Last Updated on June 7, 2022
Have you ever tried to sit still for five minutes doing absolutely nothing? I think you’ll agree that it’s pretty uncomfortable. Having nothing to do but listen to your own thoughts might feel about as exciting as watching paint dry.
Because we’d rather not subject ourselves to that kind of torture, we rarely give ourselves time to do nothing. Instead, we try to fill every minute of the day, often with insignificant things like scrolling through social media.
When you get into this kind of cycle, it’s hard to let yourself relax at the end of the day. You might feel like you could have accomplished more, even though your day felt ridiculously busy.
If you don’t give yourself time to do nothing, you risk getting burned out. Embracing the art of doing nothing is important if you want more creativity, relaxation, and mindfulness in your life.
In this post, I’m sharing how I’ve shifted my mindset to find a balance between being productive and doing nothing. Plus you’ll get some practical tips to help you make doing nothing part of your routine too (without boredom or guilt).
You don’t have to be productive 24/7
Often we think every moment of the day needs to be productive. In truth, there’s power in allowing yourself to do nothing without any expectations.
The trouble is that learning to be okay with doing nothing is hard. I’ll be the first to admit that I thrive on getting things done, and I love nothing more than a crossed-off checklist. I was working three jobs last year because I wanted to fill my time with productive things.
Even though they were things I enjoyed, it soon became too hard to juggle everything. I never had time to myself, and I felt like I had no creative energy left to give. I eventually realized that life doesn’t have to be FULL to be fulfilling.
Life doesn’t have to be FULL to be fulfilling.
I think this is something a lot of people struggle with, especially when society tells you to always be busy. You might also expect a lot from yourself and put pressure on yourself to do as much as you can.
When I find myself with nothing to do (or I feel like I should be doing something but I don’t actually have the energy), I tend to feel guilty or like I’m falling behind. It’s easy to beat yourself up for “wasting time”.
The truth is that no one can be productive all the time, nor should you expect yourself to be. The best thing you can do is be kind to yourself in those moments when you’re not being productive.
Related Post: Why A “Full Life” Isn’t The Key To Fulfillment
It’s okay to do less. It’s also okay to do nothing.
Let yourself be in a “float state” sometimes. By float state, I mean letting yourself be still – mentally and physically – without pressuring yourself to do anything.
The reason I love the concept of the “float state” is that the best ideas often come when you’re doing nothing. Have you ever been taking a shower and had a brilliant idea hit you in the face? You can find unexpected creativity in the moments when you’re zoning out, waiting in line, or right before you drift to sleep.
In Italian, dolce far niente means sweet idleness or pleasantly doing nothing. In these moments of sweet idleness, we’re not forcing anything to happen. We’re just responding to what’s around us. We’re giving our thoughts space to breathe without distraction or expectation.
One way I do this is by going for walks without listening to anything. Typically I’d listen to a podcast or music, but listening to nothing (other than the noises of the world) gives me a chance to be more present with my thoughts and ideas. These daily walks are often the times when I come up with new ideas.
In the book Four Seconds, author Peter Bregman writes:
“My best ideas come to me when I am unproductive. When I’m running or showering or sitting, or doing nothing, or waiting for someone […] They are the moments in which we, often unconsciously, organize our minds, make sense of our lives, and connect the dots.”
In essence, the “float state” is the opposite of multitasking. How many times have you been watching Netflix while scrolling Instagram at the same time? Maybe you feel unproductive for watching Netflix, so scrolling on Instagram makes you feel like you’re doing something. You might think you’re relaxing when you’re actually multitasking.
Something we can all embrace is the mindset that it’s okay to do nothing. Sure, it’s uncomfortable and you might feel awkward because there’s nothing to distract your thoughts.
But embracing more flow time in your schedule is going to help you prevent burnout in the long run. Plus, it’s going to give you space to be more creative and mindful.
How to make time to do nothing
In order to prevent burnout, it’s important to make time to do nothing. You don’t need to make every second of the day productive to make your life fulfilling. On the contrary, you need downtime and pure relaxation (no multitasking!) to nourish your mind, body, and soul.
Here are some tips for embracing “float time” in your schedule:
1. Figure out what float time means to you
Everyone has a different idea of what doing nothing looks like. Maybe it’s sitting still and staring out the window. Maybe it’s something you do without any specified outcome, like doodling, listening to music, or reading. Think about what float time might look for you and how you’d like to use it.
2. Add a time block of float time to your schedule
Figure out how much time you can dedicate to doing nothing. Whether it’s 30 minutes a week or 30 minutes a day, add this to your schedule as dedicated float time. When that time comes around, do whatever feels good in the moment. The most important thing is to avoid multitasking or forcing work during this float time.
If you need to start small, Calm created a great site called Do Nothing for 2 Minutes. Try it out here: donothingfor2minutes.com
3. Be realistic with your to-do list
Are you thinking, “I have no time to do nothing”? If so, it may be that you need to take a step back and reprioritize your to-do list. Be realistic with the number of things you can get done in one day. Also, be real with yourself if you’re procrastinating. Do you really not have enough time or are you not getting things done in a timely manner? If you still have things on your to-do list at the end of the day, you may need to prioritize your time a little differently.
Related Post: 5 Tips To Pause Hustle Mode And Slow Down
4. Know when to push yourself and when to rest
Most of us have peak productivity hours, as well as hours when our energy dips. The energy dip is usually in the afternoon, which is a great time to give yourself space away from your to-do list. If you find yourself trying to force your work during an energy dip, take a break for float time instead. Try tracking your energy patterns for a week by writing down when you feel most energetic and when you run out of steam.
What does doing nothing mean to you?
I hope this post has encouraged you to embrace float time in your own life so you can enjoy downtime without guilt or expectations. Learning to be okay with doing nothing is difficult, but it will help you prevent overwhelm and burnout in the long run. If nothing else, I hope you can take this post as a reminder to cherish any tiny pockets of time you find in your day that allow you to simply do nothing.
Leave a comment below! What would your ideal “float time” look like?
As a general anxiety sufferer with inherent OCD, this post speaks to me deeply. For restless minds, it’s often therapeutic to immerse yourself in activity to ward off the negative thoughts that can creep in during moments of quiet.
I love your idea of “float time”. For an anxious or compulsive mind, this strategy sort of rationalizes the down time and categorizes it as healthy. For people too busy to slow down, this kind of approach can make doing nothing a rejuvenating activity rather than a sense of lost time.
Nice read, thank you.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Jason!
I discovered your website recently and as a stressed university student, it’s been super helpful! After a terrible online learning experience, I decided to take the rest of the year off to explore my options and to refresh. I’ve always had trouble with float time, but the pandemic and the year off are both forcing me to learn that productivity is good, but it should never define you. It’s allowing me to grow comfortable with the idea of doing nothing (but of course, you do need a balance of nothing and actual productivity). My ideal float time is reading with some classical music playing in the background or taking an evening off to watch something with the family.
I’m so glad my site has been helpful, Sarah! I love how you said that productivity should never define you. That’s something I have to remind myself often!
Thank you so much for sharing this. A much needed read!
Thank you for reading, Shyteria!
I’ve been waiting for your newsletter. This is just amazing and nice. I like this a lot.
Thank you, Nathisa!
I was sitting on a dock in northern Michigan with my partner when he told me “I wish we could do more of nothing” and as an over-productive multitasking perfectionist, I had no idea what he meant. We talked about it for a long time and I kept insisting “By nothing, you mean, something relaxing? Something that requires less energy?” And I wanted to plan out the “what” part of what we’d be doing.
It’s been several months since this conversation, and I’ve slowly been learning what nothing means. It really is a struggle to do nothing without guilt, but you’re so right in that – if you can allow yourself to do nothing, there are some beautiful benefits (including creativity) that arise.
Thanks for this post, it really affirmed the exact lessons I’ve been working on internalizing for myself.
I’m so glad this post resonated with you, Morgan!
This was so helpful! Thank you for that. By reading this, I realised that I’ve actually started doing this aready just recently since I started being deliberate with a morning routine. In the morning, I stretch for a few minutes in front of my garden window while listening to acoustic music and I came to realise that it doesn’t only relieve my tensed muscles after sleeping but it also really is a nice moment of quiet in my mind, thinking about absolutely nothing. I’ve been thinking about starting the habit of going for walks by myself as a break from work and just yesterday I did it for the first time! I went alone, without music or a podcast/audiobook. I tried to focus on “what do I see/feel/hear/smell” and it was so down-to-earth that it really made me emotional. I felt like I suddenly found the way to a “slow life”. Now that I’ve read your post, it made me realise that these 2 moments are “float moments” actually. Also, you talk about finding your energy dip moment. I think for me, that is right after lunch and going for a walk just then, might be very helpful. I will try this, thank you for the tip! Going out for a walk now!
Thank you for reminding us to take our CHILL PILL once in a while!
Thank you @Catherine Beard for this great post!
My favorite way of doing nothing is walking 30 mn every day without listening to anything!
But when you’re walking you’re doing somthing! So, for me, the ideal “float time” is when whatever I’m doing, my mind is relaxed enough to have my thougths flying! It may be walking, painting, reading a book, practicing yoga etc.