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The Power of 'Un-Productivity'

Updated: Apr 21, 2020

By Charvi Jain

"If you don’t come out of this quarantine with a new skill, or more knowledge gained… then ̶y̶o̶u̶ ̶n̶e̶v̶e̶r̶ ̶l̶a̶c̶k̶e̶d̶ ̶t̶i̶m̶e̶,̶ ̶y̶o̶u̶ ̶l̶a̶c̶k̶e̶d̶ ̶d̶i̶s̶c̶i̶p̶l̶i̶n̶e̶." How many of us has seen this post and beat ourself up for not being as productive? You know what, YOU ARE DOING JUST FINE. We are going through a collective traumatic experience. Not everyone has the privilege of turning a pandemic into something fun or 'productive'. And what is productivity anyway?

The productivity myth

Running from place to place and labouring over long to-do lists have increasingly become ways to communicate status: I’m so busy because I’m just so important, the thinking goes.

In the evolution from single-tasking to multitasking, we’ve somehow signed on to a new belief about productivity that is not only problematic but can also encourage addictive behaviour. “You feel good for being productive: it’s a dopamine release just like with any other addiction,”. This dopamine rush increases your heart rate and blood pressure, and stimulates the nervous system; research shows that a release of dopamine also increases motivation to take on more.

And so the cycle of productivity addiction continues.

“While this productivity addiction might be good for a while, it’s not good for you in the long run,” Perhaps it’s time to stop all this busyness. Being busy — if we even are busy — is rarely the status indicator we’ve come to believe it is. Nonetheless, the impact is real, and instances of burnout, anxiety disorders and stress-related diseases are on the rise, not to mention millennial burnout.

Besides, a cycle of constant action may end up encouraging a less productive cycle over time.

“If you’re doing too much of anything, it means you’re not balancing out the rest of your life, and you end up getting frazzled,”. “If you make some spare time, rest more and have some social time, you end up being more productive. You’re giving your brain and body a chance to restore and recharge.”

It’s time to master the art of doing nothing.

Could doing nothing be actually good for you?

To equate "doing nothing" with nonproductivity betrays a short-sighted understanding of productivity. In fact, psychological research suggests that doing nothing is essential for creativity and innovation, and a person's seeming inactivity might actually cultivate new insights, inventions or melodies.

As legends go, Isaac Newton grasped the law of gravity sitting under an apple tree. Archimedes discovered the law of buoyancy relaxing in his bathtub, while Albert Einstein was well-known for staring for hours into space in his office.

The academic sabbatical is centered on the understanding that the mind needs to rest and be allowed to explore in order to germinate new ideas.

Doing nothing – or just being – is as important to human well-being as doing something. The key is to balance the two.

Many of the world’s most successful and productive people who see the value of taking a break from the chaos of everyday life so they can think and be creative are scheduling time to do absolutely nothing into their calendars.

In the business start-up world, a growing number of successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, including Skillshare’s Mike Karnjanaprakorn, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and The 4-Hour Work Week author Tim Ferriss are following in the footsteps of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who has a long-standing habit of taking breaks called Think Weeks to slow down, recalibrate and gain clarity on his best way to move forward.

But you don’t have to be an entrepreneur to make slowing down a part of your life or restrict it to several weeks a year.

Try taking a cue from other cultures: The Italians fold a ritual called dolce far niente, which means “the sweetness of doing nothing”, into their days by deliberately slowing down with a leisurely dinner at a cafe, a soothing view of the sunset with a glass of wine or calming stroll around a moonlit piazza. Or the beauty behind Assam’s ‘lahe lahe’.

Much research – and many spiritual and philosophical systems Buddhism, for example, suggest that detaching from daily concerns and spending time in simple reflection and contemplation are essential to health, sanity and personal growth.

Doing nothing and ‘being'

Since it will probably be difficult to go cold turkey from an accelerated pace of existence to doing nothing, here are some suggestions that can help decelerate:

  • banish the guilt Now the problem comes of this nagging feeling called “guilt” that just doesn’t let us laze around in peace. I rejected my guilt upon learning that Europeans in the Middle Ages felt no shame for lolling about. Their favourite philosopher, Aristotle, had praised the contemplative life, and the monks spent a lot of time just praying and chanting. Guilt for doing nothing is artificially imposed on us by a puritanical culture that wants us to work hard. When you understand that it hasn’t always been this way, it becomes easier to shake it off.

  • cut off One relatively easy way to do so is to simply turn off all the technological devices that connect us to the internet – at least for a while – and assess what happens to us when we do. Danish researchers found that students who disconnected from Facebook for just one week reported notable increases in life satisfaction and positive emotions. In another experiment, neuroscientists who went on a nature trip reported enhanced cognitive performance.

  • schedule to -do -nothing time During this time I discovered something that helped me stay on top of things and keep my productivity high: I started making appointments to do nothing. Doing nothing feels like the complete opposite of being productive, but after you’ve tried it you will see how effective it can be. Why do you think Google adopts a company policy that has an emphasis on allowing their staff so much free time?

  • remind yourself you are enough You matter, your life matters, and you have worth. Period. You matter without the stuff, without all that work done, without the outside approval and conferred significance, without the career, the projects, the friends, without anything. Just. You. It takes the absence of an agenda to really learn yourself. It takes quiet. It takes room. It takes time.

Learning to be comfortable with a “do nothing” day isn’t going to come easily. It is hard work, but it is work worth doing. During this current period, when the universe has given all of us the opportunity to take a break, TAKE A BREAK, and now that you know how ‘productive’ this can be, take it without the guilt. :)

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