You’re just about to leave for your dentist appointment, when you receive a phone call saying the dentist has been called out on emergency and will have to reschedule your appointment.
You are the winner
of one unexpected free hour!
What will you do with your winnings?
Answer your email? Return to the project you were working on before you had to leave? Pay bills? Return phone calls?
Ever consider doing nothing?
What is this life if, full of care,
we have no time to stand and stare.
W. H. Davies
If you’re like many, the thought of doing absolutely nothing for an entire hour seems as wasteful as throwing a week’s worth of fresh groceries out with the garbage. Indeed, free time with nothing to do can generate near panic among those who are overloaded and time-starved.
“We seem to have a complex about busyness in our culture,” says Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul. “Most of us do have time in our days that we could devote to simple relaxation, but we convince ourselves that we don’t.”
And yet, the harder we push, the more we need to replenish ourselves. As Stephan Rechtschaffen, author of Timeshifting, says, “Each of us needs some time that is strictly and entirely our own and we should experience it daily.”
The importance of this downtime cannot be overstated. It helps us see more clearly, hear more keenly, become more inspired and feel more alive.
On some level, we already know this. But claiming time to ourselves—time that is often labeled “unproductive”—and sticking to it can be difficult. We need to establish formal boundaries around our idle time to ensure that others—and we, ourselves—honor this time.
Here are some tips for respecting your idle time.
- Make a date with yourself. Get to know someone who deserves your attention—you.
- Stand firm. Learn how to say “no” to co-workers, children, a spouse or a friend. You may say “yes” in many other ways, but NOW is your time.
- Be clear about your needs. It’s not, “I need more time to myself.” It’s more like, “I’d like to spend 20 minutes by myself in the morning before everyone gets up.”
- Be on the lookout for stolen moments. Use the canceled dental appointment to sit on a park bench watching the clouds float by.
- PRACTICE doing nothing. “Doing nothing” is an art—like all art, you need to practice it to reach your highest potential.
Optimal idle time varies by individual. For one person, gardening may be meditative downtime, whereas for another, it is one more item on the to-do list (to be done as quickly as possible or avoided at all costs). For some, the woods can be is a great place to stroll and commune with nature. For others, the woods is just another place for a power walk dictating emails.
Idle time should be like a beautiful flower: it just exists, seemingly without purpose. And yet, its sight and scent refresh and remind us of nature’s glory.
Start doing things that have no purpose other than joy. Take a half-hour a day to surprise and delight yourself. Keep it simple and consistent. If your idle time becomes a “program,” or becomes progress toward some productive goal, wipe the slate clean and begin again.
The power of idle time is breathtaking in its simplicity.
Author’s content adapted under license, © 2008 Claire Communications
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