Idle is the New Kale

Do you define progress by “doing?” Does your feeling of success or accomplishment depend on how many tasks you check off your to-do list? Trust me, you’re not the only one! 

As Americans, so many of us have prioritized busyness over all else, losing the white space we need to create moments of thoughtfulness and reflection. We focus our energy on talking about work, multitasking, making and crossing off to-do lists. 

What we fail to realize is that we get so caught up in “doing” that we overlook the importance that “not doing” plays in making real vs perceived progress. Creating more time to be idle (to not do) makes us more productive, more fulfilled in our personal and professional lives, and more impactful leaders.

I’m on a mission to make being busy the new smoking and doing nothing the new kale! If you are with me, read on to discover how to unleash the power of being idle.

When You’re Too Busy

A constant state of busy might sometimes feel like a badge of honor that’s getting you ahead, but it can actually lead to negative outcomes that might impact your career (and life!):

  • You’re not present. When you’re so focused on getting things done, you can miss out on the moments that are often packed with big joy and big ideas. Throughout my career, I’ve found that reserving downtime to just be able to chat with team members about their weekend plans went a long way to building trust and understanding, helping us work better together.
  • You’re not strategic. When focused on execution, you miss seeing the bigger picture or connecting dots. No wonder best ideas and brilliant solution to problems come to us in the shower or on walks!
  • You’re depleted. Too much multitasking often leads to mistakes and burnout. Leave yourself no time to recharge and see how much more productive you’ll actually be.

Allowing Yourself Idle Time

Once you give yourself permission to not constantly “do,” you realize so many benefits that will leave stronger for it:

  • Learn from experience. Time to reflect on projects, experiences or relationships means we’re able to process and learn from the past. This helps us build on experiences and continually improve, which propels us forward in our careers and personal lives.
  • Invest in well-being. Avoiding burnout keeps us in the game over the long term.
  • Time to think.Thinking often brings clarity, which leads to feelings of greater confidence and competence.

Don’t Take My Word for It…

The benefits of being idle isn’t just something I’ve realized. So many artists and entrepreneurs I know tell me how much their professional success actually depends on being idle. For part of my job leading strategy for NO Studios, a social club for artists and creatives, I interview artists and this topic continues to stand out as a theme. 

They tell me how important meditation and quiet time is to fuel their creative process and to give them the confidence to continually push their thinking and pursue their craft. In mypodcast interview with Kiran Vedula, a musician and producer, I learned about how the simple act of taking long walks helps to keep him focused and centered.

I also did a podcast interview with Todd Thompson, a successful entrepreneur who happened to spend 18 years in prison prior to starting his businesses. In comparing his life in prison vs outside of prison, he said he misses all the time to think that he doesn’t get now that he’s out. Time to think keeps him grounded, positive and helps him generate the ideas he needs to be a successful entrepreneur. He just wishes he had even more time to do nothing.

5 Ways to Be Idle

For the task-based achievers, being idle isn’t always easy! Sitting and doing nothing can actually be really tough. Here are some simple tips to create idle time in your life:

  1. Mediate. Mediating is proven to reduce stress and anxiety, and promote self-awareness and a positive mindset. This is something that takes practice. There are many apps to help. My favorites include: 
    1. Breathe – reminds you to take time to breathe and helps you relax through focus on breathing) 
    1. Meditation Studio – guided meditations address topics ranging from sleep, stress, happiness, gratitude, confidence and everything in-between to leave you feeling refreshed
  2. Schedule think time. Yes, put idle time on the calendar and treat it like any appointment or meeting that you can’t miss. 
  3. Take advantage of unexpected downtime. I used use to hate anything that got in the way of my progress (waiting in lines, being put on hold, traffic). Now I look at those unexpected downtime as gifts in my day. Time to pause and reflect and do nothing.
  4. Visit your “thin place”. A thin place is a locale where the distance between heaven and earth collapses because it beautiful and serene, promotes reflection and gratitude or is meaningful to you in a spiritual sense. My thin space is a quite corner of the lakefront near my house. Find your thin space and make time to go just be present in the beauty and serenity.
  5. Integrate mindless activity. Admittedly, it can certainly be hard to totally do nothing. Sometimes it helps to quiet my mind when I’m at least moving my body in some way, so I find the best idle time for me is walking. I’m still moving, but not so intense that I can’t let my mind wander. My friend finds her best idle time watching mindless TV. It’s her way to get in a relaxed mode and she doesn’t feel guilty letting her mind wander while watching The Bachelor. For others it might mean listening to music.
  6. Step away from the screen. Above all else, put away the phone, iPad, laptop so your mind can truly wander.

As you integrate more idle time into your life, share it with others! Encourage those around you to do the same and tag @thebrimfullife in your posts with #donothing.

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Let's Connect

Beth Ridley is an entrepreneur, speaker, influencer and consultant who believes life is short, so we should live it fully. That’s why she created The Brimful Life, a content, consulting and coaching company that helps individuals thrive in their careers and helps leaders foster inspiring, innovative and inclusive cultures that bring out the best in others. 

Beth has diverse leadership experience working in start-up, corporate, professional services and non-profit sectors. Beth is a former Booz Allen management consultant and a former Fortune 100 company executive who’s led strategy, sales, training, operations, diversity and inclusion and client experience functions. Beth has lived and worked in London, Tokyo, Johannesburg, Bangkok, Boston and New York City.

Beth combines her broad professional experience with a certification in positive psychology to encourage and enable others to infuse careers and organizational cultures with inspiration, innovation, joy and meaning.

Beth has a BA in English Literature from the University of Virginia, a MA in International Relations from Tufts University and an MBA from Columbia University. Beth lives in Wisconsin with her husband and three children. She recharges with running, speed skating and watching cooking competition shows on TV which is ironic because she really hates to cook.

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