Permission to Intentionally Do Nothing

I have a bit of advice for you: Be lazy. Okay, don’t be too lazy, but learn the value of downtime. There are 42 days left of summer. I challenge you to find a hammock and take an afternoon nap. In an article written for a New York Times blog, essayist and cartoonist Tim Kreider provided some honest self-disclosure: “I am not busy. I am the laziest ambitious person I know” (Newport, Deep Work, 142).

What led Kreider to his open confession was his frenetic work pace which became unsustainable. He wrote, “I’ve insidiously started, because of professional obligations, to become busy . . . every morning my in-box was full of emails asking me to do things I did not want to do or presenting me with problems that I now had to solve.” 

He found himself checking emails after work and browsing through work-related websites. What he discovered was that his manic schedule was decreasing, not increasing, his job performance.

His solution? He learned the value of downtime. Here’s his explanation: “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets . . . it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

Can I get an “Amen”? 

What science and experience are telling us is that we need to schedule “unscheduled” time in our daily calendar. We need downtime in order to better manage time. According to Cal Newport in his excellent book, Deep Work, “This strategy argues that you should follow Kreider’s lead by injecting regular and substantial freedom from professional concerns into your day, providing you with the idleness paradoxically required to get (deep) work done” (ibid., 143).

Maybe this means you become more strategic with your fifteen-minute break every morning. Rather than skipping it or mismanaging it through idle work conversation, you utilize it for the deep work of rest, prayer, deep breathing, and recalibrating. 

It sounds counterintuitive, but sometimes the best way to solve a problem is by ignoring it. Not forever, but for a set period of time where you have a diversion of a brisk walk outdoors or reading a chapter from the Bible or a classic Christian book. I’ve found that it’s often in those times of not thinking about a solution that a solution enters my thinking. 

And if you feel that you need permission for valuing downtime, look no further than the words of Jesus: “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31).

So now go do something, even if that something is intentionally nothing.