Friday, June 28, 2013

Productive Nothing

I have been thinking a lot about margin in life and what exactly that means.  Specifically I have been thinking about taking the time to do nothing and the value of that nothing.  Taking time to just sit, stare at a tree, a rock or a wall and just be.

I love to do this.  I can literally spend hours sitting on my back patio staring at my freshly painted house and contemplating life. Some may think that spending an hour or so in the morning staring at my house is a waste of time.  A sign I am lazy and unproductive.  A guarantee of my future failure.  But, I find that those hours I spend doing nothing can be some of the most productive hours of my days.  Those are the hours where I settle and organize all my thoughts, make decisions and come to conclusions.  I reflect upon choices, practice conversations, enjoy memories of the past and look forward to new experiences.

Sitting and staring at a wall is not something you are either good at or bad at, it is a skill that takes time to learn and develop.  It is a skill that those of us of a certain age spent a lot of time as a child practicing.  Think of all the car trips just staring out the window, sitting in waiting rooms, standing in lines, etc.  All without any electronic devices to entertain us during those moments.  Nothing to do but just stand there and do nothing.

Today we rarely do nothing.  It is almost impossible to get away from email, facebook and text messages.  You have to make a plan to do nothing.  To turn off the TV, shut down the computer, put the iPad in a drawer and leave your phone at home.  Escape!

I read this article today talking about a Harvard economists secret to productivity.  Basically he suggests that the reason we always feel like we don't have enough time is because we are too distracted.  We don't take time to focus on the tasks in front of us, process information etc.

When you are checking your email during the 5 minutes between meetings you don't have time to ever process information coming in.  Just react, react, react.  And as a result we aren't solving problems well or taking time for what is really important.  We don't allow ourselves to do nothing!

I see this in my daughter who is constantly in contact with some sort of electronic device.  There is never a moment for her to just sit and absorb the world around her.  And when that moment does come for one reason or another it is painful for all around because she thinks she is miserable. 

When I interact with her about things she has learned, ask her questions about what she thinks, I hear more information than comprehension.  She just takes it all in and stores it away with no prioritization, filtering or weighing of the information.  She isn't forming opinions or coming to conclusions.

This article asking, "Is technology making us stupid?" suggests that with the constant access to information we are not developing the critical thinking skills necessary for true intelligence.
A recent study suggests that our modern lifestyles are making us “less intelligent” than our ancestors, at least at a genetic level. This research echoes concerns Einstein had when he supposedly said, “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”

I have noticed that since I returned to work and stopped running I have fewer and fewer profound thoughts.  I don't take the time to really observe, consider and digest the world around me, the experiences I am having, the people I am meeting.  I just go, go, go.  And I really miss my profound thoughts.  I miss taking time to enjoy and discover new ways of viewing the world.  And, I worry that my children aren't developing this skill because they have no downtime in their lives.  No time to just sit and be.  No time to wander through the quiet woods observing life, thinking about what they have seen and experienced along the way.

This summer I am trying to step away from technology a little more often, stare at my house. I am also considering how to incorporate a little nothing into the routine of my whole family.  A few minutes of silence each day to just think and reflect on life.  I have casually tossed it out a couple times and received little to no reaction.  I think you could say I was ignored.  But very soon I really am going to implement this plan.  Just as soon as I write one more thing, update my facebook status and check my email...

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