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September 23, 2019 Peggy Liu

Free up time for doing “nothing” — your business will thank you

Allowing yourself to remain busy all the time can be counterproductive if you aren't setting aside time for creativity.

Doing nothing is not as much of a waste of time as you might think. 

Contrary to popular belief, doing “nothing” is not necessarily synonymous with being lazy. Done with the right intentions, idleness can be a useful skill in nurturing creativity and healthful recovery. 

Gain more clarity and energy — and avoid using willpower

Constant business can actually be counterproductive in the sense that staying “on” all the time prevents your mind from doing several things. For one, allowing your conscious mind to stay active prevents your unconscious mind from fully processing the information you’re receiving. This can affect your judgement in making decisions or your capacity for paying attention and remembering details.

For another, allowing yourself to remain busy all the time can be counterproductive if you find yourself constantly drawing on willpower reserves. When our energy is depleted, most of us resort to self-discipline to keep pushing through. Granted, applying willpower and self-discipline isn’t a bad approach to hustling, but such a controlled mindset isn’t the most ideal frame of mind to foster creativity.

The solution to these problems is as simple and as complicated as resting. There’s a bit of stigma around the concept of rest in the hustle world, but you might be surprised at how much more refreshed and ready to return to work you feel after a solid day (or hour — whatever you can manage!) of doing nothing and clearing your mind.

Doing nothing can help hatch any fresh ideas your unconscious mind has been incubating

Have you ever been hard at work and suddenly felt your momentum derailed by a mental block? Perhaps you discovered that stepping away from your work for a while was like unlocking some part of your mind. Click — and you’re back on track with a clear solution . This is known as the incubation effect — and unfortunately for any workaholics out there, it can only happen when your mind is at rest.

The next great idea is just about to hit him…

In the 1920s, the incubation effect was proposed by an English psychologist named Graham Wallas who suggested it is the second step of a four-part creativity process. After conducting studies to understand how the incubation effect works, psychologists now agree that, in most cases, the unconscious mind’s processing and reorganizing of information plays an important part in creative thinking and problem solving.

The incubation effect is an excellent reason to let yourself take a break and “do nothing” for a time — not including quality time with your phone or other devices. Allow yourself to get up and take a walk around your office a few times a day. Catch up on sleep. For those who struggle with restless energy, try doing leisurely, mechanical activities like cooking, folding laundry, or cleaning. Allot 30 minutes to organize your office. Marie Kondo the heck out of your sock drawer.

The point is to do something that will let your conscious mind rest enough and enable your unconscious mind to jump from the backseat into the passenger seat and point you in the right direction. 

Permit space for reconnection

Idleness doesn’t have to involve spending an hour re-organizing your sock drawer to help your brain find creative inspiration. Having some downtime can also be a chance to reconnect with other parts of your life.

If you have been particularly stressed by work, time spent away from the demands of your job might help you rediscover your passion and the reason you began this crazy journey in the first place. It will give you an opportunity to focus on your family, hobbies, and friends for a change. These are the other parts of your life that, when tended to well, can carry over to your professional life and boost your happiness at work. 

Many people are under the impression that idleness is without value, but that depends on how you frame your mind around it. Do nothing with intention. Do it because you aim to recharge your batteries or nurture your creativity. 

For these reasons, doing nothing will be a more enjoyable, less guilty experience. Not to mention, it will arm you with significant psychological benefits for when you get back to the grind.

Peggy Liu

Peggy Liu is a freelance writer and content creator and editor. She graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in English Literature, where she was also a mental health columnist for the student newspaper. When she isn't digging her way to the bottom of a peanut butter jar or petting friendly dogs around Vancouver, she can be found sitting in cafes with a notebook and a cup of coffee.