The value of doing nothing

I won’t go as far as saying “I am a lazy person” but I definitely have lazy spells.

Sometimes I build up this mental list of things to do – chores, but also fun things. Ideas, if you will, on how to spend an evening or a weekend – with friends, with my husband or alone.

But then I turn on Netflix and I can’t remember any of the things on the list…

Then I turn Netflix off and start my evening routine. And guess what? All of the things I didn’t do start flooding back to me and I make a promise to myself I’ll do some of it tomorrow and next weekend.

Busy is not the same as productive

I don’t even think anyone is trying to keep it a secret; how busy you are doesn’t in the slightest predict how effective you are.

Having spent a portion of my career as a team leader I often had a fully booked calendar several days into the future. There are all the team ceremonies – and some of them required me to do some planning and/or gather some data – meetings with my peers and superiors, one-to-one meetings with everyone in my team. And something wonderful, which we called “10% time” – time for personal development and learning. This was also scheduled in my calendar – and although definitely the first thing any of us sacrificed to “get things done” – something many of us pretended to do every Friday afternoon.

And there was definitely a lot to do. In hindsight I don’t understand why I couldn’t see it was out of control. When someone asks you for 15 minutes of your time and you have to schedule it two days into the future (!) you should realise something ain’t right, right? And when your personal development time increases your stress levels? And when you’re basically okay with that just being “the way it is”?

Mostly stuff did get done. But that was actually the point: stuff got done.

It was easier to just continue with what’s right in front me – kinda like when I watch Netflix at home. Except with fewer dead Swedish people*. And when I turned off the computer, preparing to go home, I’d sometimes see the bigger picture – opportunities and challenges otherwise hidden behind piles and piles of post-its with tasks – and promise myself I’d look into that tomorrow, or definitely next week.

Just do nothing for awhile

At home, when I turn off Netflix well before bedtime (or don’t even turn it on at all!) I look at my house. And I see things. I see things I ought to do and things I want to do.

I notice that we have six guitars, a double bass, a drum, a microphone and an electrical keyboard. I could play some music – or at least I could practice so I will one day be able to play music.

I notice that we have two sewing machines, countless knitting needles, crochet hooks, needlepoint stuff, yarn, fabric and accessories – so I could finish one of the countless projects I’ve already started or I could start a new one.

I notice the flowers look thirsty and the photos of our families still in a pile on the floor rather than on the wall.

I see problems and opportunities.

And then I solve the problems and seize some of the opportunities.

At work, I had an opportunity to switch off the endless stream of busy-work. My Netflix equivalent to-do list. It was because I had a change in responsibilities and I ended up in one of those jobs where you have to be “self-lead” or whatever the term is nowadays. That meant I didn’t have a list. And on some days I actually just wondered around the office, looking for problems and opportunities. Not having a list of things to do made me able to see much more valuable things – things you can’t just write on a post-it – things, that will make a real difference.

And recently, standing before another career change, I’ve reflected on this and realised that the most valuable thing my colleagues can do now, is nothing.


* I’m quite partial to Scandinavian crime drama. I like Swedes. I love Wallander.


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