The Art of Doing Nothing

stop multitaskingIn case you missed my column in the September issue of Austin Woman magazine:

I don’t know about you, but I’m left cold by those promiscuous multi-taskers who insist on bleating about how busy they are. I don’t trust them to show up on time, I’m offended by their wandering attention, and I steer clear of their scattered energy.

What’s lost on those energizer bunnies is the difference between “busy” and “productive.” Now that we all live in the same 24/7 world, no one cares about the size of your to-do list. Once upon a time, at the dawn of the digital age, “busy” may have sounded impressive. Today it’s just plain whiny.

The new cool is doing nothing.

Doing nothing means making space simply to be. That’s the space where creativity, reflection, and innovation happen. That’s the space where we are truly present and generous with our loved ones. That’s the space where we can reinvent ourselves, and our future.

Doing nothing is the path to a calmer, more vibrant spirit.

That’s exactly what travel writer and blogger Beth Schrader set out to accomplish this summer. . . . (click below to read more)

“I get so frustrated every summer, because I’m so busy that I don’t get any of those ‘lazy summer days’ to lay around and read and drink iced tea.” This year, she committed to change. Even though she works days, she realized, she does have control over her evenings and weekends. “I decided–by God, I’m going to have my ‘lazy summer’!”

Beth cut out happy hours, skipped networking events, and stepped away from the computer. Her policy: to resist social outings just for the sake of doing something. “I did a bit of it when necessary, like birthdays and family reunions, and one-on-one meals with dear friends, but that was it.”

Instead, she devoted herself to her books, her home, and her photo collection.

Beth was low-key about withdrawing from the social frenzy. Her friends miss the girls’ nights out, lunches, and weekend adventures she used to organize, but she resists the temptation to take the initiative.

“I feel energized and much calmer. My blood pressure was perfect when I went to the doctor last week.”

Was it worth it, carving out that open space in her home and on her calendar? “Definitely. It’s been gratifying. I was surprised how good it feels to get back in touch with my home.”

It worked so well, in fact, that she plans to repeat her strategy next year. “I’ll also do a one-day stint whenever I need it. This week, I was feeling very overwhelmed, so I spent yesterday at home. I paid bills, took care of some paperwork, and cleaned–with frequent reading breaks–and I feel re-energized today.”

The results? “I’ve handled problems much more calmly than I normally would. At work I’m particularly focused, because I’m not thinking about all the other stuff I need to do. And at home, I’m able to see that some of the chores and errands really don’t need to be done, or I get creative about them.”

How can the rest of us undertake our own version of Beth’s “summer of nothing”? Follow these steps:

1. Write down the list of activities and obligations that are draining your energy and scattering your focus. For Beth, it was socializing and email.
2.Identify which of those energy-sappers can be dumped: either by being eliminated or delegated.
3.Proceed incrementally. Eliminate or delegate one thing at a time.
4.Literally schedule your newfound “do-nothing” time on your calendar.
5.Reward yourself for resisting the urge to backslide. For Beth, the reward is reading another book chapter.
6. Harness the power of sound. When Beth wants some quiet, focused time, she avoids pop tunes in favor of silence or New Age instrumentals.

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