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The Power of Doing Nothing

I spent the holidays doing nothing. Well, not exactly nothing. I read the kind of mindless novels I never make time for. I skied for the first time in 16 years. I went to parties and watched football and planned outrageous surprises for the kids and conspired with them on outrageous surprises for their mom. Made playlists. Exercised.

But I didn’t read business books or blogs. I unplugged from Twitter. I didn’t write. Cancelled client meetings. Closed for business.

I felt borderline depressed for the first week. I didn’t know who I was. Then one day I woke exhilarated.After that, each night I slept deeply and peacefully, and each day was a playground. I laughed a lot. The worry lines between my brows disappeared. And when vacation ended, I attacked my desk with vigor.

What interests me is that as I write, a week after plugging back in, I still feel light and alive. It’s been an active week with typical stresses, and yet I’m mostly seeing the fun in the work instead of demands.

I feel that by doing nothing, I became better. Is that a general Law of Life? Maybe. Some evidence:

  • By taking a 16 year break from skiing, I got better at it. The first day out was maybe my best day ever on the slopes. My technique was rusty, but my confidence was the best it had ever been. 16 years, and I didn’t fall once, despite tackling hills as difficult as any I’d skied in my heyday.
  • Whenever I’ve taken a break from commenting on and correcting subordinates’ work, I have always seen them become more productive. When I don’t push them for that extra 5% on any given project, they generate 95% quality on maybe 10% more output – a nice return by my calculations.
  • By doing nothing but listening, I help the people around me – my family, my colleagues – find their own answers without any of the defensiveness that often comes when I provide the answer.
  • Seeds lay dormant a long time before…pow!
  • And of course, as any meditator will tell you, by doing nothing but sitting on your cushion breathing, one can transform one’s life.

I didn’t plan to start the year by being so touchy-feely. I’m just observing a curious phenomenon: often, by doing nothing, one accomplishes much. And anything that drives better results is OK by me.

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