How “Doing Nothing” has Made Me More Productive

I Don’t Have Time”

“I don’t have time,” is something I tell myself fairly frequently. It’s a phrase that demonstrates how finite a resource time is and the value of what we choose to spend it on. For me, time and priority run in a direct correlation: what’s important will naturally use up more of my time. This has always made sense to me. That’s why the simple solution to so many of my problems has always been to “work harder.” But what I’ve come to realize is that “work harder” has always been referencing a different message: “work longer”. This is one of the biggest misconceptions that I see when it comes down to productivity; we begin to associate the effort we put into something with how much time we spend on it. As a result, many of us feel overworked and overwhelmed by the constant list of demands that are presented upon us. With so many responsibilities that teenagers have to juggle (academics, sports, extracurriculars, family, social life, etc.), it can seem there are not enough hours in a day to do everything we want to do. While we can’t extend the set, twenty-four hours we have, what we can do is make the most of our time. 

This leads me to my next point and what I meant from the title of this article. After everything I’ve just said about how we need to manage our time and productivity, I understand how contradictory it sounds that “doing nothing” has any use in accomplishing our goals. And yes, I agree that remaining focused on the many busy things we have planned is important and we shouldn’t lose sight of that. But what I mean by “doing nothing” isn’t just watching Netflix or going on my phone, but taking the time to stop for a moment and assess how I feel. In doing so, I can fully divert my attention afterward to what I am trying to focus on and increase my productivity. In other words, I optimize the way I spend my time on quality rather than quantity. The subtle, yet extraordinary difference it has made on not just my efficiency, but my well-being, is something that I am especially appreciative of. No longer was I restlessly cramming late into the night, stressed about what’s due the next morning for school. If anything, I piled more onto my agenda during junior year, yet I still made it a priority to check in with myself and take those necessary, little breaks. It’s because I looked out for my own needs that I was able to maintain my level of academic standards while also being able to heavily participate in projects I deeply care about (like this one!). This is just a small piece of my personal experience, but it aims to show what can be accomplished by “doing nothing.”

So in the future, when you may be thinking to yourself, “I don’t have time,” I encourage you to take a moment to refresh your mind and remember that your health is a priority as well. Overworking has resulted in both a decline in morale and achievement, and it’s only by breaking this trend that we can reach our fullest potential. It’s not about the amount of time we spend, but how we spend it.

The Art of “Doing Nothing”

Now that we’ve established the premise that taking moments to stop are imperative to our performance and self-care, how do we actually “do nothing” correctly? Is there a right way of unwinding and regathering ourselves? While there are plenty of ways to destress (as listed in an amazing article, “10 Ways to Take Care of Yourselves During Quarantine,” go check it out!), the one that I have found to be the most effective is mindfulness. Mindfulness is the state of staying present and freeing ourselves of judgment. To give a better understanding of what exactly I mean, I’ll put it in terms of how our minds are accustomed to operating. 

Take one minute to sit still and just focus solely on your breath. Count the number of times you inhale and exhale (inhale is 1, exhale is 2, next inhale is 3, so on and so on). That’s all you need to do. Seems simple enough? Go ahead and try it right now … What I predict that’s happened is that certain thoughts and ideas have gone through your head despite that not being the goal we set. What I mean to show by that small experiment is how susceptible our minds are to moving between the future and the past. Somehow, we have all been conditioned to think about what’s coming next or what has already happened rather than being in the present moment. An explanation for this is that it’s easier to escape into the future or past where our problems seem to disappear. It’s there where we can avoid confrontation and manifest what we want rather than having to be stuck in the present. But as you begin to look deeper into what the present has to offer and how you feel, what is gained is a keen sense of awareness. You become aware of your inner-conflicts, bringing them from the unconscious to the conscious. It’s only then that we can start to solve and bring closure to our issues rather than being blissfully ignorant. 

Mindfulness has been a saving grace for me, and I choose to take the fifteen minutes to sit down and resolve my issues rather than waste the next six hours trying to work with a distracted mind. In all its objective, physical view, it can look like I’m doing nothing when I close my eyes and just breathe. But what mindfulness does is prepare me for what is yet to come by bringing me into the present. I encourage everyone to give it a shot and see what mindfulness can do for you! We’ll be with you every step of the way 🙂

Balance

Finding this work-life balance has greatly enhanced my productivity and morale. However, what I dislike about the term “work-life balance” is that it implies that our work is equal to our life. We need to begin prioritizing ourselves instead of looking for our accomplishments to validate us. Work is just another part of our lives, yet we constantly seem to act like they are polar-opposites that need to be separated. Work doesn’t need to be something we dread to do. Finding joy in what we put our time in is how we can sustain a high level of effort along with being content. Like many other students, I’m not sure what I want to pursue in college or career-wise, but what I’ve found that brings me fulfillment is working with others to make the world a better place. As I continue to work on Heads Up Teens, I don’t feel necessarily stressed or fatigued by all there is to do, but excited by what I can do next. Work and life should be intertwined, one encompassing the other.

To end, I’d like to share a quote by Celeste Headlee, the author of Do Nothing that inspired this very article: “We’re searching for external solutions to internal problems… to embrace leisure, we don’t have to let go of progress”

Works Cited:

Headlee, Celeste Anne. Do Nothing. Piatkus, 2020.

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