Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Instead of Being Busy – Do Nothing!

Photo by Nathan McBride on Unsplash

Are you keeping busy? 
(adapted from an article in the New York Times 29/04/19 by Olga Mecking)

Running from place to place and labouring over long to-do lists have increasingly become ways to communicate status:

The message this sends is “I’m so busy because I’m just so important”

Maybe it is time to stop all this busyness!

“Being busy” is rarely the status indicator that we have come to believe it to be.  Nonetheless, the impact is real, and instances of burnout, anxiety disorders and stress-related diseases are on the rise, not to mention the “millennial burnout”

There is, however, a way out of all this madness, and it is not more mindfulness, exercise or a healthy diet (even though these things are all still important).  It is quite simply … doing nothing or as the Dutch say “Niksen”

What is Niksen?

It is difficult to define what doing nothing actually is, because we are always doing something, even when we are asleep.

Doreen Dodgen-Magee, a psychologist who studies boredom and wrote the book “Deviced! Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World,” likens Niksen to a car whose engine is running but isn’t going anywhere.

“The way I think about boredom is coming to a moment with no plan other than just to be,” she said.

Sandi Mann, a psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire here in England, added that Niksen can be “when we are not doing the things we should be doing. Because perhaps we don’t want to, we are not motivated. Instead, we are not doing very much.”

The idea of Niksen is to really take conscious, considered time and energy to do activities like gazing out of a window or sitting motionless. The less-enlightened might call such activities “lazy” or “wasteful.” Again this is nonsense!

There are people who are fans of taking regular breaks throughout the day, because many studies show that feeling drowsy, exhausted or otherwise mentally depleted during the workday drastically hinders performance and productivity.

In other words: Whether at home or at work, it is permissible to spend the afternoon just hanging out.

So why do we need Niksen in our lives?

Generally speaking, our culture does not promote sitting still, and yet this is something that can have wide-reaching consequences for our mental health, well-being, productivity and other areas of our lives.

Technology does not make it any easier: The smartphone you carry with you at all hours makes it almost impossible to truly unplug and embrace idleness. And, by keeping ourselves busy at all times, we may be losing our ability to sit still because our brains are actually being rewired.

Indeed, the benefits of idleness can be wide-ranging.

It has been found that daydreaming — an inevitable effect of idleness — “literally makes us more creative, better at problem-solving, better at coming up with creative ideas.” For that to happen, though, total idleness is required.

“Let the mind search for its own stimulation,” Ms. Mann said. “That is when you get the daydreaming and mind wandering, and that’s when you’re more likely to get the creativity.”

Counterintuitively, idleness can be a great productivity tool because “if our energy is totally shot, our productivity is not going to be good because we’re not going to have fuel to burn with which to be productive,” said Chris Bailey, a productivity expert and author of the blog “A Life of Productivity.”

Niksen can help you solve problems as well.

“It takes you out of your mind, and then you see things clearly after a while,” said Manfred Kets de Vries, a professor of leadership development and organizational change at Insead in Paris.

But stopping the cycle of business can be challenging in a culture that prizes getting things done. Here are some tips to help you stop and be:
Figure out when you’re most productive and creative, then notice when your mind starts to shut off or you start performing tasks just for the sake of doing them, Mr. Bailey suggests. That’s when you should go for a walk or take a break. The intention behind the decision is what counts.
“I do nothing with purpose,” Mr. Kets de Vries said. “I know that without breaks I cannot be effective.”

Prioritize the things that are important to you and the things that bring you pleasure, and outsource everything else when possible. Focusing on the truly relevant parts of life can help you build free time in your schedule. And take advantage of convenient opportunities to practice idleness, like when you’re standing in line or waiting for the children to come home from school.
Keep your devices out of reach so that they will be more difficult to access, and turn your home into a Niksen-friendly area. Add a soft couch, a comfy armchair, a few cushions or just a blanket.  Place furniture around a window or fireplace rather than a TV.
“If those spaces are present, people will use them,” Ms. Dodgen-Magee said.
If you cannot sit still in your home or workplace, go to the park or book a relaxing day at the spa. Ms. Dodgen-Magee encourages people to host boredom parties, during which a host invites over a few friends to … be bored together.

Mr. Bailey suggests experimenting with different lifestyles to find the right one for you. For example, he lived like a slob for a week and learned that it’s important to “let the air out of the tires” once in a while.

If you are still uncomfortable with the idea of doing nothing, try to trick your mind into thinking you’re being productive. Ms. Dodgen-Magee suggests using open- end toys such as kinetic sand, Baoding balls or marble runs.

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