Need a talent?
Try doing nothing.
In our hyperkinetic society, we scan our inbox, check our cell phones, and — for good measure — refresh our inbox. The average Americans checks his email 46 times per day.
Was the latest GroupOn coupon that crucial?
Riding the bus to work this morning, I observe my sleep-deprived busmates fidgeting in their seats. As the bus rumbles downtown, my busmates are Twittering, Snapchatting, and Facebooking away. Some are feverishly working — engrossed in the latest project. Me? I am hunched over my iPhone, scanning my mind’s recesses for a catchy intro. We are all busy, running on life’s treadmill. But is the ceaseless need for productivity sapping our mental equanimity? Averting our eyes from our overflowing inbox, we both know the answer.
As a notorious fidgeter, I understand the compulsive need to do something…anything. But this obsession is counterproductive to our mental health. Like our bodies after a strenuous workout, our overtaxed minds need time to relax. And, yes, sit still. Refuting your Type A protestations, it is permissible — and healthy — to park your mind in neutral. For many Americans, I suspect this is easier said (or written) than done.
Riding the bus yesterday, my goal was to sit without distraction. I vowed to ignore the temptation to scan my IPhone and scroll through the latest headlines, emails, and Twitter feeds. But during the 40 minute ride into downtown, there was a quiet uncomfortability — bordering on irritability. The compulsive need for stimulation overpowered me. Feeling uneasy — even agitated, I pulled out my phone to glance at the latest news headlines. Like many hard-charging Americans, I crave activity — even something as mind-numbing as reading the latest Kardashian tweet.
We demand perfection from our minds, imploring them to recall esoteric facts during that conference call, deliver a captivating Board presentation, and uncork witty banter on a first date. And when our minds fail, we reprimand — unleashing a venomous torrent of criticism. The cold reality: our misguided attempts at productivity are defeating us. And, even worse, draining our overtaxed nervous system.
From physical health to emotional well-being, there are myriad benefits stemming from those blissful moments of mental serenity. Mental downtime, in particular, replenishes glucose and oxygen levels, refueling our weary minds. Mental health practitioners connect downtime to greater confidence, patience, and compassion.
But among the corner office set, a healthy skepticism exists. Rooted in our work-centric culture, we disparage idleness as unproductive — even wasteful. But as we attempt to squeeze every ounce of productivity out of a work day, we are flailing on life’s treadmill. The ultimate destination: burnout.
Corporate chieftains are acknowledging this all too common reality — and are now introducing scheduled downtime for high-level executives. 3M, Google, and Twitter actively encourage “disconnected time,” understanding the mental paralysis endemic to overly compulsive employees. Forbes, the award-winning financial weekly, connects executive downtime with greater insight and personal growth. Creative ideas, like your mind, need space to breathe and time to marinate.
In our perpetual quest to do more, here’s my recommendation: do less. You will refresh something much more important than your inbox.
De Vries, Manfred (1 July 2014). The Importance of Doing Nothing. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/insead/2014/07/01/the-importance-of-doing-nothing/#2985f1e55ea2