Here’s a New Year’s resolution for you: Do nothing (for ten minutes a day).
When’s the last time you just sat and looked out the window for more than a moment or two? No phone, no book, no music. No purpose. Just you and your thoughts, whatever they happen to be.
In other words, when’s the last time you did nothing?
I don’t mean meditating. I mean nothing.
I’ve been doing nothing every day, for about ten minutes, for months, and it’s awesome. It’s not easy, but it’s one of the best things I’ve done for myself all year. I think you just might love doing nothing too.
New Year 2020: New decade, new me! And the universe laughed
So who else had a fleeting thought last New Year’s Eve that this could be THE decade? Embarrassed as I am to admit this, I did. I had a vision! Hindsight, as they say, is 2020 (bah dum tis).
Who knew that my glamorous new life would entail sweatpants yoga pants every day? Instead of Vietnam and Cambodia, I traveled to my parents’ house in New Hampshire for a two-and-a-half month stay at the beginning of the pandemic.
I planned to write a travel blog last year. Alas.
40ish extra hours a month
What 2020 did give me—and gave many of us who are fortunate enough to be able to work safely from home—was more time. My commute evaporated, as did the need to spend time packing breakfasts and lunches or looking presentable (just enough for the Zooms). Back of the envelope, I got about ten hours a week, or a little over 40 hours each month returned to me.
Ten months into this, that’s a lot of time I have that I didn’t have before.
My morning rituals
I could have used this to time to get more sleep (and I do get more sleep these days), but I put most of my time into extending my morning rituals, things I do just for me, to ground me, especially when life gets stressful, which I think happened to all of us this year.
My morning rituals are done at leisure, mostly from the couch, with a cup of coffee and a snuggly Ollie. Just because I’m comfortable, though, doesn’t mean that I’m not completely serious about this work, because I am.
Each morning during the workweek, I do the following:
- Read a challenging book for 35 minutes (I often have multiple books going at once, but I reserve this time for those requiring close attention)
- Write out what I am grateful for that day (I rolled my eyes when I first heard about “gratitude journaling,” but it helps, especially this year)
- Write for 35 minutes (I use a ReMarkable tablet and write by hand)
- Do nothing for at least 10 minutes
- Walk Ollie (sometimes this is a shorter “business run” if I know that I have time in the afternoon to take a break for a longer walk then)
- Eat a proper breakfast, at the table
I’ve done the reading, writing, gratitude journaling, and walking for years, but for much less time each day than I do now. The other components, especially doing nothing, are new. I’m a bit of a lapsed meditator, and I’m working on reincorporating that back into my morning rituals.
On the weekends, I do the same things, but for longer, stretching out my morning until it is no longer morning when I’m lucky.
Taking more time for myself at the beginning of my day has improved my work-life balance immensely. My New Year’s resolution is to build upon this in 2021.
Wait … doing … nothing?
Each morning, I make a point to put everything down, and just do nothing. Not meditating, not trying to do anything productive whatsoever. No phone. No book. No music. No nothing. Just sitting around, looking out the window, sipping some coffee, and maybe even getting a bit bored sometimes.
It’s come to be one of the most important parts of my day.
Doing nothing is awesome
Something about just sitting still and not trying to do anything at all—not even trying to clear my mind—utterly refreshes me. It’s calmed me when I’m stressed, it’s given me new ideas that might not have come to me otherwise.
Most of the time, though, doing nothing just gives me a lovely break from the world. From my couch, I see treetops and chimneys, and I watch clouds go by, or leaves blow, snow fall, or sometimes birds that visit my fire escape.
I think whatever I think. Sometimes I find myself taking deeper breaths. Sometimes I’m so lost in reverie that I’m stunned when the timer goes off. Other times, I check the time once or twice. That’s OK. Other than sticking with the planned time, there are absolutely no rules for doing nothing.
Nothing is free
Doing nothing is as simple as it comes. You don’t need to sign up for a class, no special equipment required. It’s free of charge.
Grab a seat someplace comfy (preferably by a window or with something you enjoy looking at). Coffee’s nice.
I personally use the Forest app to time my session to make sure that I don’t get too lost in a daydream and miss all my Zoom meetings (and to make sure that I don’t sneak in any phone time—I use this for other parts of my morning rituals and throughout the day), but it’s not necessary. Whatever works for you.
But … doing nothing isn’t necessarily easy
It sounds easy, but in our frenetic, always-on culture, you might find doing nothing challenging at first. Boredom can set in, faster than you might think.
You might also feel guilty. Doing nothing is not productive—it’s a bit transgressive in our culture. Meditation trains your mind, and has a seal of approval from corporate culture. Doing nothing is loafing.
Stick with it. It’s just ten minutes. Ten minutes of delicious loafing, just for you.
Give nothing a go
Try doing nothing a few times and see if it works the kind of magic for you that it works for me. Let me know how it goes in the comments.
Reading up on slowing down—coming soon
While I didn’t get the idea to do nothing from any one place, I did a whole bunch of reading this year on slowing down and unplugging that inspired it. I’ll be writing about it in the coming weeks.