The antidote to busyness: become unbusy

Busyness has become a badge of honour.  If you are not busy, you are not part of the group to show how on target we are to achieve our goals and how important we are.  Busyness is the valid and acceptable excuse for the non-stop activity that we fill our days with.  Being busy is also the excuse we use for the lack of sleep and the exhaustion we feel.  Being busy is now the status symbol that we proudly wear and share with anyone who cares to ask how we are doing.

What if we stop all this busyness?  Is there a way to stop it?

There is a way out of the busyness madness, and it is not more meditation, mindfulness or exercising.  These are valuable and important, but not about what I want to suggest here.

The antidote to busyness is nothingness.  More specifically, do nothing.  If you don’t know where you are doing to fit it into your busy schedule, it is time to schedule a time to do nothing (are you reading the irony of the suggestion?)

The ability to do nothing

You may think that it is easy to do nothing, but herein lies the challenge.  We are so attached to our smartphones, the always-on-can’t-miss-a-thing-can’t-waste-a-minute approach to live every day.  Being busy is very exhausting.  You need some time to be unbusy.

A side story.  Last week I had to take my daughter to the doctor as she didn’t feel well.  While the doctor was examining my daughter, I noticed a beautiful wooden décor item on the wall, with the following quote on: “Don’t count the hours.  Make every hour count.” Inspirational, yes?  Perhaps.  But therein also lies a truth to our busyness – don’t waste the hours.  Make sure at the end of the day, you have made every hour count.  The challenge here is, don’t make it count with just doing stuff.

Back to the central theme of this discussion: busyness and doing nothing.

Nothing is not wasting time.  It is the pause in the day that we need so we can recharge, reenergize, refocus.  In fact, it is the exact thing we need to do so that we are working, we can give our best focus and attention to whatever we are working on.

You can do nothing.  It may take a little practice and commitment.  Idleness can be your greatest productivity tool.

How to do nothing

Here are some ideas to help you do nothing and take a break from being busy:

  1. Schedule time to do nothing and commit to it fully. If you are an extremist in busyness, you will need to schedule the time in your diary to be unbusy.   It doesn’t matter how long it is, but what matters is that you put it in your diary and you stick to it.
  2. Find the daily moments to be unbusy. You will be amazed at the number of minutes you have in a day where you can be unbusy.  The trick here?  Don’t pick up your phone.  That’s it.  Here are some daily moments that you can use to be unbusy:
    1. Being stuck in traffic.
    2. Standing in the queue at the supermarket.
    3. Waiting in the reception area for your doctor or dentist appointment.
  3. Any other moment that you want to check for anything on your smartphone is a moment where you can be unbusy. Do this one thing for a day: when you take out your phone to check your email, a message, Facebook status, make a tweet, post something on Instagram or whatever it is what you do on your phone, stop and note that this is a moment where you can be unbusy.

What to do when you have nothing to do

Now that we have scheduled time in the diary to do nothing and found more unbusy moments as part of our daily lives, here are suggestions on what you can do when you want to do nothing.  The best thing is, it is all free, which really does prove that the best things in life are free.

  1. Watch other people. Sit on a bench in a park or in a coffee shop where you can watch the world go by.  Observe the mothers and babies, parents and kids, the busy professionals in their suits and computers, an old couple who are still holding hands after 50 years of marriage.
  2. Take a bath. A long and relaxing bath where you soak your body in warm water.  Light a candle or two if you like, sprinkle rose petals in the water and linger.  Remember to stare at the ceiling.
  3. Sit in the late afternoon sun in a deckchair or a hammock. While the sun is making you feel warm and relaxing, allow the stresses and thoughts of your to-do list to float away with the clouds.
  4. Lay on the grass and watch the clouds. As you watch the clouds, reconnect to your inner child and see the animals and shapes in the clouds.   As the clouds move about their path, the shapes make a fluid transition to other shapes.
  5. Walk barefoot on grass.  Take off your shoes, stretch out your toes and take a stroll on the grass.  Feel the lifeforce under your feet as you wander about, and the grass leaves tickle your toes.
  6. Take a walk in nature. A forest, a park, a local botanical garden or on the beach.
  7. Take a siesta. A midday nap is refreshing for the mind and the soul.
  8. Think of what is, what could be, what if and what you would like to do.  No filters, just ideas, and dreams.  Who knows what inspiration and creativity will strike while you are allowing your mind to dream.
  9. Window shopping. A great past-time while you are moving.  Roaming into shops and browse about the merchandise.  Pick it up, feel it, smell it and put it back.  When the assistant comes over, you are “just looking”.
  10. Sing a song. Who cares if you are not the latest Idol contestant?  Sing your favourite song, and if you are afraid of public stares, humming it is just as close to great.  Even better if you are humming along while window shopping!
  11. Visit an old church. It doesn’t matter whether you are a member of that church, or if you are religious or not.  There is something special about spending time in an old church: appreciating the beautifully carved wood and stained glass.  Then sit and stare and daydream for as long as you want.
  12. Fold paper planes from paper and throw it. Take a blank sheet of paper and craft a paper plane by folding and folding again.  If others are with you, encourage them to fold their own planes and have a competition to see whose plane goes the longest distance.
  13. Watch the birds. The doves in the city center, the seagulls at the harbour, or the birds in your garden.  Watch as they flutter about, looking for food, or call for their mates.
  14. As you go about your day, smile when you make eye contact with anyone.  Smiles are usually contagious, and you just might make someone’s day by acknowledging them with a smile.
  15. Visit a library. With everything being digital, a library is full of everything you wish to know.  Walking up and down through the aisles, reading the titles as your head is tilted sideways, and every now and then taking out a book to read the back cover.  Become curious again as you and your mind wander through the books.
  16. Watch a river flow. Water is mesmerising and therapeutic.  Find a spot to sit and stare, or stand on the bridge and watch how the water always finds a way around an obstacle.  A great metaphor for life and the challenges that you might face.
  17. Stargazing. Doing nothing is not just for the day.  At night time, go outside, lay on a blanket on the grass or sit in your deckchair and look at the stars.  Take a moment to appreciate the universe, getting lost in the vastness of stars and planets.
  18. Reading gravestones. Visit a cemetery and walk through the graveyard.  Observe the names and dates of people who once were and imagine the lives that they have lived and left behind.

The last word of being unbusy

When you are feeling overwhelmed, overworked, time-starved, tired, distracted, disengaged and just stressed out, consider the fact that you may just be too busy.  Stop being so busy.  Find time to be lazy, bored and doing nothing.  These are moments in your day, whether it is by design or by discovery, that you can reconnect with yourself.  Become unbusy so that you can be great when you are busy.

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