Idle Time is Essential

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The Big Idea:

Idle time is necessary for creative thinking. Busyness depletes your ability to make unexpected connections and experience epiphanies. Being idle is not being lazy. On the contrary, it’s the key to getting real work done.

The Briefing:

This is a topic that’s near and dear to our hearts, and has been for some time. We were reminded about what a big deal busyness and its cohort, anxiety, are becoming when we read a fantastic opinion piece by author Tim Kreider called “The ‘Busy’ Trap.” In it, Kreider points out that a lot of our busyness is self-imposed. We bring it on ourselves through the choices that we make. As a society, we continually choose busyness over idle time based on the incorrect assumption that idle time is wasted time. On the contrary, it’s essential to solving problems and thinking creatively.

Busyness is a contradiction. On one hand, it’s considered a good thing. If you’re busy then you must be working hard, you’re accomplishing things, right? Maybe, maybe not. If you’re constantly busy, moving from one task or event to another, you’re not giving yourself a chance to think. You may be getting a lot of things done, but that’s very different from actually accomplishing something. Constant busyness robs you of the chance to pull back and look at the big picture, to consider your goals and dreams. Busyness builds anxiety and can become debilitating in extreme cases.

Idle time is when your brain starts putting the pieces together. How many times have you come up with a solution to a tough problem while you’re in the shower? Was Newton checking his email between meetings when the apple fell on his head? Bet not.

Build some idle time into your schedule this week. Give yourself a chance to think and dream. Look at the big picture and consider your goals for yourself, your family, and your career. Try to make this a habit, and you’ll start making progress on each of those goals.

Take Action:

  • Block off some time to be idle this week. Even if its just for an hour here or there. No agenda of any kind, just time to relax and let your mind wander.
  • Try to eliminate some of the noise from your daily routine. Consider setting new expectations at work about how you respond to requests, and how often. Disable notifications on your digital devices so you can work on projects uninterrupted.
  • Don’t confuse activity with accomplishment. Set your priorities at the beginning of each day, and start with the most difficult task related to your top priority. You’re usually best equipped to tackle the hard stuff in the morning.
  • Don’t start your day checking email and social media feeds. They’ll pull you off track right away.

Dig Deeper:

Here are some other resources that expand upon the importance of idle time and eliminating noise.

The ‘Busy’ Trap by Tim Kreider - Via

The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time by Tony Schwartz - Via

10 Steps to Getting More Done in Your Day by Barry Moltz - Via

Stop the Insanity: How To Crush Communication Overload by Jocelyn K. Glei - Via

Notifications Are Evil by Clay Johnson - Via