Are you a self-proclaimed workaholic who’s always taking on extra projects, despite increasing levels of stress? This article will help you take it down a notch.
Committing to Idleness
Prioritize the most important leisurely things in your life. Running kids to soccer practice, taking dogs for a walk, and taking on extra projects at work aren’t the activities of an idler. Cloud-watching? Meditating? Drinking tea? Now we’re talking. Identify the things that you enjoy doing the most, regardless of whether or not culture views them as “productive.” What would you do if money were no object? Design the perfect version of your day. When would you wake up? What would you do first? What will you have done before lunch time? List out your major priorities in life.
What could you do now, today, to make these things happen more easily? If you want to be able to sit and drink coffee and read the paper, undisturbed, could you do this? What’s keeping you from getting the idle time you want?
Stop volunteering for extra work. Helping your friend move, staying late at the office, taking time out to help the neighbor paint the house? Saintly activities, no doubt, but this kind of stuff seriously cuts into idle time that you may desperately need. Do what you need to do, and continue being reliable for necessary chores, activities, and responsibilities, but stop volunteering for extra stuff.
Increasingly, especially with social networking updates and
instant-gratification media, we like to glorify busyness as a culture. There’s nothing wrong with making a commitment to saving time back for nothing at all. You don’t need to have any reason to want to sit in a chair, have a glass of wine, and stare into the middle distance. That’s how we stay sane.
Throw out your schedule. For some people, a tightly-organized schedule is an essential part of productivity and feeling a sense of accomplishment in the day. For others, it’s like a lead weight that hangs around your neck. Who says you have to eat lunch promptly at 12:15, and that it must take exactly 30 minutes, and that you must be back to work by 12:45? Eat when you’re hungry. Toss your schedule in the garbage.
Stop wearing a watch, if it stresses you out more than it helps you stay on time. Let yourself stay productive by your own internal workflow, not the little ticks on the clock face.
In some languages, conceptions of the way time works are much different. A schedule of hours, from “lunch time” to “coffee break” can be constructed by the language we speak. It’s artificial. Tuvans, for example, conceive of the future as behind us, because we can’t see it, and that we’re walking backward into it. Point being, it’s OK to think about the “value” of time differently.
Lose your fear of missing out. Cellphones, social media, and high-speed internet have a way of seriously cutting into idle time. Try and pull back from social media a little bit, and learn to unplug. The “fear of missing out,” is an increasingly serious phenomenon. When once you could sit with your thoughts and idle on your way to work, now you have the whole world at your fingertips, from the Kardashians to the Klingons, right on your phone. Your high school friend’s marriage pictures. Fifty work e-mails. Someone you met one time in Florida’s most recent relationship humble brag. Are these really important parts of your day, right at this moment? Make yourself less available and idle more.
In many ways, technology helps us to use our time more wisely. Get in the habit of answering emails right away, so you won’t have to worry about responding to them later, cutting into your idle time. If you miss a text, big deal. People shouldn’t expect you to be on call 24-7.
Be ambitious for happiness and leisure. Ambition gets in the way. The desire for lots of money, a “successful” career, and even things like fame and recognition do a lot to keep us unhappy, disappointed, and turn us into mindless workaholics. Stop feeding your ego and start feeding your idle. Make happiness and leisure your biggest goal and let the other things drift away. Some psychologists will refer to a “locus of control.” Some people have an external locus, meaning that they seek approval from others, while some people have an internal locus, meaning that they only seek the approval of themselves. Be happy making yourself happy, not working to get the recognition of others. If what you want to do is drink a bottle of beer and watch the sun set, then you have a responsibility to drink a bottle of beer and watch the sun set. Hop to it.
Doing Less Work
Do more in less time. Bob Dylan claims to have written “Blowin’ in the Wind,” a song that stands in for an entire decade and cultural moment in most historical documentaries, in five minutes. Even if he did nothing else for the rest of his life but eat lunches, drink wine, and watch monster movies, that would have been a productive day. As the French say, “Travailler moins, produire plus.” Translation: the less you work, the more you make. While it might sound strange, making yourself be super-productive for short periods of time will leave you with more time to be idle. Steal time by packing super-attentive hard work into half the day, then kick back and stay on the clock for the rest of the time.
Learn to focus on one thing only. Don’t try to spread your talents and efforts all over the place at once. Put all of yourself into one thing and finish it as best as you can, then put it away entirely and forget about it. You’ll be more productive with the time you have.
Let someone else do it for you. Any good idler knows that the best person for the job is probably someone else. When the teacher asks for volunteers, look at your desk. When the project manager needs an enterprising young talent to spearhead the new project, keep your hands in your pocket. There’s no point in letting artificial ideas about ambition and “success” get in the way of your valuable leisure time. If idleness is important to you, keep your ego in check and let other people grab the gold ring.
The difference between idleness and laziness is that an idle person can take care of themselves, and a lazy person requires the assistance of others. To be truly idle, you need to be in control of your own life, able to do things, but choosing not to. In other words, if you’re 32 and living in your dad’s basement watching cartoons and eating cereal for three meals a day, you can’t chalk that up to idleness. That’s just being lazy. Provide for yourself, commit to your own happiness, and stop being a burden on others.
Start meditating. Meditation can do a lot to calm your stresses, center your self, and refocus your energy on your mind. Any good idler spends most of their time daydreaming in headspace anyway, so meditation should come as natural. You don’t need to be a samurai or some kind of monk to meditate. It’s not complicated.
Find a comfortable sitting position. An upright chair is fine, or on the floor in the full lotus position is fine, there’s no perfect way to meditate, despite what anyone says. Sit upright, fold your hands in your lap comfortably, and just sit. That’s it. Focus on your breath, watching your thoughts go by like fish in a pond. Don’t be your thoughts, watch them. Let them go.
Zazen, the principle practice of zen meditation, literally means “just sitting.” There’s no secret, or mystical component to sitting meditation. You’re just sitting. If that’s not idle behavior, nothing is.
Sleep in as often as possible. John Keats, one of the most famous lyrical poets who ever lived, once said that a poet had a responsibility to sleep in every day until at least 10 am. Waking up at the crack of dawn is the behavior of an ambitious person, not an idler. There’s no need to grab the day by the dawn-horns. Let yourself ease into the day gradually by sleeping in and getting up when it feels like you’re ready to be up.
Go to sleep when you feel like sleeping. Nap when you feel like napping. No sense in a schedule, remember?
Being a Professional Idler
Abandon the concept of a career. A career is like a stack of imaginary dominos guarded by invisible gatekeepers. Supposedly, if you knock over this one, it might knock over these other ones, which will end up giving you a lot of money, a sexy spouse, and some kind of car that goes real fast. Yeah right. Don’t concern yourself with the idea of a career, with doing work now that will maybe, perhaps, hopefully pay off ten years down the road. Focus on today. Focus on this minute. Focus on the now.
Stop obsessing over money. Money keeps you from getting what you want. It’s an excuse. Every failed musician who ever lived looked at expensive gear and said, “Oh, if only I had that 8 track, I could make the music I wanted.” If only you had that vacation house your boss has, or the trust fund your college roommate has, or that resume that your friend has, then you’d be successful. Nothing is keeping you from getting what you want but you.
Cut your hours at work to as few as possible. Figure out your basic costs and figure out how much you can do to make the money you need to make, providing for yourself without having to do more than what’s necessary. Don’t spend money on silly material goods, or status grabbing brand names. Spend only on the essentials.
Figure out the essentials and live a more spartan existence. Leonard Cohen, the famous singer, would spend a few months in Canada writing stories for magazines before he was famous, crashing on couches, saving all the money he made so he could live cheaply in Greece for the rest of the year, idling. Seems like a good deal.
A good budget is helpful for an idle life. Learn to spend less on extra things and save your money for maintaining a comfortable life without having to work too hard for it.
Get a job that isn’t “work.” Depending on your talents, skills, and abilities, a number of different jobs might be available to you. No one can be a bump on a log 24-7, but learning to find work doing the most enjoyable and least work-like work possible will help you to feel as if you’re idling at all times.
When you decide how you’d spend your ideal day, what did you say? If you’d love to be reading, consider developing your skills as a copyeditor, writer, or content creator. If you’d love to be drinking coffee all day, get a job as a barista. If you’d love to be walking around the woods, go into wildlife management. Spend your time doing what you love and it won’t be work.
Leave that work at work. When you’re at home, be at home. When you’re at work, be at work. Don’t waste time you could be idling thinking about work, or talking about work, or certainly not doing any work.
Take as many days off as possible. Americans typically leave somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 million vacation days unused every year. That’s 400 million days that could have been used to rest, restore, and focus on yourself, that instead went into labor for someone else. If you’ve got vacation available to you, take it.
Again, don’t glorify busyness. If you’ve got a week off, who says you’ve got to schedule a stressful trip to the other side of the world? If that doesn’t sound like a vacation, spend the day at home, sleeping in, drinking coffee, and doing what you want. Relax. Be idle.
Move to a place that celebrates leisure activities. It’s true that some places treat the concept of idleness differently, and are more receptive to spending long lunches drinking in cafes, taking afternoon siestas on the beach, or cutting out of work to do other things for the day. If you’re seriously committed to being an idler, consider uprooting yourself, or at least visiting other cultures that take idleness seriously.
Denmark is consistently rated as the country with the highest happiness index, which means that more people consider themselves happy there than anywhere else in the world. Not coincidentally, the Danes work less than 40 hours a week, take twice as much vacation as in the States, and have a large infrastructure of social welfare benefits available based on taxes.
How to Be Lazy
How to Do Nothing
How to Stop Being Lazy
Sources and Citations
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