The Best Work Happens When You Stop Doing Anything

These days, we talk a lot about compartmentalizing the different parts of your life. For many, it’s the only way to deal with the inherent stress that comes with thinking about work all the time. But the fact is that we really suck at it and need to start thinking differently to keep stress down and engagement up in every part of life.

Today’s culture is one that values being always on and always working. We have accepted the idea that constant work and activity equals success. It runs so deep that it’s infected our very way of thinking. Over time, we have developed an all-consuming need to be busy—a need to be doing something, anything at all.  

But the fact is that not only is this “always on” mentality unhealthy, it’s not even efficient. It’s very rare that this need to be busy actually leads to consistent and productive behaviors. Instead, we check our emails, we read the news, and we run circle around problems without taking a step back and really thinking about how to solve them.

The word “hustle” gets thrown around a lot, but I think we’ve lost track of what it means. Hustle doesn’t mean doing anything and everything you can just to keep yourself moving. Hustle means making intelligent choices and working hard to make them a reality.

Hustle also means knowing when to stop. No one has gotten anywhere when they work themselves to the bone and burnout. We only have so much physical, emotional, and mental energy in our bodies, and we need to start being conscious about how we manage it. It’s a hell of a lot better than banging your head against the wall and expecting to get anywhere.

And you know what? Doing nothing doesn’t have to be just about relaxing—a chance to recharge your batteries. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that valuable thoughts and new ideas come most clearly when you give yourself the space to do absolutely nothing at all.

It is so much harder to really think when you don’t even give yourself the time to do it. I think we understand that, but we are so bad at leaving ourselves time to do nothing. We even seem to be afraid of it to the point that we will grab at anything and everything to keep us busy.

And there’s a historical reason for that. Timeline.com recently published a piece which argued that this desire to be going constantly is 500 years old. It comes from a British mercantile idea that any idle moment would cost the country as a whole. And now the attitude is so entrenched that we have a hard time even recognizing what it is anymore.

What all this amounts to is a lot of wasted time. It’s probably lost us plenty of great ideas in the bargain too. We don’t let our minds wander anymore. We don’t let ourselves get lost, and as a consequence, we don’t find much either.

The need to be busy problem has ballooned to epic proportions in the Internet age where any distraction you could possibly imagine sits there waiting for you. We need to fight that impulse harder than ever if we really want to let our minds stretch and imagine.

Basically, we need to push ourselves to do nothing. It sounds crazy, but it’s actually very hard to do. When’s the last time you actually let yourself truly do nothing—no emails, no news, no phone at all? Beyond that, when’s the last time you were truly able to leave all the nagging thoughts behind?

I think that all these strategies to relax just muddle the issue. You’re just thinking again about the best possible way to relax, and it’s not something that need to be optimized. More importantly, it’s not something that works the same for everyone.

If yoga or meditation is your way to really get to that place where it all fades into the background then great. But don’t force yourself into doing what everyone else is if you’re not seeing any results. Remember, it’s about doing nothing and that shouldn’t have to be hard.    

— ZK

Ed Lynes13p5Comment