How to Do Nothing (Productively)

by | Aug 1, 2023

Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.

-Marthe Troly-Curtin

Being busy can feed on itself until we feel guilty if we aren’t being productive — it can be like a drug that we’re addicted to. Then, exhausted, we watch TV or scroll through social media. Not a great situation.

The Dutch have a solution called “niksen, ” which translates to “doing nothing.” But niksen is a certain sort of doing noting. Olga Mecking, who authored a book on niksen defines it as “‘doing nothing without a purpose’ – so not scrolling on Facebook or engaging in meditation.” It’s just being idle.

How to Engage in Niksen

Niksen is just hanging out without a purpose. The key to doing it successfully is giving yourself permission just to be idle. Try:

  • Looking out a window for a few minutes.
  • Going for a walk.
  • Listening to music without doing anything else.
  • Laying on the floor and staring at the ceiling (or sky if you’re outside).

But stay off your phone!

The key is just to be. Have no expectations and give yourself permission just to waste time. Try it today. Can you do it for five minutes?

The Benefits of Niksen

Why should we practice idleness? Giving ourselves space to just do nothing has tangible benefits:

  • If done properly, practicing niksen can reduce stress.
  • Counterintuitively, it can increase productivity. Our brains need breaks. “Oscillating” between working and idleness boosts our productivity. Jim Loehr states in his book The Power of Full Engagement that “we live in a world that celebrates work and activity, ignores renewal and recovery, and fails to recognize that both are necessary for sustained high performance.”  Here’s an IFOD on the benefits of oscillating and a related one on the “Pomodoro Technique.

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