What If You Did Nothing?
We are more connected than ever. We no longer have to drive to the store to buy things. There’s no need for printed road maps. Information can move at the speed of light across the globe. And yet.
And yet we are overburdened with more tasks, more reminders, and more pressure to move even faster; to deliver instantly. The pressure mounts for our perfection, rather than the pursuit thereof, and we find ourselves endlessly busy yet accomplishing nothing.
So what if you did nothing?
The beauty of humankind is it’s imagination, it’s creativity, it’s ability to create an idea and translate it into reality. But in the age of technology, we are losing our imagination, our creativity, and the ability to dream. This is, of course, under the guise that we are being more productive, that we are accomplishing more with every swipe of an email; but you can feel it, can’t you?
The beat of your soul underneath it all. The desire to be free from the shackles that are your routine. You day dream about packing your bags and heading off to the great unknown in an adventure with far more feeling than Bob demanding today’s reports on his desk.
You’re busy at work, you have never-ending tasks at home, holidays to plan for, school work to keep up with, and shopping to do. You never get the opportunity to turn off. You never just S.T.O.P and do nothing. You are endlessly chasing, endlessly running, on the treadmill of life; running miles, but never getting anywhere. But is doing more the answer? Would creating 2 of you reallygive you more time, or would it just give you more to do?
Fiona works M-F from 9am-6pm. When her work day is done, she picks up both of her school age children from daycare and heads home to conquer dinner, dishes, homework, and cleaning… a lot of cleaning. However before she leaves work, she sends one last email, texts her son that she’s on her way and gets in the car. While driving and listening to Coldplay, she gets a text from her boyfriend, and another from her son, asking where she is.
By the time she’s knee deep in hamburger helper and dishes, she’s racked up about 5 emails from work.
Just two hours after she has left work, she feels exhausted and overworked. She puts on the news while her son does math on the floor, and her daughter is in her room on the phone. Through the clanging of dishes, she hears there’s been more unrest in the Middle East, with two talking heads arguing over war funding for several minutes before blaring commercials come on. Fiona moves back to stirring the sizzling pan of hamburger helper, checking the clock, and yelling for the kids to set the table. Another text pings, and this time, after serving the kids their food, she decides that she “needs a break." So, she grabs her phone off the counter and retreats to the bathroom, swiftly locking the door behind her.
Fiona, like many mothers, quickly learned that the bathroom is the only safe place in the house for a mother of two.
Sitting on the cold plastic toilet lid, she inhales deeply and opens her phone. She responds to her boyfriend, checks instagram and Facebook, then reads emails. She happily swipes and kills 4 out of the 5 emails. But Justin in development needs a report rewritten to exclude taxes, and needs it by noon for accounting. Another deep sigh; Fiona begins to review the previous report on her phone when her boyfriend texts back to say he’s on his way and headed to the store. "Do you need anything?," he texts.
Racking her brain for what’s in the fridge, not in the fridge, or almost low, Fiona replies from the now warm seat of the toilet, and just as she presses SEND, she hears wailing in the other room, followed by the all too familiar, “mooooooom!!!!”.
7 minutes. She had 7 minutes. Last deep sigh and she’s back out in the kitchen playing referee, while simultaneously noticing no one ate their dinner. She’s exhausted and stressed when another text rolls in asking her what type of cereal the kids like best. The news is still blaring, dishes undone, and the kids are sheepishly picking at their food, as if dinner was cold army grits.
Fiona can tell herself that she will get up earlier, that she will do more tomorrow, that, that, that… But, it’s the same promises she has always made, and kept, yet always felt defeated by. “No matter WHAT I do I can’t get everything done!”
Perhaps Fiona isn’t doing too little, perhaps, she’s doing too much.
The entire day, Fiona’s mind is being asked to be on alert and to focus on X factors. When she’s driving home, her mind feels as if it’s wandering while driving; but it isn’t- her brain is still actively engaged, in driving, in the music, and her own unconscious thoughts. She then is pinged to pay attention to her phone.
At home her brain is working overtime, attempting to decompress what was, focus on what is, and plan for what is to come.
Even mere moments before she falls asleep, you can imagine she's in bed reading her phone, finishing out the day’s Facebook comments, and checking her email again.
And if one had to wonder, Fiona probably turns her phone off only minutes before closing her eyes for the night. Meaning, the only time her mind is truly free is those short moments before sleep.
Humanity’s greatest quality is our ability to be able to dream, love, and create. But if we are “on” every waking moment, we can never become creators.. we are followers. Followers of texts, of emails, of demands, requests that we all feel obligedto respond immediately, because so much is presented to us at one time. It's only natural then to assume that we need to do more to accomplish more.
The human brain can only remain at peak focus and intensity for 90 minutes. After that, it’s abilities diminish greatly, and we feel the symptoms…burnout.
You know the feeling, the “I did too much yesterday” feeling, or the “My brain hurts!” feeling from over-studying. We’ve pushed ourselves too far, become too scattered, and left ourselves feeling empty, while not pursuing perfection, but trying to mimic it.
When Fiona took her “break”, her mind didn’t get a break. She put it right back to work on emails and Facebook. Imagine being in one room and having basketballs hurled at you by the dozens, then running into another room and having whiffle balls thrown at you. That’s what she is doing, and, more than likely, you are, too!
Doing nothing is what what creates the environment for our minds to wander; for our imaginations to be used, for us to day dream. Without that, what makes us any different from a machine?
It was dreaming that gave us Plato. It was imagination that gave us Disney. It is the free mind that gave us Siddathra, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. But none of those men, all dreamers, would have ever dreamt a dream, or envisioned a future, had they kept themselves and their minds busy.
If we busy the people, we enslave the people. If we busy the people, they will never have time to pursue their own purpose. It’s as if you are busy moving grains of sand with tweezers; you are busy, but enslaved. You’ll never move every grain, it serves no purpose, but you are busy.
At our core we want to get things done. It’s why our creative minds came up with every invention you see before you. We love accomplishing things because we feel good about ourselves. And who doesn’t like to feel good about themselves? What’s more pleasurable than an inbox at Zero? What’s more gratifying that swiping “delete” on 20 emails? Right?
Wrong. What did you actually accomplish? Checking email all throughout the day, all day, is like moving those grains of sand with tweezers. You feel like you are getting stuff done because you're replying to emails or texts. You feel engaged and social on instagram, snapchat, and Facebook; but are you?
All of these activities are fine, but think about how often you check. Plus, what’s more exciting that getting a good email? Sure, most are healthcare scams or annoying emails from places you’ve shopped, but there’s that chance it could be the one so you check. A lot.
You just pick the tweezers up and start moving sand grains while complaining how busy you are. Put the tweezers down. Take a break. A real break.
If your brain can only perform at peak for 90 minutes, then you need to learn that limitation can actually fuel creativity and, shocker, eliminate burnout. Allowing your brain to rest every 90 minutes, or at a minimum giving it a change of focus, will allow you to refuel instead of draining.
Try The 90/30 Rule
For every 90 minutes that you are highly focused, take a 30 minute break. Walk around, move your body, dream about that Hawaiian vacation, but allow silence. It may feel uncomfortable. You may even feel a rush of thoughts and to-do’s pop into your head… that’s okay. Let them come, and let them leave. Remember, this is your mental break, your time off.
Try Doing Nothing
Waiting for the bus? On the toilet? Taking a smoke break? Put your phone down. Do nothing. See how long you can make it before needing to grab technology. The longer you can go, the better. You’ll be shocked at how much happier you are after only 1 day. We all want to be happier people, and we can be, if we aren’t feeding our brains a constant stream of stressful situations, like numerous emails, bad global news, or arguing on social media about nothing.
Set your alarm and do your social media sign off as you get into bed, not as you decide to fall asleep. Got ya there, didn’t we? You may be in bed, but you and I both know you play on your phone, or watch AHS/Game of Thrones/Football for an hour or two.
So as soon as your butt hits that mattress, get your alarms and routines done, and don’t play on your phone!Lay there like a slug and allow your mind to be free instead of processing more info like pixels, Justin’s stupid report, or candy crush. Allowing your mind to wind down on it’s own is the healthiest thing you can do.
Once you allow yourself more mental freedom, you will start conceiving new and creative thoughts. You'll remember more items, and lastly, you’ll see how ridiculous everyone else looks with their chins to their chests.
Once this is a habit, you can start adapting your schedule, by writing down everything you do in a day and reviewing where you can do more. If you aren’t watching True Blood every night, then that means you could spend a full 60 minutes on emails… instead of 3 minutes every hour. You’d get more done and have more time.
All by doing nothing.