31 day challenge: Do nothing

donLately I’ve been spending a fair bit of time reading and writing about working less (watch out for those pieces here). It all began with me stumbling upon the book by Jenny Odell called ‘How to do nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy’. Curious about the content, I watched the Talks at Google session by Odell and then dropped the idea of reading the book. However, the title had captured my imagination and I continued to chew on it for days after.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the focus is slowly but surely shifting away from pure play productivity to finding the elusive dream of having more time to ‘stand & stare’. With the top skill in demand circling around creativity, organizations have come to realize that a lone-focus strategy of maximizing productivity is a sure way of accelerating the path to doom. While some creativity may stem from constraints, most individuals are at their creative best when not placed under constant pressure. What the world needs now is to do nothing!

Jeff Bezos mentioned in a recent chat that the ‘best ideas come when you wander and wandering takes time’. If you were to draw a 1:1 mapping of wandering and productivity, you may realize that in short periods of measurement, wandering leads to a decline in productivity. However, if productivity was the end goal of organizations, we’d still be stuck in the industrial age.

And hence, my word of the year is ‘wander’.

It isn’t rare for me to start the day with a 20-item to-do list and struggle through the day to cross everything off. Take for example day before yesterday. I reached home after a 24+ hour flight journey and the first thing I did was unpack. I then proceeded to do two batches of laundry, cleaned my room, and did a series of other house-keeping tasks before I tucked myself into bed. Then two hours later, I dragged myself out to fetch groceries and run other errands. By 10pm, my head felt like it had been hammered over by a mallet over and over again. While I crossed most things off the list, I couldn’t help but wonder how different the world would have been if I’d just given myself the day off and slept 24 hours.

So here is my 31-day challenge. I am allocating three hours a day to let my mind wander. It does feel like such a sheer waste of time, doesn’t it – three whole hours set aside to do nothing! I have no idea what my mind will beg me to do but whatever it asks me to, I will. It could be a bundle of non-productive tasks, it could be me staring out the window, ambling around the house, taking a slow long walk or it could be a bunch of useful tasks like reading, taking up a course, scribbling into a notebook. However, the bottom line is to not schedule anything for that time. It could be slotted altogether or split into three parts or any way I can squeeze it in.

It is scary and I have no idea how I will deal with it. I may well end up with a mental breakdown within a week. If I do, I will definitely tweet about it before breaking the challenge.

Per usual, the challenge I take up for myself is my challenge to you too. Maybe not three hours and just one, either ways, challenge yourself to take time out to do nothing. Maybe even come back here and let me know how it goes.

Personally, I am hoping this time to amble gives me new ideas for the site and lot of interesting content. See you soon 🙂


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