The Power of Doing Nothing And Still Feeling Productive

Life lies somewhere in between the ability to conquer greater heights and the ability to slow down to smell the roses and feel the breeze.

“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”…Sydney J. Harris

The past couple of days has been easy and rejuvenating. I have largely been in the #DoNothing mode. A large chunk of my time was devoted to the most necessary commitments like work and kids and the remainder was spent on “doing nothing”. Nothing means nothing productive, nothing that counts as fruitful activity and nothing that was visible to someone else. Basically, I didn’t do anything that I didn’t want to. As a result, I spent a lot of time doing nothing! To be able to ‘do nothing’ the most productive way, I disconnected from my digital world. The time has been immensely soul-stirring and satisfying.No, I am not suffering from depression or any sort of stress. Neither am I promoting or propagating laziness or procrastination. I just needed some time off from the many things I was doing and felt responsible for. I was living life by the clock and it just got the better of me! I needed time to spend on myself, with myself, doing nothing. My busyness was tiring me, psychologically and physically. I was doing bigger things, but missing small joys.

Now, looking back at the almost-two month of doing nothing, I am glad I chose to do nothing, to the extent that I have promised to allow myself well-spaced slots for doing nothing quite frequently now on, without being too bogged with being trivial things like will make little sense five years from today, like my children missing an activity class, the domestic help not turning up or a missed due date for a bill. Life is bigger than the trivialities we see.  Doing nothing can sometimes be such a cathartic experience.

Let me explain.

If you’ve watched Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, you’d be familiar with the Italian concept of “La Dolce Far Niente,” which basically means the sweetness of doing nothing. In context, it means how some people derive happiness by spending their time on seemingly trivial, silly, unproductive and unimportant activities. It may sound stupid but is deeply profound.

Doing nothing is an art, and to do it meaningfully one needs to master the art. Doing nothing can be freeing, empowering, cathartic and rejuvenating.

If doing nothing was an easy job, didn’t take much effort and had so many awesome kickbacks then why do people not do more of it?

In reality, doing nothing could easily be counted among the most difficult project to execute in life.

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“Beware the barrenness of a busy life” …Socrates

We’re addicted to the high from ticking items off a to-do list. Achieving milestones and getting things done serves as a drug for our existence and survival by outpacing others. Our lives have become defined, measured and valued by busyness. When we are not busy, we fake it, because our minds don’t allow us the liberty to be free. We are guided by the insatiable urge to fill in every minute of our day with productive activity.

We are so hard-wired from early life that we live with the belief that a minute that doesn’t produce something material or has a perceived value, is considered wasted. Self-gratification and working towards enhancing psychological well-being and not skills that are taught in schools or practised at homes, and as a result, as children, we have the remotest idea of it.

Understanding the beauty and power of doing nothing didn’t come to naturally. I am as guilty of being propelled by the urge to act, deliver, create and produce as others. After all respect, success and fame come to only those who are in ’constant action’ or are ‘Karmveer’. To support our already damaged notion of life history also goes to prove that only ambitious and driven people have a place in history. Be it, Napoleon, Hitler or Aurangazeb…the list is endless.

Our socio-economic conditioning stops us from being able to relax without feeling guilty about it. I have judged myself as being lazy for choosing to catch up on sleep someday instead of rushing to the gym like every day at a specific time. I have cursed myself for slumping on the couch watching TV instead of doing something worthwhile.

We work mindlessly to be able to save enough for that dream house, that luxury car, some fancy vacation…to relax at some point in time and life! We plan expensive vacations to the most exotic locales and measure the ROI of it in terms of what all we did there, the number of places we visited, the number of pictured we uploaded on social media and the number of activities we did. Seldom have we measured a vacation in terms of calmness it brought. If on vacation it rains one evening and the plan to visit a specific gaming zone is spoilt, it could lead to stress, depression, and discord. It is considered as a day spent doing nothing and the ROI of the vacation immediately drops. What an irony!

Our lives have become so complicated and fast-paced that slowing down is no longer seen as a practical decision, sane choice or functional necessity. We are equipped with multiple degrees and skills, have roaring careers and hopes of the brightest future that makes every minute count and doing nothing seems to be such an insane thing.

How beautiful and meaningful would life be if we could master the art of doing nothing when nothing is needed to be done, without a pang of overwhelming guilt or burden. Life lies somewhere in between the ability to conquer greater heights and the ability to slow down to smell the roses and feel the breeze.

I am now more open to spending many lazy afternoons playing snake and ladder with my children, skipping gym for a day if I feel like it, taking a long afternoon nap, watching some of my favourite shows on TV and riding my cycle without setting the tracker to keep track of time, distance or speed. To be able to do nothing without guilt or shame is a beautiful feeling that truly empowering, enriching, cathartic and calming.

It’s about time to stop the glorification of busy.

A version of this was first published here.


The image is a still from the movie Eat, Pray, Love


About the Author

Namrata Giri

I am a 37-year-young mother, writer, dreamer, fitness enthusiast and...oh yes, an Economist too. Like any average woman my age, I juggle between caring for my kids, running a house and a read more...

10 Posts | 27,672 Views

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