That got your attention, didn’t it? She says with a smile and a wink ;–)
Actually, there’s a difference between laziness and idleness. Laziness is an aversion or disinclination to work, activity, or exertion, and has a rather negative connotation. None of us wants to think of ourselves, or our children as “lazy.” Idleness, on the other hand, is a state of being inactive, of choosing to do nothing for a period of time. That’s what I’m really talking about.
Research has found that periods of idleness is actually beneficial to us. So, being lazy, or idle, is actually good for you!
Focusing may help us to be more productive, but idleness, or intentionally unfocusing, has been found to help us be more creative. I have found this to be true in my own life. Some of my most creative ideas come to me when I’m in the shower or doing mundane tasks like folding laundry or sitting in traffic without the input of television, radio, email, or my newsfeed.
So much of what we do adds to our mental clutter. Social media surfing, email reading, text messages at all hours of the day and night contribute to mental fatigue. We need periods of mental respite to perform at our peak levels.
Researcher Andrew Smart found that periods of idleness results in a healthier, happier, and more creative brain.
When we take time to be idle, it doesn’t appear that we’re doing much but actually the opposite is true mentally. Studies previously suggested that when we rested, our brain was at rest. But now we find that our brain is still very active during periods of idleness.
Benefits of Idleness:
- Idleness leads to increased creativity. Most new or big ideas come during free-time when our brain is able to wander and ponder. Think of it as akin to an “Incubation advantage” where thoughts are free to roam and form. When we give our minds “free time” our brain is free to generate new and novel solutions to problems.
- Idleness helps solve big problems. Idleness allows our brain to take time to process the big picture. When we’re unfocused, our mind wanders to interesting places (e.g. the future, past, and present), and tends to jump from idea to idea until something works. Idleness lets you stand back from life and observe it from a different way. It allows us to form counterintuitive, insightful ideas.
- An idle mind allows us to plan and contemplate the future. Here we dream about long-term goals and consider what new things the future might hold for us. Of course, it has to be followed up with effort, motivation, and initiative, but the process begins when we idly allow ourselves to dream.
- An idle mind is at rest. Taking time to rest conserves energy for later. Never taking time to rest or unplug is a fast track to burnout.
- Idleness benefits your health. There is a direct correlation between the amount of time we work and the stress we feel. The more hours we spend working without mental rests, the more stressed we become, and the more prone we are to things like illness and depression.
In terms of the impact of idleness, it’s much like sleep. It’s so easy for us to dismiss, but in reality, it’s crucial to our health and success. In the long run, it actually makes us more productive and more creative.
Part of the problem is that as a society, we tend to enjoy, or at least, value busyness more than idleness. How often have you heard someone say, or have you said, “I’m just so busy” like it’s a badge of honor? I’ve been guilty.
As a culture, we have developed a habit of being in a constant state of either trying to achieve tasks or absorb or assimilate incoming information. Even when we have a few moments of “downtime” like in line at the grocery store or in the carpool line, we’re quick to fill the time with responding to email or scrolling our social media feeds.
This has trickled down to our children as well. Today’s children have an incredible intolerance for “boredom.” Go to any restaurant and you will see children on their iPads, hand-held video game devices, or smartphones, unable to sit and wait without something to do to occupy their minds. It’s translating into a lack of creativity in our younger generation.
Many people today admit to disliking or being uncomfortable being alone with their own thoughts. In one study, over 38 million Americans admitted to having shopped on their phones while in their bathroom!
Another problem we have encountered as a society is that technology has contributed to a blurring of the lines between our personal time and work time. Now it becomes more difficult to disconnect from the office when home in the evening or on weekends, or while on vacation. There is an increased tendency to check and respond to emails, and to have to touch base with work when we should otherwise unplug. Over 46% of Americans admit to having unused vacation time accrued, and almost 20% admitted to having a week or more unused vacation time at the end of the year.
Fear of missing out (FOMO) also contributes to our propulsion to stay plugged in and avoid idleness at all costs. Someone might post, like, or comment on our social media feeds, or breaking news may happen and we wouldn’t be the first to know if we don’t stay plugged in. Unfortunately, we’ve created a society unable to appreciate the benefits of idleness.
The truth is, sometimes we will be more effective getting things done when we first take time to disengage and do nothing at all.
We’re all busy, and we all want to knock things off our to-do list. So how can we practically engage in intentional, beneficial idleness?
10 ways to engage in intentional, beneficial idleness
1. First, we need to go back to our source. It’s important to recognize that on the seventh day, after God finished His creating, He took time to rest. “On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work” (Genesis 2:2).
God not only rested, but He commanded us to do so as well. “He said to them, “This is what the Lord commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord… So the people rested on the seventh day” (Exodus 16:23, 20).
When we work, we should do so with our whole heart, as if we are doing it for the Lord. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the LORD” (Colossians 3:23), but then also heed His command to rest.
2. Recognize that taking time for yourself, with breaks for idleness, will recharge your batteries and help you be more productive and creative when you return to the work at hand.
3. Allow your brain to wander. Intentionally turn off the television, radio, computer, and iPhone regularly. Enjoy the downtime, like during your commute to and from work, while exercising at the gym or walking the dog, while you’re sitting in the carpool lane, or while waiting at the doctor’s office.
4. Schedule periods when you can be idle. For example, in the morning while you are still in bed, let your mind wander before checking email and social media updates.
5. Make time for your hobbies or passions. This allows you time to let your creative juices flow while not focused on problem-solving or critical thinking.
6. Take time for an occasional power nap. A short nap of just 10-20 minutes has been found to help your brain be more productive later.
7. Set limits and boundaries. Too many people are too tied to their electronics. Set healthy boundaries such as checking emails only at 9am and 3pm each day. Or perhaps put limits of 10-15 minutes on social media scrolling. Our family has a rule of no electronics during family meal times so we will be present with each other.
8. Exercise without external stimuli. Take time to observe nature or people watch while you walk the dog or work out at the gym, rather than listening to news reports, podcasts, or audiobooks.
9. Enjoy recreational time with others. It offers an opportunity for real-time healthy exchanges of ideas with each other.
10. Take time off. It’s important to regularly schedule 1-2 days off work and away from time-sensitive demands. Make use of that vacation time, while unplugging from work, to afford you greater productivity and increased creativity when you return.
And make sure you carry a pad of paper or notes app with you to make room for new thoughts when you’re idle. Then you won’t have to be concerned about remembering those great ideas later.
Samuel Butler explained, “to do great work, one must be very idle as well as very industrious.” It’s definitely a matter of keeping that balance.
With Hope, Dr. B