The Value of Doing Nothing

One of the projects on my “back burner” is to write a book called Constructive Laziness: How To Save the Environment and Vastly Improve Your Life By Doing Absolutely Nothing Whatsoever. I’d like to say the reason I haven’t written the book yet is that I’ve been busy doing nothing, but actually, it’s just that I’m working on other books and projects.

That said, I may be one of the top five working people I’ve ever met in my life who manage to spend a significant percentage of their time doing nothing. I actually build it into my day. This is not a skill I was born with, and if I can learn it anyone can.

I grew up in a family that did a lot of camping and travel. We had many adventures together. One fine morning at a campsite, we were discussing options for what to do that day. Hiking, scenic drive, that sort of thing. That’s when I came up with the suggestion, “Can we just sit around and camp?” By which I meant, savor the experience of just being there. We probably ended up picking a more active option (I don’t remember), but that attitude has stayed with me my whole life. Whether at home or on the road, I like to just sit around and camp. Look up at the trees. Notice things in the street. Let thoughts flow through my head. Enjoy sitting at the table I’m sitting at, drinking from the cup I’m drinking from. Watching clouds.

There is zero goal other than just appreciating my life and the world. But I end up getting great benefits. Obviously it’s a great way to recharge. But also, a lot of creative ideas pop into my head. (At which point I usually grab a notebook or my cellphone and write them down, thus interrupting my “do nothing” time — but only for a couple of minutes.)

A popular quote from Bill Mollison (who founded the permaculture design movement with David Holmgren around 1980) is, “When in doubt, do nothing.” In the context of permaculture, this means don’t intrude/intervene until you’ve spent ample time observing a site or situation. And even if/when you do decide to do something, make the minimum necessary intervention.

It would probably help the environment quite a bit if everyone who longed to spend at least a few minutes a day doing nothing, were to make a point of doing so. Toward that end, I’ve gathered some articles to provide moral support to those of you who have aspirations of doing nothing but are not sure where to start.

Further Reading: Why you should join the ‘do nothing’ club: “The Italians called it ‘il dolce far niente’, literally translated as ‘sweet doing nothing,’ or more colloquially as ‘pleasant idleness’. It has a strong positive connotation because it’s seen as valuable, even necessary to wellbeing. The Importance of Doing Nothing: “If we don’t allow ourselves periods of uninterrupted, freely associated thought then personal growth, insight and creativity are less likely to emerge.

(A book I haven’t read that sounds good) How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, by Jenny Odell. “Odell sees our attention as the most precious—and overdrawn—resource we have. Once we can start paying a new kind of attention, she writes, we can undertake bolder forms of political action, reimagine humankind’s role in the environment, and arrive at more meaningful understandings of happiness and progress.

And on a somewhat related note, from one of my favorite writers/thinkers, David at, Go Deeper, Not Wider: “I keep imagining a tradition I’d like to invent. After you’re established in your career, and you have some neat stuff in your house, you take a whole year in which you don’t start anything new or acquire any new possessions you don’t need. … You improve skills rather than learning new ones. You consume media you’ve already stockpiled instead of acquiring more. You read your unread books, or even reread your favorites. You pick up the guitar again and get better at it, instead of taking up the harmonica. …”