John Mann

John Mann

The Art of Doing Nothing


There is an art to doing nothing.  We have so many tools to improve our efficiency, our productivity, our capacity, our velocity, etc...  However, we are missing an important factor in all of this, the human factor.  We need our down time.  We need to relax, rest, sleep, play, etc...  I found out last week if we do not allocate that time my body will force it.  We have sick days but very people use them.  There are some companies that have "unlimited" sick days, knowing that only 3-5 a year are used saving them money overall.  The point of this article is understanding the art of doing nothing.  It truly is an art for some "type a" personalities.  They are driven, they don't sleep, they push, they go all the time.  We all admire them and wonder how they do it.  Here is what I have learned over the years from personal experience, from various articles, and even a few conferences.

No one is non-stop all the time.

With the exception of maybe Ryan Seacrest, everyone has downtime.  Steve Jobs used to go for walks with his friend to come up with new ideas.  Tony Robbins has a strict workout routine and loves watching "True Blood".  According to a few interviews, even Ryan Seacrest slows down around 7pm (of course he is up at 4am).   You need to not compare yourself to the most productive people in the world, but take notes on their habits and see what works for you.

No one method works for everyone.

We all have different things that help us relax.  Some people watch tv, some people workout, some people read a book.  We all have different techniques and not every technique works for everyone.  The key is to find what works for you and be conscious of what you are doing.  I don't recommend sitting in front a marathon of Breaking Bad eating pizza and ice cream, although I have done that.  It is not a healthy technique, which is why I said be conscious of your method.   People tend to "reward" themselves for completing a workout, which usually counteracts the workout.  What if your reward is your workout?  Different perspective right?  Just a thought.

Go to sleep

We always wish we had more hours in the day, wish we were more productive, wish we finished something today.  What happens?  We fret over our lack of accomplishment, our minds are racing to finish some task that I PROMISE will be there tomorrow, and we have trouble going to sleep because we can't turn off our brain.  Train your body to understand that when it hits your bedtime, the tv goes off, the lights are off, and you go to bed.  I recommend writing down all of those tasks you think you MUST finish and say they will be there tomorrow and I don't need to do them today.  Giving yourself permission to sleep is a huge step in the right direction.  We are too hard on ourselves and most people don't ever realize how negative they are to themselves.  Stop doing that. (I know easier said than done, but being aware of it is a good start).

Make downtime a priority

Set up a time each day to have some downtime, it doesn't need to be 3 hours, I recommend at least an hour, but even a 1/2 hour can be greatly beneficial.  You will anticipate it each day.  You will be excited about "you" time.  You will create time boundaries on other items and it will help you organize your schedule around your downtime.

No day is typical and that's ok

You may have something come up that needs to be a higher priority or it is something out of your control.  A good example is the last week in Atlanta when the whole interstate was gridlocked due to weather and people were stuck in their cars overnight.  Just because you had a bad day and "lost control" of your schedule, be flexible.  It was a bad day, not a bad week, or month.  Tomorrow is another day and you can continue right where you left off.

Working more than 40 hours is useless, so stop doing it

That is not just an opinion, it is a fact.  There are several articles out there that discuss it, here are a few:

I could write my own spin on it... it decreases morale, it leads to burn out, it breaks the concept of "work-life" balance, it decrease productivity, it increases stress related health problems, etc...

All in all, being productive is a wonderful thing if you know what that actually means.  I love what I do and truly enjoy my time in the office, but I also love my time away from it with my wife, my hobbies, and my "downtime".  I used to work 70-80 hours a week, slept in my office and would wake up and write more code.  I would go on vacation for 2 weeks to Mexico and I would do nothing.  It took me about 3 days to realize I could do nothing.  I had a friend come with me one time and she didn't understand when I warned her I do nothing.  By day 3, she left and explored the city herself.  I would lay by a pool and do nothing.  No music, no reading, no writing, no computer, truly nothing.  The featured picture is from one of my trips.  I now know that I need to do it more frequently but for shorter stints.  I am still refining my life and learning more about what works for me.  Let me know what works for you.  Your ideas may help others improve their "craft" of doing nothing.  It is an art/skill and it is something we all need to learn to have amazing, fulfilling lives.

Thanks for stopping by, and let me know how you "do nothing".

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