To Do: Nothing 1


Here is some praise for an activity that gets a lot of criticism: Doing Nothing.

Keep calm and do nothing

(credit: keep-calm-o-matic)

We are endlessly exhorted to Do Things. To be active, to keep moving – forward. What is this relentless busy-ness aimed at? Achieving goals. Our To Do lists are full of goals: to exercise more, to eat less, to kick bad habits.

If you ask My New Old Self, goals are overrated. All that striving to achieve them can get a bit tedious. I’ve Been There Done That Got The T-Shirt when it comes to vowing to do, or not to do, things that are good, or bad. I’m also an old hand at failing to achieve the goals I set.

Even when I do achieve a goal or two, there’s that backsliding problem. It is all too easy to end up in that pre-goal position known as Square One.

Back to Square One signs

Signposting two directions you do not want to go. (credit: Albert tips)

The older I get the more benefit I see in not aiming to achieve. After a lifetime of being exhorted to move ever onward in pursuit of my goals, I find myself yearning for a bit of aimless wandering.

Sure, there are times when we all need to focus on a goal and get it done. I’m talking about how we spend our Down Time, i.e. when we’re not working or busy or asleep. We end up spending a lot of Down Time commuting, standing in line, or waiting. But there is still a lot of Down Time left.

We used to call it Free Time, a term linked to leisure. The term Down Time links to industry. It refers either to a period of enforced inactivity when a system is unavailable, or the time lost when production equipment fails.

the cost of downtime

Down Time is precious, and can be costly. (credit: Orbit Project)

Call it what you will, this is a time when Doing Nothing is highly recommended.

As a recent convert to the notion of Doing Nothing in Down Time, it irked me to recently read a defence of that top time-sucker, Facebook. The argument was that the time spent checking Facebook is not displacing other activities because it’s done during Down Time.

Don’t think it is a non-sequitor if I now tell you Facebook’s net income. Thanks to all that Down Time spent on Facebook by its 1.65-billion regular monthly users, the company has enjoyed phenomenal first quarter earnings. Zuckerberg’s empire, born of an early internet dating concept, nearly tripled its net income in 2016 to R1.5-billion.

Make money with Facebook

No! I’m talking about Facebook making money from you and your time.

My concern, however, is not about the money sucked up by Facebook, but the time. Down Time, that is. Facebook is the world’s top Down Time-sucker. Facebook users spend an average of 50 minutes a day on the site. I am concerned that this has serious implications for our precious Down Time.

Down Time used to mean time to spend on people-watching, looking at nature, or just watching the world go by. Staring into the middle distance while daydreaming was a common and widely accepted use of Down Time. Often known as hanging out, or more recently, chilling.

lying on beach doing nothing

A recommended position to adopt during Down Time.

Alas, our Down Time is no longer filled by looking out or up at the world around us. No, we waste it by staring down at our phones. Billions of eyes throughout the world are glued to little screens – at great risk for an ailment known as Text Neck or Distracted Walking. And what’s the major use of Phone Down Time? Facebook, of course.

What can I say but LITO – Lucky I’m Too Old! LITO for Facebook addiction.

Down Time should be cherished, not wasted by endlessly staring downwards. Down Time lets you seize the chance to check out what’s around you. Down Time offers an opportunity to pause and reflect. To just think for a moment.

It is also worth noting that while Down Time often starts out in solitude, it can put you in the mood to interact socially. And how much better to do it live, with a human being, than by typing messages.

I sometimes fear that the incidence of coincidence in the world may be growing smaller, and I blame this on misuse of Down Time. The problem is, once again, the current global default position of looking down, instead of up.

I worry that I’ll miss stuff if I’m always looking down. Like once long ago I ran into a long-lost lover on the New York City subway. Imagine if I’d been staring down at my phone instead of looking up to see who had just stepped into the train I was riding. I know that people connect via Facebook. Call me Old School but that’s never going to feel as good as connecting face to face.

To Do list: Do Nothing


Now I must confess that I’m not quite there yet, in terms always of Doing Nothing during Down Time. It is still – dare I admit it? – a goal more than an achievement. Maybe I should put it on my Down Time To Do list: Do Nothing.


One comment on “To Do: Nothing

  1. Reply Lanna May 28,2016 6:38 pm

    So sweet to go off the daily grind:

    snooze in a lawn chair
    count the stars
    walk in the rain

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