I spent last Sunday evening with my feet up reading a research paper called Doing Nothing and Nothing to Do: The Hidden Value of Empty Time and Boredom
Blimey, I thought, has the author, Manfred Kets De Vries, INSEAD Distinguished Professor of Leadership Development & Organisational Change, been watching over our shoulders and tapping into Deserter philosophy and strategems?
In the paper (to save you from actually having to read the bugger) he suggests that doing nothing is crucial to the creative process and that far from being a waste of time, introspection and reflection induce states of mind that nurture our imagination. Our obsession with ‘keeping busy’, he postulates, not only suppresses our true feelings and concerns, but also the means by which we may deal with and solve them.
He has a bit of a pop at mindfulness – that modern way of relieving anxiety by taking time out to ‘feel the moment’ – suggesting that working manically all day and then squeezing in a mindfulness session between that last conference call and squash with Simon is a ‘band aid’ solution that doesn’t address root causes of stress or unhappiness.
Sod being busy, he implores, try doing fuck all for a bit (though not in those exact words, to be fair).
I’m bound to say this is quite go-ahead advice coming as it does from one of Europe’s leading business schools, where the business of work is taken very seriously indeed. I lived in Fontainebleau for a while and dated a toothy INSEAD bi-lingual translator from Chipping Sodbury so I know what I’m talking about. (She never knew that I lived in a tent in the forest.)
Personally, I feel I’ve long-since appreciated the benefits of doing nowt. Apart from all the above it’s so much less tiring than getting things done. And it can also bring its own sense of achievement.
During A-level revision I sat in the kitchen for hours, preferring to watch the clock than to return to my books in the next room. So intently did I watch it that not only could I clearly see the minute hand going round, I could discern movement in the hour hand. Have you ever seen an hour hand move? No. That takes a special kind of dedication to doing fuck all.
So, what is to blame for this obsession with ‘always on’ busyness and how can we combat it?
Connected devices are a big problem. Look around you in the cafe, on the train or waiting for a bus… everyone’s on a phone, a tablet or a laptop. What are they all doing? Mainly, I suspect, creating emails, tweets, posts and updates with the sole purpose of keeping other people busy. Yes, we’re all complicit in the busy-busy illusion. Remember when we used to just look out of the window? The world still turned.
Or what about that day when you forgot your phone? Do you recall how the initial frustration gradually, hour by hour, gave way to an unfamiliar sense of liberation? Fuck me, you realise, I’m on my own, like the old days. I could go to the pub.
A friend of ours was so delighted to discover that he loved not having a phone when he lost his that he didn’t replace it for months. (Sadly we don’t see him any more. Can’t get hold of him.)
The need for speed
The need for speed is another culprit. The commendable Cittaslow movement, founded in 1999 by a group of Italians who hadn’t quite finished lunch, aims to improve quality of life by slowing down the pace of life in whole towns and cities.
By slowing down you may not get as much done in the short term, sure, but you may find yourself a whole lot happier doing it. And it’s not hard to implement. Don’t take the car, for example, take a bus. Don’t take the bus, walk. Don’t walk, amble. Don’t amble, lean.
I mean, does everything have to happen so quickly? When planning a trip to Paris recently I pointed out to Mrs Raider that instead of taking Eurostar and being in Gare du Nord within two hours, we could take the coach – a nine-hour journey with free wifi, electricity and toilets, which would allow us to revel in the very act of travelling as well as enjoy our destination, and all at half the price of the train!
We went by Eurostar.
But the point remains, kind of.
Taking up smoking may help in your attempts to slow down. So-called ‘science’ has it that smokers are addicted to nicotine but, in fact, many are simply addicted to just getting the fuck out of the room, away from les autres, to stand by a road and stare into the middle-distance for a bit. Why not buy a pack of cigarettes and give yourself some time out? Stick a bit of hash in the mix and you may slow down so much you never even get started.
Proceed with caution
However, those tempted to take action – or rather, take no action – to get less into their lives should proceed with caution. Your other half may not like this new you.
It takes a truly enlightened partner to respond with a cheery ‘OK, love!’ when you say you can’t unload the dishwasher because you’ve decided to do fuck all for a bit, or that you missed that important parcel delivery because you were lying on the chaise longue ‘watching the trees’.
There is the distinct danger that what you are doing could be construed less as a scientific experiment and more as the kind of hopeless vapidity that sees people permanently excluded from the gene-pool.
Remember poor Puddy, for example, inadvertently freaking out Elaine on Seinfeld:
Nevertheless, having finished Dhr. De Vries’ paper I decided to set aside the following day to do nothing and see what happens.
My report is here in How to Do Fuck All – Part Two.
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