The Art of Not Doing Stuff6 min read

My girlfriend told me recently: ‘You must learn to not do stuff sometimes.’ At first I treated it as a semi-joke, but then this sentence kept popping up in my head. ‘You must learn not to do stuff sometimes.’ To me as a workaholic, this sounded very odd, but by the third time the sentence was repeated in my head, I realised that she was right.I usually study or work a lot, and I like being very serious about everything that I do. My Youtube channel is based around studying, productivity, and generally how to be more efficient and perform better in our tasks. At times, it may seem as if there’s nothing more to life than becoming a hyper-performing being that resembles a computer more than a human. But in fact, that is not the entire picture that I wish to paint.

Almost everything will work if you unplug it for a few minutes… including you

Anne Lamott

I do value studying and work, and I enjoy becoming better at both of them, but I also believe that taking time to reflect throughout the day, as well as several longer periods of time off over the course of a year can bring a lot of clarity and meaning to our lives. In fact, it helps us maintain a balanced attitude to life, healthy relationships with our closest friends and loved ones, and also maximise the fulfilment that we get out of our studies and work. It’s something that some of the most successful people on Earth do (see Favourite Ideas section below) in order to maintain their balance, and we should too.

I must admit that once I start a project, I hate getting my mind off of it. Once my attention is channelled, I find it very disruptive to have to take breaks before finishing it entirely, or at least one stage of it. I also feel guilty if I do take my mind off for a little while, as if I can never afford a little free time, and I find myself daydreaming about the project while attempting to do some other free-time activity. While this practice is part of my personality and has brought me to where I am today, it is not entirely healthy and can unfortunately damage my relationships with other people at times.In order to work on this, I have decided to take some active steps:

  • I try not to think about studying or work in the morning until after breakfast and stop thinking about them about two hours before going to sleep in the evening. (I also try not to use my phone at those times, but take time to think, and sometimes write instead.)
  • I try to take at least one morning and one afternoon off during weekends.
  • I will take a week-long trip to a local lake to enjoy summer while it still lasts.
  • I am devising the exact plan for the following week on Sunday evening in order to avoid always feeling like I need to work more. If all the listed tasks are accompished, I can afford an evening off, or even an entire day.

The essence of philosophy is that a man should so live that his happiness shall depend as little as possible on external things.

Epictetus

You may have already noticed that taking a break is a daunting task for me, and you may be thinking that something must be wrong if I require will-power to stop working. But that’s how it is, and in order to muster all that power, I will also think about why one would want to take breaks at all. The classic reason would be to enjoy life, but what if we enjoy studying and working? Are there any other potential reasons? My answer used to be no, but my perspective has recently changed. And here are some reasons that I was able to come up with:

  • As I’m soon turning 22, I’m starting to realise that we’re not always going to be 18, like I felt up to now. These are the years in which we need to grind, make a living and a future for ourselves, but we can’t wait until retirement to enjoy life, wealth and only then perceive those around us. In fact, if we do nothing but grind now, there might not be anyone left to enjoy life with later. So we must do it all now: grind, reflect, and take moments to live meaningfully together with others.
  • Another reason is that we must give our brains space to wander freely. While computer processors go idle once they are not in use for a certain task, human brains are not like that. Our mind is full of surprises, but we must allow it the time to show them to us: those creative, genius ideas, which seem to come out of nowhere. Too often I find myself exhausted after a day of work, and realise that my mind goes blank… And I hate eating dinner and not being able to think about anything, except for the occasional thought that is also somehow related to work. So we must allow the mind time to go deeper than the surface level of daily activity and productivity.
  • Taking time off also means taking time to enjoy beauty and connect with nature. And the ability to do so is too inherently human to be neglected. Whether it’s about beauty created by humans, or the beauty of nature, we must connect with our more sensitive side in order to realise that we are much more than a set of ones and zeroes. The potential atrophy of our sense of beauty because of stress and burnout is one of the saddest prospects I can think of.
  • Taking a break is also an occasion to be grateful for everything that we already have, to be good to ourselves and look back on what we have already achieved.
  • Last but not least, it is a time to connect with other people, exchange ideas, and share the experience of living. As a friend once told me (and I was hesitant to believe him at the time), having meaningful relationships is perhaps the most important thing in life.
  • … please feel free to email me any ideas and reasons why you personally value time off and what you feel it brings to you. I would also like to know if these thoughts resonate with you at all.

I thought to share this with you because I want to stress that my ethos about learning more and becoming better and more productive also includes the necessity of taking the time to be mindful of our surroundings, of our relationships, of ourselves. If we were only active all the time and we did not allow ourselves time off, we would be cutting back on our ability to have creative ideas, become wiser through reflection, and perceive and enjoy everyday life. We would be limiting the complexity of our life and our personality, and our impeccable work ethic must, if anything, contribute to leading richer, more complex, meaningful, and fulfilling lives. Otherwise there would be no point to it.So next time you find yourself feeling guilty about not working, I encourage you to go ahead and write the day off, do something else you enjoy, and come back to work after a while with a clear head and a heightened sense of being alive.