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Career satisfaction,  Happiness,  productivity,  Self-leadership,  Stress Management,  Success Strategy

Want To Be Productive? Start With Doing Nothing (Guest post)

“I am busy all day, trying to complete my to-do list before calling it a day. Yet, some things always remain undone, and, worse still, new things pop up. I go to bed tired, with the dissatisfaction that I couldn’t do what I set out to during the day.”

These were Sami’s words as I listened to him in a quiet coffee shop. I am sure it rings a bell with many of you, especially those working at large corporates and juggling family and work.

Still from Modern Times (1936). By United Artists — ebay, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29131104.
Still from Modern Times (1936). By United Artists — eBay, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29131104.

Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 movie “Modern Times” is all about Sami. And perhaps you, too. In this movie, the protagonist was working hard at an ever-accelerating assembly line. He could never catch up, got stuck in the machine, and landed at the hospital. In today’s world, it’s responding to hundreds of emails, catching up with many meetings, and preparing endless corporate reports that can land us in the hospital. Luckily, there are ways to save us from such a fate.

No, it’s not practicing yoga or meditation. Nor is it a course on time management. It is about slowing down. Yes, you read it right. You need to slow down or even stop doing anything for a while. It may make you more productive.

Continuous hard work is harmful.

A recent study by the World Health Organization has identified long working hours as a significant cause of death by heart failure and stroke. In today’s corporate-driven, globally-connected, digital, and always-on world, we all work hard. The corporates reward hard work with promotions, bonuses, and salary rises. Then they offer more incentives for working harder still. It’s a never-ending process till you drop dead or land in the hospital, as the protagonist in Modern Times did. An article in the Inc Magazine, “5 Ways Working Too Hard Hurts You,” tells us how continuous hard work is harmful. It may make you sick, less creative, and less innovative. You may also lose the pleasures of life such as friendship, social network, and hobbies essential to keep you rejuvenated. A small task might be overwhelming for you. You may lose control of your life. Our biggest problem is, we try to do too much because our society appreciates it most. Otherwise, we may appear inefficient, unproductive, or even lazy. Who likes such compliments!

Maya’s brush with  a corporate hamster wheel – this is what she learned

Maya once worked for an employee-owned professional outfit. The CEO read only the emails that had her name in the “To” line and ignored the rest. She even took time off to prepare her daughter for her maths exams. Maya admired her boss’s style.

Later she moved to a large corporate where the situation was different. They expected Maya to read all emails, regardless of whether she was the primary addressee or not. She was to prepare countless reports, read all that others sent, attend several meetings each day, some continuing well into the evenings. Worse still, WhatsApp or Teams chat messages, and corporate culture demanded she responds to them instantly. Maya was tired.

“In the end, it led me to think about the whole purpose of working. Was it money, satisfaction, respect, social recognition?” Maya recalled, then added, “The job gave me most of these, except satisfaction, because I didn’t see any purpose in what I was doing.” But the cost was too high as it was draining her health and happiness, i.e., her capital. Maya left the job. These days most of her time goes in daydreaming while waiting for her next career move. “And I am enjoying it,” she chuckled.

Stop everything and try doing nothing for a change

It is what Niksen tells you to do. But what is it?

A Vogue article, “What Is Niksen? The Dutch Lifestyle Concept That Allows Us To Do Nothing,” is an excellent summary for the beginner. It quotes Professor Rutt Veenhoven, a sociologist at Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands who studies happiness. Professor Veenhoven said: “Mindfulness is about the object of thinking, while Niksen is about (not) doing. Niksen allows for the floating of free thoughts, rather than focussing one’s thoughts.” In short, daydreaming.

Society never appreciated daydreaming. Most scientists believed that daydreaming was the demonstration of some psychological problem. Parents, teachers, managers, and cognitive scientists, discouraged daydreaming as a useless mental activity.

Yet, recent studies found that the reality is somewhat different. Scott Barry Kaufman, an American cognitive scientist, elaborated it in “Dreams of Glory,” published in “Psychology Today.” Human cognition involves an elaborate network of different parts of the brain. Some of these are activated during focused activities while others during daydreaming. The combination of both provides the most effective cognitive outcome for the human brain. We need both focused activities and daydreaming. That will make us more creative and productive.

The Vogue article mentioned above also quoted Sandi Mann, the author of “The Science of Boredom: The Upside (And Downside) Of Downtime.” Mann said, “daydreaming is the key. We need to take [downtime] seriously and stop seeing doing nothing as a waste of time. It can actually be the best use of your time.”

Try Niksen today. Bring back the joy of your life.

Join me for this FREE event Q&A with Sharmin. The next one is Friday, June 4, on Zoom at noon PST/3 PM EST. Only 10 spots per session.






About the Author

Sayeed Ahmed,  a Ph.D. in environmental policy, spent 30 years in the infrastructure development sector in Asia and Australia. Recently left a senior corporate leadership role to find the bigger purpose of work in life. Writes on education, history, culture, wellbeing, travel, geopolitics, and current issues.

Feature photo courtesy: Pixabay.com

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