Doing Nothing. Why this is the best goal for high performers

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“What do you want to do this weekend?” A few years ago, I would have answered this with a bunch of impressive ambitions like finish a book, write some code, or do laundry. Now, my number one ambition is doing nothing. 

So today I want to break down how this ambition came about for me, how to do it right, and why doing nothing actually will actually help your performance. 

Doing nothing. My new goal. 

Yep. I actually have a goal of having one day per week of doing nothing. This might sound ridiculously easy, like why is it even a goal, but it’s objectively hard for someone like me. I always have an endless to-do, and if I’m not tackling it, I feel like I’ve just wasted my day. 

But after a long, impromptu walk in the woods with my kids, I realized that doing nothing leaves me open for everything I actually want. Things like:

  • Teaching my kids about some timely science
  • dropping in to my neighbor’s backyard for some tasty-tasty tequila
  • taking a power nap.

You know, the important things. 

On the other hand, over-scheduling my free time makes me focus on everything I didn’t get to finish. 

Don’t get me wrong, I still think you need to set aside time to focus on your real goals, I just have a new goal. Doing nothing. 

People say nothing’s impossible, but I do nothing every day

~ Winnie the Pooh

But I’m a high performer! How can I justify doing nothing? 

If you’re addicted to productivity and efficiency, the concept of “doing nothing” might be making your brain twitch right now. 

Or, you might be telling yourself you’ll “do nothing” but your brain is secretly plotting something semi-productive like catching up on emails on your phone while having a beer. 

If that’s you – I want you to reframe “doing nothing” as recharging

When you let yourself recharge you can get back to being 100% productive faster, Awesome ideas practically jump into your brain when you don’t distract it with “busy-ness” too, so you can spring into action as soon as you’re fully recharged. 

“Everyone’s screaming and yelling. He’s sleeping, asleep on the bleacher, can’t wake him up. He took a stumble into the ring. You’ve never seen a guy more relaxed before going into a world championship fight, and then he can turn it off so deeply, and man, when he goes in the ring you can’t turn it on with any more intent than he can. And his ability to turn it off indirectly aligned with how intensely he can turn it on.”

Josh Waitzkin about Marcelo Garcia at the Brazilizan Jiu Jitsu World Championships (which he won).

Really, if you couple the recharging benefits of “doing nothing” with your inner drive to be awesome, you can give your 110% more often. Now that’s more synergistic than espresso and DJ Tiesto. 

On the other hand, if you try to be semi-productive during your downtime, you’re neither recharged nor productive and you continue to slug along. 

So really, taking time to do nothing is an investment in yourself. 

Doing Nothing: The Rules

What’s NOT allowed:

  • News and social media. I can guarantee that you will not feel recharged after “catching up” with what’s going on in the world. Quite the opposite. You’ll feel worse. (Read my take on the news, and why I hate it so much.)
  • Screens of any kind. No TV, no movies, no phones or tablets. While these are all okay in theory, they don’t count as doing nothing because they don’t let your brain relax. Screens are too stimulating so you can’t really let your mind wander away. 

What’s okay in moderation:

  • Books, audiobooks, Gym. It’s too easy to stray off the doing nothing path and try to be productive with books and gym routines, although you might be ok if you stick to useless fluff books and purposefully mindless workout routines.
  • Chores and fixing stuff. It can be somewhat meditative to let your hands do a task while you let your mind wander around. The key though is to not put pressure on yourself to accomplish something during your “do nothing” time. 

What’s A-okay:

  • Music, Walks, or bike rides. Want to break that annoying thought-loop in your brain nagging at  you to be productive? Try a change of scenery. Literally going someplace else might be all you need. Plus, by actually burning up some energy, you’ll feel better. 
  • Gardening and hobbies. A little Mr.FIREescape inner-secret for you – I’m weirdly obsessed with gardening. Like, leave me alone in a room with a couple of tomato seeds and I’ll be as happy as my toddler on pixie dust. Very happy. 

So what do you think about doing nothing? A worthy goal, or am I just crazy? Leave me a comment with your thoughts.

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3 thoughts on “Doing Nothing. Why this is the best goal for high performers”

    • You chose the most “doing nothing”est of all movies! If I think about it, maybe office space is what really set off my FIRE goals 😛

      “I Did Absolutely Nothing And It Was Everything I Thought It Could Be.” – Peter from Office Space


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