In Praise of ‘Wasting Time’
I think I have finally learnt the art of ‘doing nothing’. Or, rather, I’ve ‘re-learnt’ it – we were all so good at this skill when we were young.
I set out on a mission at the beginning of July 2018 – I would, once and for all, ‘slow down’. I was nervous about my endeavor but, in reality, I had almost no choice. I was finding myself experiencing repeated bouts of exhaustion and realised, over time, that many of these were – irritatingly – self-inflicted.
I’m someone who always likes to have a full diary. I thrive on activity and ‘keeping busy’, learnt from wonderful parents who still, in their seventies, never seem to sit down. I mistakenly came to believe that doing ‘nothing’ was an act of laziness; something that I should feel guilty about. Every moment had to be ‘productive’; it was all about ‘achieving’ something, whether it was a tidy house, an effective workout or a good piece of work. There was no room for slacking; that was for the lazy among us. But how wrong I was.
What is your Relationship with Time?
In the modern world, we’ve all become obsessed with productivity. The increasing pace of life has changed our lives dramatically. So much so that, sadly, many of us don’t even seem to have time to stop and ‘chat’ like we used to. In fact, when someone stops us to engage, we are all guilty of glancing at our watch and saying ‘I have to run’! It’s due to our habit of packing too much into a day, and not leaving enough ‘pockets’ of time to slow down. As a result, we spend our whole times running, and very little time really engaging. It’s tragic but, more than that, it’s detrimental to our mental health and our energies.
With the speed of communication gone into overdrive over the past 50 years, there has been an increase in productivity and, thereby, a financial reward for going quicker. But what we have lost, as a result, is invaluable. I believe that we’ve lost our peace of mind – when mindless distraction and busyness is always just one, highly addictive click away.
Who Wants to Slow Down?
I do! Why? Because I can already see the benefits. I’m calmer, more content and definitely more in touch with my creativity.
Some argue that our obsession with productivity has diminished our ability to nourish our inner selves – that time where we ‘day dream’ creatively and let our minds wander. As a result, psychologists believe this partly explains our increasing anxiety levels, and those of our children.
One study conducted by the Harvard Business Review, recently showed that most people spend 13.5 hours a day on their smartphones (are they really that ‘smart’?) doing business, compared to the old eight-hour workday. Think of all that encroachment on our time – time that we would otherwise, in the past, have spent chatting to people face-to-face or enjoying some much needed downtime.
Sadly, in our cyber age, where we have an almost limitless selection of entertainment and distraction to hand, it’s easier to find ourselves in a state of constant busyness than it is to do nothing. And holidays – in the true sense – where we disconnect with the rest of the world, and reconnect with our loved ones, are rare.
14 Tips to Slow Down and Regain Time
1. Ban smartphones and other devices from the bedroom and the room where you eat your meals.
2. Read more – ideally not media or news, but fiction or biography; something that takes you away from reality and more into the ‘dream-like’ state of another world.
3. Do fewer things in a day – if you want to slow down time, your goal should be to take on fewer tasks each day, and to experience each one of them fully and more completely.
4. Put aside time each day – whether it is morning or evening – to do nothing. Try just sitting still, without the distraction of a laptop or tv, for just 5 minutes to begin with. Gradually build the time to ten minutes or more.
5. Consider doodling or ‘colouring for adults’ books – this has been shown to help with creative thinking.
6. Stop multi-tasking – the more you divide your attention into multiple tasks, the more difficult a time you’ll have staying focused on what you’re doing. Multi-tasking is so over-rated.
7. Try 5 minutes of journalling every day – write down whatever comes into your head (even if it’s complete nonsense) and continue for 5 minutes. It’s for your eyes only!
8. Listen to music more often – again, this taps into the creative and emotional side of our brains.
9. Start listening – do you really listen to your partner, children or friend? Stop trying to jump in to share your knowledge or advice; sit back and listen actively instead. It feels so different, and you will entirely change the dynamic of the interaction.
10. Learn from your children – young children, especially, know how to be utterly ‘in the moment’ and get completely lost in an activity because they’re not distracted. This is called being ‘in flow’ and is incredibly good for your mind and body.
11. Don’t overschedule your children – could they give up one of their activities to make space for more downtime? Are you guilty of ‘competitive parenting’, and they are paying the price? Remember that being bored is an important route to creativity.
12. Notice more – pay attention to things that you enjoy; the changing seasons, your toddler’s concentrating face, the taste of your food…you’ll feel more alive, rather than just ‘going through the motions’ in this way.
13. Encourage older children to do a digital detox – for parts of the weekend, or even the whole weekend. Ask them to put away devices on car journeys so you can just chat, or even encourage them to just stare out the window (which we all used to do!).
14. Consider taking up a new hobby – one that forces you to slow down, such as hill-walking, golf or art.
“Joy comes to us in ordinary moments. We risk missing out when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary” – Brene Brown
Recommended book: Take your Time: The Wisdom of Slowing Down
by Eknath Easwaran, one of the twentieth century’s greatest spiritual teachers.