Interview: The Bitterness of Doing Nothing

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If there is one advice on productivity and motivation that I would offer anyone, embracing leisure and filling it intelligently would be it.

What makes the one who writes this an authority on the subject of indolence you might ask? And, you’d be right to question. I learned that opinions born from a place other than personal experience, are but mere speculations.

I am an expert on doing nothing because I spent three months practicing “it” as a result of an episode of burnout in 2011. To cure my mysterious illness, my doctor’s orders were: no computer, no telephones, no reading, no TV and so on. Basically – a total information detox. Other than a mandatory 25 minute daily run and a meditation here and there, I was instructed not to do anything at all.

Three months of doing nothing might sound like music to someone else’s ears, but I saw my entire life flash by in front of my eyes when I heard the doctor’s verdict, the same way I imagine it happens to people before they die. I simply could not afford to be on sick-leave, not at that time in my life. Not ever. Doing nothing you see, is not exactly in my repertoire. I started working when I was sixteen to support my divorced, single mom who was juggling two shifts to make ends meet and raise my brother and I. My first job landed in my lap thanks to my flair for languages and my inferiority complex, or in StrengthsFinder’s terms — my “Achiever talents”. Combined with my upbringing where we were taught “Never to leave anything that can be done today to tomorrow,” they have ensured me a number of first places at national English language Olympiads which has quickly earned me a name in our small town. Before you knew it, parents were asking me to tutor their children, for money.

I never stopped working since, and managed to graduate two-and-a-half degrees in parallel to full-time jobs. Given that my mind is a never stopping roller coaster of ideas, I have also always juggled various side-projects, such as writing books, building and managing several websites, a hula-hoop business (which I never found the courage to get off the ground), and some other side-gigs.

Doing nothing, just like traditional boxes, narrow labels and conventional titles, is not my thing. (If you really must, try: consultant-writer-speaker-blogger-change manager-emotional intelligence evangelist).

There’s nothing quite like a sudden eclipse of the mind (which is what said burnout felt to me like) to finally make a workaholic realize that she is one.

I had heard of ‘La Dolce Far Niente” — the sweetness of doing nothing, before. But what I found is that to me, this mandatory, health-imposed ’far niente’ was not ‘dolce’ at all; it was pretty bitter in fact.

And I am not alone. Ask anyone to do nothing for an hour and they will either stare you down for being crazy, or label you “lazy”. Our homage to efficiency and the virtuousness of being busy however, is causing only harm in the world. According to ComPsych’s annual StressPulse Report, 92 percent of American workers report high levels of stress and 60 percent report extreme fatigue and feeling out of control. In Europe, things aren’t any rosier: Ten million employees fall ill each year as a direct consequence of stress at work. In the Netherlands, one in seven people—more than a million employees—report burnout symptoms each year. Our workplace conflates productivity with long hours and we’re eager to prove that we’re equipped to pull our weight.

And this is not about to change unless we stop to consider what drives us. Why are we letting work devour us?

Research has long proven that long hours have nothing to do with productivity and we’re certainly not becoming more creative or innovative by pushing ourselves to the edge; If anything, what all this pushing might get us, is a fall right over it.

Who are we without our busy schedules and our full plates?

Over the past four months, I’ve been writing a book on the topic, titled: “The War of Work: Silent Weapons of Management.” Watch this interview if you’d like to know more about it.

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