Greg Keras

Longtime readers of Improvised Life have become accustomed to the occasional post that says in essence, Exhausted, not a drop left, taking time to recharge, see you soon and then, radio silence for a week or two. They often respond with hope you feel better and curiously, Thank you for being forthright about needing to take time out and stop, which remains a taboo in our “just do it” culture. We are all so busy, and accomplishment so rewarded, that we become convinced that we really SHOULD be able to do all the things on our unrealistic to-do lists. Shame often attends not being or doing what we think we should.

Being a person whose health can be fairly fragile, I’ve learned the hard way — by burning out enough to get sick — that taking time to ‘do nothing’ can be a fine simple way to regain strength and focus. Doing nothing means having no agenda save the most minimal tasks possible, without blame or guilt. Just that alone is healing, but can also provide treasured experiences.


Wise woman artist Ann Hamilton nailed it:

Our culture has beheld with suspicion unproductive time, things not utilitarian, and daydreaming in general, but we live in a time when it is especially challenging to articulate the importance of experiences that don’t produce anything obvious, aren’t easily quantifiable, resist measurement, aren’t easily named, are categorically in-between.

During a week off a few months ago, I found myself suddenly SEEING the light play on the ceiling as I lay on the sofa. This little video reminded me of it. (Video link here. Please watch with sound OFF).


Too exhausted to sustain long projects, I napped or read novels or daydreamed. I watched the light and birds flying around the park across the way, amazed at the incredible beauty going on all around me. Occasionally, when I was able, I’d get up and do only as much writing or other work as I was able to.  I took care of just enough: the bottom line to keep my life going.

When I let myself do nothing but be, gradually energy begins to return, like a hidden spring.


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3 replies on “Productivity Principle: Doing Nothing Can Help Get Things Done

  1. I can relate to the Productivity Principle. My health problems benefit from my day on, day off schedule. Today I’m busy with errands and exercise and email and general running around but tomorrow will be a day off. No running around, nowhere to go. I can read, write, watch Netflix or just lie around the house. Everything that needs to be done will get done on the day after tomorrow. I look forward to whichever day is coming up, because I know that the day after that will be a whole different experience. No guilt, no explanations. Those of us with chronic health issues have to learn new ways to live.

  2. Absolutely agree with you, my dear friend! We need to decompress and recharge from time to time.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing your strategy. I hadn’t thought of alternating day on and day off…Will try it…

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