If there’s one thing I know that’s true about adulthood, it’s this. As we grow older, we start wanting to look and sound like we’re really busy.
Being ‘busy’ has almost become a symbol of a person’s success. We’ve been taught to shun idleness, fill up our calendars, and crave a never-ending to-do list. However, this has perhaps been to our detriment. The truth is, the secret to productivity, true productivity, is to kick back and do nothing for a lil’ while.
Seems counter-intuitive, we know. However, no one can do work for 5-6 hours straight: our attention spans are just not made for it. Here’s why:
The secret to productivity: doing nothing
Let’s talk about the science-y bits first. Our bodies run according to inbuilt rhythms. The one you may have heard of is the ‘circadian’ rhythm, which is our body’s natural daily rhythm. It is often related to things like sleep. We also have ‘ultradian’ rhythms, which are shorter (think hourly). To know one’s rhythm’s is to basically hack your body’s productivity.
The typical person’s circadian rhythm follows a roughly 24-hour cycle and responds primarily to light and darkness. The rhythm causes energy peaks and troughs throughout the day.
There are tons of articles that lay out when you should be doing stuff like checking your emails or when to work out, but let’s focus on the ‘doing nothing’ bit.
When you should be doing nothing
When we say ‘do nothing’, we don’t mean watch Netflix, listen to a podcast, or anything that remotely resembles intellectual stimulation. These ‘doing nothing’ periods are the periods of time that are necessary for our body’s rest and renewal.
Productivity expert Tony Schwartz says that our bodies tell us to rest with some clear physical signs. “When we need a rest, our bodies send us clear signals such as fidgetiness, hunger, drowsiness and loss of focus. But mostly, we override them.” To combat this, he recommends we take regular ‘renewal’ breaks every 90-120 minutes.
Marrying this with a typical circadian rhythm schedule, your day should look a bit like this:
What your daily schedule should look like, ‘do nothing’ breaks included:
6am: Shower, then read your emails. Apparently the act of reading your emails has become the new ‘reading the morning paper’ routine.
Before 12pm: This is when your brain is at its highest capacity for focus and attention. Do the hard, tricky bits of your job at this point.
At 1pm: Take a brain break and do nothing. Have your lunch but don’t look at your phone. Most people are at their most distracted between 1-4pm, which is why you do the most intellectually challenging tasks in the morning.
Take 5 minute ‘do nothing breaks‘ every 30 minutes in this period. After the third 30 minute work session, take a slightly longer break – 15 minutes, perhaps. Bonus points if you do something active like stretching or walking during this period.
At 2pm: If possible, take a nap. If not possible, go for a longer walk. This acts as your rest and renewal period so you can tackle the rest of the day.
At 4pm: Get like LMFAO and work out. Our circadian rhythms dictate that we’re at our most co-ordinated at this time of day, and our lung capacity is at its best too.
At 9pm: Do something creative. A recent study published in the Thinking & Reasoning Journal says that fatigue and tiredness opens up non-linear paths of thinking. Therefore writing prose, journal-ling, and pre-bedtime brainstorming might be a good thing to do then.
Other steps towards embracing ‘doing nothing’
It’s one thing to shake up your daily schedule, but it’s another thing to embrace the ‘do nothing’ lifestyle. Joe Kraus, a partner at Google Ventures, says that our tendency towards being ‘busy’ has affected our creative thinking.
“We’re radically over-developing the parts of the quick thinking, distractible brain and letting the long-form-thinking, creative and contemplative, solitude-seeking, thought-consoludating pieces of our brain atrophy by not using them.”
A lot of hyphenated words there, Joe. Basically – by keeping our brains too busy, we’re stopping ourselves from being creative.
We suggest these tips to help you towards more rest and renewal:
- Record a log of your attention span. If you find yourself feeling distracted from the task at hand, note down the time of day quickly in a notepad. Over time, you’ll be able to track when in the day you’re the least focused.
- Book in ‘do nothing’ breaks in your calendar. Set private ‘do nothing’ breaks in your Google Calendar/iCal so you remember to just chill, bruh.
- Block out ‘me time’ in your evenings. Remember – being busy = being less creative. If you’re the kinda busy bee who has a constantly busy social schedule, try your best to clear up some space for spending some time at home.
- Be compassionate to yourself. Feeling at home with your own space and thoughts might be jarring at first, especially if you spend your days attached to a screen/plugged into earphones. You’re going to find this hard. It will become easier, and it will be worth it for your mental health in the long run!
Godspeed, busy people. We believe in you.