Are You Spending Enough Time "Doing Nothing"?


So you see, imagination needs moodling — long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.
–Brenda Ueland

All of man’s troubles come from his inability to sit alone, quietly, in a room, for any length of time.
–Blaise Paschal

To be idle requires a strong sense of personal identity.
–Robert Louis Stevenson

Find your creative/thinking time. Defend it ruthlessly, spend it alone….
—Randy Pausch

How much moodling/reflection time do you need? I learned long ago that I need to schedule it into my day, otherwise my mind takes it in the middle of the night. My particular organism demands that I spend time processing what is going on in my life. If I want to sleep, I need to honor that fact….it’s that simple. For me it’s sacred time. The moodling..playing with ideas…”doing nothing”…hanging out with myself or loved ones is how I feed my soul. No amount of worldly achievement could take its place.

Oh, I do set goals and get things done, and I always have a challenging problem or two for my mind to play with. But accomplishment is secondary to me. That’s not a fashionable attitude in our current society, and that’s fine, too. Whenever I start to feel pressured by what I “should” be doing, I think of a study done of first graders years ago. It found that the happiest and most creative children were the ones who spent the most time just sitting quietly, seemingly staring at the walls. I also think of Robert Frost sitting on his porch. One of his New England neighbors called him the “laziest man I’ve ever known.” Imagine, just sitting on a porch “doing nothing.” And I think of a colleague I knew at Cornell. He was the brightest fellow in the Physical Chemistry group. He tended to work late at night and come to work in the afternoon. He would go into his office, put on some classical music, sit down and smoke his pipe, and quietly ponder the problem he was working on at the moment. Recalling these images makes it easy for me to avoid being caught up in the busyness valued by our current culture. The images remind me to stay connected to something deeper and more nourishing.

So, what about you? We’re all different. Do you have a balance between activity and reflection that works for you? Do you feel you’re doing too little and need to motivate yourself more? Or do you treasure the periods of stillness in your life, spending just the right amount of time “doing nothing”? Please share your thoughts and experience in the comments section.

Photo by danellesheree via Flickr. Creative Commons license.

Thanks to everyone who commented this past week: Albert, Ellen, Tracey, Shirley, Truthteller and bikhikebabe.

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22 Responses to Are You Spending Enough Time "Doing Nothing"?

  1. Hi Jean,
    for me, it is exactly the same. It is the quiet time that gives me the opportunity to gather my thoughts, find some peace and quiet in my head, to sit back and let the ‘creative juices’ do their work, and in the best case to find my ‘inner voice’ again.

    Unfortunately, with two little children, a stressful job, not enough sleep, and a house with very limited privacy, that time is way too limited..
    Blogging certainly doesn’t help with that limited time either, but at the same time, it is a form of ‘quiet time’ for me too!

    The good thing is, that I’ve reached a point in my life that I’m noticing it now, that I’m feeling that that ‘quiet time’ is long overdue.. And that I HAVE to schedule in it, one way or the other..
    Writing in my journal is one of the ways for me, though nothing can compare to a long walk on the beach!!

    And you’re so right, it might not be fashionable, but who cares! As a matter of fact, I came across a study recently, encouraging a short period of ‘down time’ even at work, since it would make the workers more effective in the time left!

    Warm wishes to you Jean, and thank you for this post again. To me, your posts are in fact a sort of quiet time.. they really are!


  2. bikehikebabe says:

    Unlike Ellen, all my time is potential quiet time. Kids are long gone, husband at work. I take a long walk everyday by myself in the woods. My hang-up: I have a long list that I want to accomplish & feel guilty not getting enough done. I end up working hard before I go to bed. That’s not good for sleep! I’m getting the focusing books mentioned in last blog (from library, inter-library loan, Amazon). I’ll focus on my jobs during the day & have quiet reflective time in the evening.

  3. Peter says:

    On work days when the weather is nice, I like to sit in the park at lunch time and contemplate the universe.

    Or sometimes on a weekend or day off, I like to lie on the couch and let my mind drift to wherever it wants to go.

    I agree there are many benefits to “doing nothing”. Ironically, I think doing nothing can even increase productivity as it refreshes both the mind and body.

  4. With one of my favourite quotes being “A life unexamined is not worth living”, it’s not hard to guess that I too, love my quiet time where I reflect on where I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m going. I also use this time to think creatively, and I have a great notebook full of ideas, inventions, poems, and other random musings. Without time to myself, I find myself getting caught up in ‘busyness’ which truly interferes with my important ‘business’ of being authentically me! Thanks for a great post Jean, and I concur with Ellen, your posts are always a great source of thought & inspiration which definately add to my quiet time. Thanks again. xx Tracey

  5. Jean says:

    Good for you for realizing that you need more reflective time. For me that’s always the most important step–realizing that I want to make a change. I’m glad you saw that study about down time making us more effective. ..our society is stupid about that. I had insomnia for years, so I really sympathize about sleep deprivation.

    Even though blogging takes time, it is reflective time. It feeds the soul, especially sites like yours. I was surprised that you have a stressful job…your site seems so peaceful, even though it’s loaded with great ideas. How much time does it take you? I’m impressed.

    It sounds as if your long walks are a great chance for reflective time as well as great exercise. Now if you can only stop worrying about your To Do list! I cheerfully admit our apartment has been a complete mess for the past few months. Cleaning it up is on my Possibility List, and I actually got something done on it yesterday. It was fun.

    I love the image of you contemplating on the park bench at lunch time. Again, our society is sick with all the emphasis on hustle and bustle and being busy every minute.

    Thanks everyone! You made my week. πŸ™‚

  6. Jean says:

    Amen to that! Thanks for coming by and sharing. πŸ™‚

  7. Adebola says:


    I am so sorry to be away from this blog for long. I have had a very busy schedule over the past weeks.

    Another wonderful post by you. I know I have missed a lot, will try and cover up lost grounds anyway πŸ™‚

    There is something I have learnt to do, to ask myself this question: “What else can I do?” This has brought out my creative juice flowing with ideas through out the year.

    With that question, I have taken my streams of income from one at the beginning of the year to about seven and still counting at the moment.

    The best time I ask the question is in my quiet time. After completing a project, I take time out to rest and those juices never stop flowing. This year has been a fulfilling one but with all the ideas I have now, next year is definitely going to be GREATER and MORE fulfilling.

    Just as others have said, Jean, YOU ARE GREAT! Your posts are top class. Keep up this GREAT work Ma’am πŸ™‚

  8. Jean says:

    I’m glad things have been going so well with you. It’s great to have you back! Thanks for the kind words.

  9. Al at 7P says:

    Hi Jean – I thought you might appreciate that one of the celebrity gurus of productivity – David Allen of “Getting Things Done” – has a post today in the Huffington Post about the exact same thing. I thought of this post when I read it. They say great minds think alike, right? πŸ™‚

  10. Jean says:

    Thanks for telling me. It’s nice when people agree with me. πŸ˜‰

  11. Hi Jean, thanks for visiting my site and put it in one of your fave blog in technorati.

    For me, a bit too busy recently, even more when I have to put blogging into my schedule, thanks for reminding us for a time to relax and enjoy.

    There is one term I remembered, “dolce far niente”, whose meaning is the sweetness of doing nothing.

    It’s great time to relax, reflect, be thankful of what we have, and amazingly it’s also the best time to be creative, relaxation drives innovation, that’s what Robin Sharma, a leadership guru called.

    Enjoying your blog here =)

  12. Jean says:

    Yes, blogging does take a lot of time, and for me it’s also one of the most soul-satisfying things I do. I try to figure out what my topics are and use my moodling time pondering them. That makes them a bit easier to write. And I try to write short posts.

    I love that quote in your latest post: “When life gives you a hundred reasons to cry, show life that you have a thousand reasons to smile.

    And that’s a great picture of you as a baby. πŸ™‚

  13. Hi Jean, thanks for the comment =)
    That quote is the one inspiring me to start blogging, also the one that gives me the name of my blog. In the middle of difficulty and limitations, we still have things we can be thankful of the reasons for smile.

    Do visit my blog again =)

  14. Jean says:

    Your quote reminded me of the one by Duke Ellington: “I merely took the energy it takes to pout and wrote some blues.” Thanks, and I will visit your site again. πŸ™‚

  15. My goodness this resonated with me. I spend almost no time doing nothing and I hate that. Then I feel frustrated with myself and get angry and it’s even less productive than if I’d spent the angry time doing something I liked or doing nothing.

    Part of it is that I freelance and thus I can be working any time. Which translates to working odd hours and not having boundaries. πŸ™

  16. Jean says:

    Not Yet a Bodhisattva,
    Our society doesn’t value reflection, so it’s hard to give yourself permission to do it…. if you have a choice. I don’t. If I don’t make room for it during the day, my mind takes it in the middle of the night.

    I appreciate your coming by.

  17. Danelle says:

    Thanks for the mention for my photo! That’s my dog Scout! πŸ™‚

  18. Will says:

    Hi – I found your post from the Blogapalooza group writing project.

    This made me pause, because I definitely do not spend enough time “Doing Nothing”. I guess I will have to work on that!


  19. Jean says:

    Thanks for coming by. I’m glad you found the post useful. πŸ™‚

  20. Pingback: » Rediscovering the Magic

  21. Rummuser says:

    Jean, thanks for this lead. I seem to spend more time moodling than anything else now a days. I can of course, afford to!
    .-= RummuserΒ΄s last blog ..Wandering Mahila-Gen Now And Their Tomorrows =-.

    • Jean says:

      I’m a moodler at heart, so I love being retired. I spend most of my time in the “zone”, with few interruptions. I’m in hog heaven.

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