I’m a mom of two young kids (in case my “ponytail as a hairstyle” didn’t give it away yet) so “I’m bored” are two words I haven’t said in a long time. Whether it’s tidying up the toys, folding laundry, or a myriad of other jobs, there is always something that needs to get done.
Can you relate? I’m sure you can. No matter your season of life there is always something that needs cleaning, work that needs to be accomplished, and plans to prepare for.
Lately though I’ve been practicing being unproductive. It is taking active un-learning to stop thinking about the next thing that needs to get done long enough to be still and enjoy the moment. Sometimes I do it for 30 seconds while I am drinking my first morning sip of freshly brewed coffee. Other times I try and sit quietly for 5 minutes, this is about as long I can tolerate until the urge to get up and do something kicks in.
There is a fear of falling behind that permeates our decisions. Our work continues to mount as we don’t complete it. We also feel that we are the most capable and that if we didn’t act, nothing would get done. There is an old saying that goes: “the graveyards are full of indispensable people”. It is a telling, albeit somewhat morbid, statement that life goes on, with or without us.
So what value is there in stopping, then, if it risks us falling behind? Here are three observations from my own experience with being purposefully unproductive.
1. Rest is not laziness.
For someone who is driven and task-oriented, to stop working feels like surrendering to laziness. Laziness means an unwillingness to work. Rest, on the other hand, is choosing to be quiet (The Lost Art of Quietness). Athletes are familiar with the term “active rest” days. These days are their “off” days for training, meaning they do not push hard or follow a training schedule that day in order to allow their body to recover. They don’t lounge on the couch all day, either. Rather, active rest includes doing normal physical activity without pushing to the point of exertion, including recreational exercise on those days. Choosing to rest means taking a break from the regular rigor of life.
2. Rest provides better return for energy.
Taking time to rest, whether it is 5 minutes every hour or 5 weeks every year, allows us a better return of energy for the times we are working. To continue with the athletic analogy, an athlete knows they cannot push to 100% every day. Rather, those active rest days allow time to recover in order to bring their best to the next game, or training session. See your times of conscious rest as an investment into your energy for later on, when you will be able to perform to a higher level and with more energy than if you had not stopped to rest.
3. You are responsible to know your own limits.
Very few people will support you in your pursuit of rest. Your boss will likely push you harder. Media tells us we need to be aggressive and work harder than anyone else. Your friends might have their kids in more extracurricular activities than you. That’s ok. We need to take ownership of our own recovery time [tweet this]. In his book, Essentialism (http://gregmckeown.com/), Greg Mckeown says that “if you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.” Only you know what is truly worth spending your energy on, and only you can tell when you need to take time to rest.
It is a skill that is developed over time, with trial and error, but if learned early it can save you stress, give you stamina, and keep you sane.