We All Need Time to Do Nothing

Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving by Celeste Headlee

Very few of us take the time to do absolutely nothing. We are obsessed with working, putting in long hours, and being productive. Is it possible that we are underliving?

“In the end, it all comes down to time: our relationship with it, our understanding of it, the value we put on it. Before the industrial age, time was measured in days or seasons. However, when workers began punching in and out of work, our understanding of time changed, as did our enjoyment of our time off.”

Who knew? The 40 hour work week is all I have ever really known. I think the way the world has been changing though, we might be able to find a better way. Headlee agrees. She writes . . .

“It is past time to let go of the idea that we deserve stability and comfort only if we spend most of our waking hours at work. Is this how we want our children and future generations to live, or do we wish for them more space to breathe, to relax, to reflect, to enjoy the company of others? What is the world we envision for ourselves and the ones we love?”

There are a lot of work stresses that need to be considered too.

“Regardless of how much people are actually working, the stress these people feel is very real and should be taken seriously. Stress is both dangerous to one’s health and, in a business sense, expensive. I first began to rethink my habits after I got severely ill twice in less than five months, and ended up spending a total of fourteen days in bed and even more days at work feeling horrible while my body tried to recover.”

One of the reasons I don’t agree with a 40 hour work week is that we can be much more productive these days. For example, I have noticed that I can do certain things well very quickly. Why should I get paid by the hour and then be expected to slog through another task simply because of my efficiency? I mean, if someone can do the work in less than 40 hours, they should be allowed to while still earning the same wage? Headlee sums it up this way, “Quality of work is rarely measurable, but hours of work are.”

She also notes that “advances in computing and communication tools mean it takes much less time to do many jobs, and yet we’re still stuck slogging away for hours on end as though the Digital Revolution never happened.”

Being still is a good thing. We all need time to do nothing. But “we have been convinced through more than two hundred years of propaganda that inactivity is the same as laziness, and that leisure is a shameful waste of time.”

So let’s move away from a culture where being busy is rewarded and glamourized.

“University of Pennsylvania professor Alexandra Michel says people put in long hours not for ‘rewards, punishments, or obligation’ but because “many feel existentially lost without the driving structure of work in their life—even if that structure is neither proportionally profitable nor healthy in a physical or psychological sense.”

There is good reason to take some time to do nothing too.

“When our minds are allowed to relax and rest, they return to what’s called the ‘default network.’ This is the part of the brain that sorts through all the new information we’ve received recently and tries to put it into context with what we already know. The default network is integral to learning, insight, and imagination. If our minds never come to rest, there is never an opportunity to wander into new directions.”

We need it.

“These are the essential qualities of a human being: social skills and language, a need to belong that fosters empathy, rule-making, music, and play. We excel at these things, and we need them in order to be healthy.”

So let’s make it a priority.

“We accept many things in our lives without question, believing this is ‘how it’s done.’ It’s time to reevaluate many of the principles and priorities that govern our lives. The self-made-man ideal is just one of them.”

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