Skip to content

Planning to do nothing.


Time Management books tend to focus on tasks. On culling emails, on filing systems, on taming interruptions to meetings. They are about scheduling jobs, planning steps to be taken, organising paperwork. They make me tired just writing about them. The assumption is that good time management is about how we do what we do and how to do it fast.

Sometimes good time management is about planning to do nothing much at all.

Let me give you an example. Yesterday I knew I had to do a lot of work on this blog. If I was to keep up my intended posting schedule and everything else I had to do in life I needed to sit down and write a dozen or so posts. I had a system of notes and Filofax inserts and Evernote notebooks. I knew what to do. But I was feeling pushed along and I didn’t know what to write about.

Many writing books say to put your butt in a chair and a screen and keyboard in front of you and get to work. A good second step. But my first step was a little different.

I went out for breakfast and read a couple of magazines and the newspaper. Then I went to buy some shoes. Then I went to my favourite bookshops and browsed around a bit. And by early afternoon I  had jotted down six new blog post ideas. Today I have my butt in the seat and the keyboard in front of me.

Think of it in terms of noise. An unmanaged workplace yells at you. There are shrieked demands and heavy clunks as things fall out of place. Missed deadlines ring loud bells and that phone just never stops chirping.

Good time management puts a sleek system in place. It hums and purrs like a deluxe car. Every half hour, bang on time there is a neat and pleasing soft scler-wump sound as one task goes completed down the chute. The phone is on answer machine so you can actually hear the clock ticking gently and the coffee machine spluttering. How nice.

It’s still making noise. And it is the noise of routine. The noise that conditions us to sit and follow the same ( now highly efficient) system over and over. It reminds us that there is a system to fit in with and if we don’t keep up the noise will start again. In other words, there is still pressure.

A good time management system will alleviate that by incorporating what I call ‘bird song time’. A time to walk out and away and get your head into a new listening experience. Something, anything, unexpected. Timetable yourself to do nothing and you will find it remarkably productive because you shift from system to thought, from methods to experience, from outcomes to new ideas. You rid your head of the noise of the system so that you can hear the birdsong, the new ideas, the possibilities in the wind. It is not procrastination because you are not putting things off for the avoidance of starting them. You are starting, just in a place where you can hear the birds.

Then when you come home the sleek time management system is quiet enough for you to hear yourself humming that nightingale song over the clicks of your keyboard.

Will you put a time in your planner to today to do nothing much?

What do you need to hear in your life that your routine is drowning out?

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. I enjoy having some wind down/ me time – then when I get that out of my system I tend to be super-productive. It is odd. But effective.

    P.s. love the teapot – I have one of those – works wonders for my nothing time :)

    November 22, 2012
  2. I SO agree! I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t had any “piddle” time. Sometimes I just need to wander around and do nothing or do things that don’t matter or just sit and read. When I go too long without piddle time, I get cranky. I’ve overdue for some serious piddle time & you’ve inspired me to do it as soon as I finish this comment.

    November 23, 2012
  3. Gwyned Trefethen #

    I don’t schedule down time on my iCal, but I do plan for it at regular intervals during the day. I find it absolutely essential in pacing my day. I take a break at mid morning, lunch time, late afternoon and after dinner. Some of this is drift time, some involves watching the current Netflix selection with or without handwork. I also work out seven times a week. The level of intensity varies. Today was an intense jog/walk day. Twice a week I take an early bird Yoga class. Exercise isn’t exactly drift time, BUT my mind is free to drift on work or not. I don’t guide it. Just trust that whatever I need to resolve will happen with the drifting. Sometimes I design the next piece or artwork or problem solve the current one. Just as often I’ll work on none art thoughts. I am fond of computer games. I rationalize that they keep my mind agile, but the truth is I just love a challenge and I find after 15 – 30 minutes of game playing I am much more alert.

    Yesterday was Thanksgiving here in the States. We had another couple over for most of the day. I just kicked back and relaxed, relishing the company.

    Isn’t balance what we all hope to achieve? Too much work wears us down. Too much drifting and the work doesn’t get down.

    November 23, 2012
  4. Alison Reeves #

    I know just what you are getting at with the noise thing. Sometimes I can’t get down to things and mess about all day (and feel guilty!), then spend my evening working very productively – for some odd reason I have to be in the right mindset for each activity – whether it be working or playing.

    November 28, 2012

Make me happy - leave a comment!!

%d bloggers like this: