My Outlook: Prescription for doing nothing

By Shelley Luedtke    
    We were among the thousands affected by the power outage that hit major portions of the province on December 4. As with most people that day, the loss of power curtailed our ability to do very much. Except talk. A few weeks prior my husband and I were finding little time to talk about much except work and a project we were doing in the community. How I wished for time to just sit and talk. Now as we sat in the office with capacity to do little else, I was distracted by what wasn't getting done.    
    Earlier this fall our schedules were full and I had moments of wishing we could have an evening of sitting and watching a movie. The last two weeks of December we found ourselves in that exact situation thanks to some medically mandated days following surgery my husband had just before Christmas. It was great--at first--and then I found myself feeling at loose ends. Surely there were things I could be doing. Should be doing. What if at the end of those days I had nothing to show for it?
    As I thought about what was driving my need to be busy rather than fully enjoying the time we now had, I realized it came from the feeling many have bought into. It's that underlying sense that unless we are being productive we are somehow guilty of wasting time. Or worse, that unless we are busy being busy we must not be very important. Or needed. Or even…valued.
    Far too many have equated their level of activity with their sense of worth. The busier they are the more important they must be. If we have free time does that mean we're not as popular as others? Not as needed? So if my calendar is more crammed..I win.
    But win what? What is the prize for our over-stretched schedules? It turns out it is little more than lack of sleep, poorer health, unfulfilled relationships and lower overall satisfaction with life. Doesn't seem like much of a reward. So why do we keep doing it?
    We wear busy schedules like a badge of honor. We're too busy to read that new book we've heard so much about. Too busy to go see that movie with a favorite actor. Too busy to add yet another thing. Too busy to attend another event. Too busy to catch up with friends. Too busy to exercise or cook healthy meals. Too busy, too busy, too busy. But by filling our days with the activities of busyness we are actually taking away from our abilities, creativity, and, as it turns out, our productivity.
    It's often when we aren't busy 'doing' that great things can happen. Isaac Newton, Rene Descartes and Paul McCartney made significant contributions to their field when they were away from labs, desks and instruments. One of them while walking through a park, one while reading an unrelated book, and one just as he was waking in the morning. Mozart got many of his greatest musical ideas while traveling in a carriage.
    Breakthroughs, inspiration and new ideas happen when we are at rest. Our brains are continuously at work but often need a moment of quiet before discovery happens. If we are too busy we are blocking some of what our brain is capable of doing. Research suggests that when we step away and stop, musicians get inspired, writers come up with ideas, and scientists see answers to things they have been working on.
    A psychologist addressing a room of parents cautioned against over-filing children's schedules. While it is great to expose kids to opportunities, he said sometimes they need to be "good for nothing." They need time to play, to rest, and to let their imaginations take the lead. Adults aren't any different.
    So did I have 'anything to show for' those days at the end of last month? I sure did. A body that was rested, a mind that was entertained and a soul that was content. Of course we need to take care of our areas of responsibility and contribute all we can, but we also need to be okay not needing to fill all our time. That is exactly when some pretty amazing things can happen. Doing nothing may in fact be doing everything. That's my outlook.

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