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Doing nothing and having nothing to show for it

by Ashley
Published: Last Updated on 0 comment 225 views 10 minutes read

It’s a good thing my livelihood does not depend on me writing consistently, regularly, or on a schedule because I. Can not. Write. Every. Week. Heck, I can’t even force myself to write every month. I was doing so well for a few weeks, finishing planned posts ahead of schedule and having something to post every week or two. It felt great!

And then it just fizzled out. Or rather, I fizzled out.

I literally wrote NOTHING in October.

So tired and relaxed that I fell asleep at the winery

This is partly because we were very busy. I may have overstuffed our family’s October calendar: weekend getaway to Memphis, a visit from the MIL, a trek out to the winery, an afternoon at Cheekwood, our son’s Fall Fest, a day at Lucky Ladd Farms, an evening walking around the Opry Hotel, a Halloween party….

So clearly I have things to write about. My lack of output is not for lack of ideas! If anything, I suffer from Too Many Ideas which leads to Decision Paralysis. When I have 17 different topics I could write about, which one should I tackle first?

I try to jot down thoughts for all of the ones that are top of mind, maybe even outline the structure of one post, and then remember that one picture that would be perfect for another topic so I search for that and in the process find 9 other photos that would work for other posts, so I start gathering those, and then get another idea for a story I haven’t told yet so I start writing it while it’s fresh in my mind and then I’ve wasted 3 hours with nothing concrete or complete to show for it. This leads to frustration and feeling a tad demoralized which makes me just stop what Im doing entirely and give up.

So here we are. I haven’t really been able to focus long-term on ANY personal endeavors this year, to be honest. It’s not just this blog. My reading has suffered (I’ve only read 40 books so far. This same time last year I had already surpassed my yearly reading goal!); I haven’t started any of the house projects I’ve been thinking about for months; and I am way behind on my photo organization, which is usually something I do monthly with great enthusiasm.

Alas. Sometimes, we just can’t do it all. Hell, sometimes we can’t do ANY of it. And that’s okay.

Watching a movie with the kid instead of folding laundry or going to the gym.

Science has proven that doing nothing is GOOD for us. Turning our brains off and allowing ourselves to slow down gives us the necessary time for rest and recovery. Boredom can lead to brilliance; while fueling our minds with information and ideas is great for growth, we need to give our minds ample time to wander and find ideas on our own. Doing less can lower anxiety and improve sleep. Sounds crazy but allowing yourself to be UNproductive will make you MORE productive when you actually need to be.

I’m trying to embrace this unproductivity. Feeling productive and efficient is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world for me. Doing nothing makes me antsy. Not finishing a checklist gives me mental hives. Wasting time that could be spent getting something done stresses me out. So the whole concept of NOT reaching my goals, NOT finishing my to dos, NOT multitasking, NOT using my time wisely….. oof. That’s one massive mental hurdle that I struggle to overcome. But I am practicing.

Doing less and avoiding multitasking is proving to be a worthwhile mental exercise for me. During those quiet moments in the evening, after the kid’s in his room for the night, we always face a choice: do we DO something together (watch a show, go in the hot tub, play a game), do we DO something productive that we’ve put off (finish that laundry, tidy the kitchen, write that blog, work on a photo book), or do we wind down for the evening? Lately, I’ve been choosing that last option a LOT. By 9 pm, I’m getting ready for bed, and am often too tired to write or read, so I waste some time online, put on an audiobook, and am often asleep by 10 or 11. The ambitious go-getter voice in my head tries to chastise me for not DOING something more productive (“You should be writing!”) but the other voices have learned to speak up for themselves (and me!) and tell that first voice to STFU. I’ve been choosing the less productive route more often, and it’s been a blessing.

In bed listening to a book at 9:30 pm on a Friday? Why not!

Our American culture romanticizes busyness, encourages multitasking, and can make you feel inferior or unaccomplished when you’re not hustling all the time. Some of us Type A, over-achievers can easily fall victim to this Work Hard Play Hard mentality, burning out and breaking down. Some of us may feel pressure from the parts of ourselves that value productivity and getting things done, while other parts may start to feel extreme anxiety from not living up to the high productivity standards that have been set for us (by society, family, or ourselves). If any of this sounds familiar to you, I challenge you: join me in doing nothing from time to time!

As a past therapist used to tell me: don’t “should” all over yourself. You don’t have to do all the laundry. You don’t have to go to the gym. You don’t have to write. You also don’t have to multitask when doing something relaxing. You can sit in the bath until the water gets cold without reading. You can watch a movie without also looking for a new winter coat online. You can lounge on the couch, zoning out, looking at photos from that amazing trip or paging through a magazine without actually reading any of the articles. You can stare out the window while drinking your coffee, wasting those precious minutes before your meeting. Because you’re not actually WASTING any time; you’re reveling in it.

Some days, I ask myself: “What would the cats do?” The answer is always the same: NOTHING. So let’s be like my cats. Let’s do NOTHING.

IT’S NOT EASY. Trust me. You will fret. Some parts of yourself will try to convince you that other parts are being lazy and useless. But let’s try to make those pushy parts understand that resting and doing nothing will actually help us be MORE productive in the moments when we actually NEED to be; if I don’t push myself all the time, then I’ll be more rested and ready to go when I need to show up, get shit done, and deliver.

I’m not very good at “wasting” time or doing nothing but it is something I’m actively making more space for. In those moments when I debate with myself “be productive or do nothing?” I’ve been trying to give myself grace for choosing the latter so often. In this season of my life, downtime is more valuable.

So I encourage my fellow Type As and overachievers to slow down with me and shirk some of those “shoulds” that nag. Forego a domestic chore or two. Bail on some plans. Lie down, lounge, and laze about without feeling guilty (easier said than done, obviously). Let’s waste some time together!

Wasting away the hours even though I “should” be writing, cleaning, reading, exercising…….

And when you’ve had enough of doing nothing, I want to know: How do you keep from burning out? How do you keep from “should”ing all over yourself? What tactics do you employ to manage piles of To Dos (both the ones that you need to do and the ones that you want to do)? If you have a specific way that you like to “waste” time and shirk responsibilities, share it! Teach me your ways!

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