Doing Nothing

Niksen.  It’s a Dutch word that means doing nothing.  I discovered this in a NY Times article ) that was making the case that being so busy as we all think we are maybe just isn’t where we want to be.  Maybe, just maybe, doing nothing is more (gasp!) productive that all that busyness.

Of course, as the article points out, it’s hard to actually do nothing—even when you are sleeping you are doing something.  For me, doing “nothing” typically has equated with not doing work related things.

When you work in an office, there are proscribed hours during which you must be doing only things that relate to work.  Some places monitor staff—ensuring that every email or browser search is connected to the job.  Heaven forfend you text a friend or family member, order those shoes, or look for a vacation spot.

And yet, 8 or so hours of “work” can, truly, turn you into a dull person.  Not just because the only things that occupy your mind are work but because that kind of focus narrows your vision, tamps down your creativity.

Twelve years ago, when I started consulting, I promised myself that at least once every six weeks, I would give myself a break and not feel that if it was daytime during the week (and often on the weekends), I needed to be doing work-like things.  I won’t tell you how long it took to give myself permission to take a hike, go to a museum, read a novel during “work hours.” In fact, it took me until last summer, when I broke my right wrist and had to give myself some slack.

What I discovered during the three months when I was somewhat incapacitated—able to type only with my left (non-dominant) hand; unable to drive; at the beginning in pain and then in discomfort—was that by allowing myself to rest, get away from the computer, not cram my weeks with meetings, I was actually a lot more productive. I had room to think, to see things from different angles, to look at things through a different lens.

Now, depending on my calendar, I regularly take a hike mid-morning; head out to a museum late morning or early afternoon.  And yes, I frequently spend two hours in prime work time hours, reading a novel or listening—really listening—to music. And I no longer feel that all lunch or coffee dates need to be about work.  I can, and do, talk about anything (yes, including politics and religion; truly I learn the most from those with whom I heartily disagree) which takes my mind along many new and interesting paths.

Interestingly enough, what that does is free me up to see my work in a different way and that, in turn, allows me to help my clients in a more creative manner.

That, in turn, keeps me from being bored.  And that—best of all—has brought joy back to my worklife and my life in general.


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