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In praise of doing nothing

Last week I decided to write a posting on the subject of doing nothing, but succeeded in living my subject so well that the posting didn’t appear at all!

As a time management “expert” I find that a large proportion of people who come to me for advice want to know how to DO more things or DO them better or DO them more efficiently. While to me it’s often totally obvious that what they really need to learn is how to do LESS things or, even better, how to do NOTHING. They are so busy cramming more and more things into their lives that the very idea of doing nothing would never enter their heads.

So let’s look at some of the advantages of doing nothing:

  • It’s cheap — it doesn’t cost anything at all to do nothing.
  • In fact it’s better than cheap. You will be much more productive if you build some time for doing nothing into your life.
  • Doing nothing is an excellent way of re-connecting with yourself.
  • Doing nothing with someone you love is great.
  • Doing nothing means you let things happen at their own pace rather than force them.
  • Deliberately doing nothing is often the best choice when you are uncertain how to proceed.
  • Deliberately doing nothing allows you to get to what I call the “point of power” — that moment when the time is right and you just gotta do it — the point where your action just seems to happen by itself.
  • Doing nothing allows you to experience BEING.


In the next few days, try building some time for doing nothing into your life. A whole day spent deliberately doing nothing can be a wonderfully re-charging experience. But even ten minutes here and there can make a real difference.

Of course the only time you can really literally do nothing at all is when you are dead. You will always be doing something, even if it is only breathing. But the important thing about doing nothing in the sense in which I am using the expression is that you are not trying to achieve anything. The best activities for doing nothing are things like going for a stroll in the open air, chatting with a friend or loved one, reading a novel, doing a bit of gardening, meditating, looking at a beautiful view, that sort of thing. Above all they should be things that you are engaging in for their own sake, not because they lead somewhere else.

Reader Comments (7)


I don't really see how this helps me get things done. I do agree that:

1. Many people take on too much.
2. There is a need to build relaxation time into the schedule.

However I feel that many of the points above are just excuses to procrastinate.


May 15, 2007 at 12:58 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Hollingworth
Hi, David

Thanks for the comment. I think there is a lot of difference between deliberately doing nothing and procrastinating. For one thing an excess of activity may in itself be a way of procrastinating. Very busy people are sometimes not very productive because they are using their busy-ness to avoid the challenging things that they need to face up to.

May 15, 2007 at 16:28 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
..."While to me it’s often totally obvious that what they really need to learn is how to do LESS things or, even better, how to do NOTHING" ...

I quite agree! And from my experience it is a skill that is underrated and much harder to master than people expect!

It is also something for "at work" too. Many of my best ideas come to me when I am "doing nothing"!
May 16, 2007 at 5:41 | Unregistered Commentersally
How do we value time?

Sometimes the most valuable time is not producing-time (assemby-line time) but being-with-yourself time, an idea which corporations generally discourage, but can be extraordinarily creative, insightful, and delightful. I often get great ideas just before I go to sleep. There are anecdotes of famous scientists making great breakthroughs while napping, dozing or resting.

There is a zen saying "the most important thing is remembering the most important thing".
August 9, 2012 at 12:07 | Unregistered Commentermichael
I don't remember the exact wording (nor did I read the English version anyway) but there is a phrase in one of the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett saying "Cohen and his gang had this skill of older people for doing nothing when there is nothing to do".

They were in a situation when they were expecting an attack from a big monster, but they did not now when it would be. The younger ones were shaking in fear. Cohen and his troop of old warriors were just waiting and doing various things to kill time.

Is really "doing nothing" a skill that you learn with experience?
August 22, 2012 at 7:37 | Unregistered CommenterLaurent
For me activity for excitement and stimulation has been balanced with inner appreciation which is calmer and enjoyable. I think this is personal evolution, when younger one wants to feel personal power by making a mark on the world; when older one wants to appreciate and enjoy the world more. Both are required in a lifetime. Life's energies move in waves.
August 26, 2012 at 10:05 | Unregistered Commentermichael
The psychology of doing nothing:
November 18, 2015 at 22:21 | Unregistered Commentermichael

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