, “What do I have to do to win?” I hope I answered your comment. Have an awesome week!
Hi Frank, that sounds great. Doing nothing can be reading, watching Tv or just listening to music even going for a walk, as long as the mind is not stressed over thinking.
Sometimes people may find this boring but we all need time doing nothing