The art of doing nothing

This weekend I intentionally made no plans, relishing the prospect of four whole days without a single commitment.

The one exception to this is that I promised Mum and Dad that I would spend the night with them on Saturday. Dad started chemo on Wednesday and we’d been warned that this weekend would be a critical time for him with a significant risk of him developing neutropenic sepsis. Mum wanted to go to some Easter vigil service thing at church on Easter Sunday at hideous o’clock (like seriously, 5.30am or something like that). Anyhow, I promised to stay the night so she could a) get some sleep knowing there was someone else there if Dad got ill and b) go to church in the morning without worrying about Dad.

The weekend started with a gig, I went to see Ruarri Joseph play at The Cavern in Exeter on Thursday night and a few bevvies were consumed – I’d definitely recommend seeing him if you get the chance. My brother rang on Friday morning to say that he was popping in to visit Mum and Dad if I wanted to catch up with him. He lives a couple hours away and a part from a couple weekends ago when Dad was really ill and he came down to visit him in hospital, I’ve not seen him in a while, and hadn’t seen his girlfriend since last year. So Friday started with a lie in, breakfast at Occombe Farm, and then a trip over to the folks house to see the family. I also made an effort to read my latest book and engage with the twittersphere a little. I’m reading Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, you can see what I shared and my notes here.

When I was at the folks house on Friday my Gran came in with her freshly baked Easter biscuits. She’s 92 and had bothered to make them, which shamed me into action, so I started Saturday by baking. I made two batches of Easter biccies for sharing with friends and family.

I then headed over to Totnes to do some shopping, grab some lunch, read some more of my book and generally chill out. It was the first time in months I’d felt relaxed enough at the weekend to actually do something just for myself, to not spend time being concerned I was ‘wasting’ time that I could otherwise spend working. I seem to have got into a weird loop of late where weekends feel like a good opportunity to catch up on what I hadn’t managed to get done during the week, Sunday’s particularly have their own pressure where the clock is ticking before the week starts. This Saturday felt different, in fact I *loved* the fact that it was already the second day of the weekend but there wasn’t even an inkling of that pressure, I was aware of it, but not in a bad way. Saturday night I headed over to the folks house and really enjoyed spending time with Mum and Dad – especially because Dad wasn’t too poorly at all.

In spite of that I had a rubbish night’s sleep on Saturday and spent Sunday morning just chilling out with Dad, reading my book, painting my nails (green – I knew you wanted to know) and chatting a bit with the twittersphere. Sunday afternoon I spent an hour with my grandfolks (hearing about their experiences of domiciliary care -a post for another time), and visited my best mate on my way home and then the pressure started to build, at this point I’d had two whole days off and done nothing, made  no progress, answered no emails, achieved nothing – wasted the weekend. So I embraced that sense and decided to do my ironing! Ultimate procrastination technique for me, in fact the depths of procrastination when I get the iron out. Sunday evening I cooked a roast dinner and watched TV.

So, to the final day of this gloriously long weekend. I had meant to set an alarm for this morning, but didn’t. So I slept for most of Monday. When I eventually got up I went out to buy cat food and that was it, the sole active achievement for the day. I also made a couple of phonecalls, read a few newspaper articles, talked on twitter a bit, while all the time avoiding the by now screaming nagging doubt telling me I was ‘wasting’ the weekend and missing the chance to get some work done before work tomorrow.

So there we have it, a four day weekend and not a single piece of work done. In fact not very much done at all. It’s not exactly been easy though, well it was to start with, but the pressure has been building the last two days. I decided to write this blog post because a few people expressed similar feelings the past few days.

In fact Martin H summed it up in his tweet earlier:

Martin got me thinking. What is it about so many of us that we judge our worth or achievement by how much we do? Are we becoming obsessed with doing? Does it come from some sort of need to measure progress? Is it about valuing time, or feeling confident that we’ve spent our time in the best way possible? Is it purely a sense of needing to do because most of these interactions happen on twitter and therefore we feel some additional pressure to share what we are doing?

Maybe some of this rings true, maybe indeed none of it does.

I know that I’m acutely aware of the value of time at the moment, and the need to ensure that what time I do have is spent wisely. To that end this weekend I’m glad I didn’t do very much, I’m glad that I had four days with no commitments that enabled me to respond flexibly, to spend so much time with family and not feel like I was passing up other opportunities.

That said, if I’m honest I’m not sat here with a proud sense of achievement, I’ve not tackled the mountain of work tasks I was relishing the chance to get on with, I’ve not crossed anything significant off my own to do list, I’ve not been for a run or done any exercise, however, I do feel slightly more ready for the week ahead and for whatever life chooses to throw at me. I’m also more determined than I have been in a long while that I’m going to mark at least one weekend a month out of my calendar and judge its success by how little I get done.

I’m going to work at developing an anti-achievement sentiment, where doing nothing, sleeping lots, maybe not taking my PJs off for a whole day are seen as badges of honour rather than tell-tale signs of slovenly indulgence. Who else is up for this challenge? Would be interested in your thoughts, whether anyone else fancies practising the art of doing nothing, and indeed any strategies you may have for avoiding the nagging doubts about wasting time at the weekend (or indeed to hear if I am the only person on the planet who feels that way). As ever, all comments really welcome. Thanks.

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4 thoughts on “The art of doing nothing

  1. The guys at the ME/CFS clinic have told me I need to do this, so yeah, I’m up for it…… Let’s make a plan 😉

  2. I had a ‘nothing’ weekend too. Slept later than usual. I actually spent the weekend at a hotel in London (where I live, incidently) to try and ‘force’ a mini-break on myself in a particularly uninteresting part of town. I ‘disconnected’ from some of the distractions at home, had a bit of a tech break (not entirely but much much reduced) and read books. Feel so much better.

  3. I have been trying to change Glenn’s attitude to relaxing/chilling since he had a breakdown in his early twenties and heart attack a few years ago. He still thinks that if you don’t get going first thing and “do stuff” you have wasted the day. Whereas I think that having a lie in followed by a long breakfast chatting on the patio in my pj’s then watching an old film together snuggled up on sofa or reading papers from cover to cover while we listen to our favourite music is not wasting the day. It’s still doing stuff. Just different stuff. Stuff that’s just for us. To recharge our batteries. He struggles to see the value in it. His folks ars the same so maybe he was brought up that way. On a management training course I did yonks ago their bible was Covey’s 7 habits of successful people. I can take or leave some of it but the ‘Sharpen the saw’ habit made sense. It encircles all the other habits and holds them together. https://www.stephencovey.com/7habits/7habit-habit7.php
    So you sharpen your saw as much as you need to. And I think you really need to. You will burn yourself out and be no use to anyone-yourself, your folks, your friends or even work. Glad you got a taste of it at the weekend. Hope there’s more ahead. X

  4. George again thanks for raising this important thing of how we take meaning from our free time. Giving ourselves permission to switch off or even switch over to other things is so important. Clearly in this day and age there are some people who cannot afford to take time off and that clearly is a worry. I had a lovely long weekend, away from our usual abode and up in Norfolk with just the immediate family. There was little connectivity with the outside world so I was able to daydream and play with the children – as well as trying to discuss why it isn’t great eating all your chocolate in less than two hours (system 1 thinking is rife in my childrens life!) I was able to take photos and generally “BE”

    I’m so glad that you’ve had time to “be”

    On the way home I did catch this programme about the therapy of food http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01fhnt6

    Here veterans retired on medical grounds are baking and the programme went on to discuss how baking and bread have special relevance at this time.

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