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10 Ways to Enjoy Downtime, and the Art of Doing Nothing

Updated on January 9, 2013
Find shapes in the clouds.
Find shapes in the clouds. | Source
Watch the butterflies.
Watch the butterflies. | Source
Sit on the dock of the bay, watching the ships come in.
Sit on the dock of the bay, watching the ships come in. | Source
Climb trees.
Climb trees. | Source
Share your picinic with the ducks at the park.
Share your picinic with the ducks at the park. | Source
Go hiking or biking to nowhere in particular.
Go hiking or biking to nowhere in particular. | Source
Watch a sunrise or sunset.
Watch a sunrise or sunset. | Source
Pick wildflowers.
Pick wildflowers. | Source
Watch the stars come out at night.
Watch the stars come out at night. | Source

By Joan Whetzel

Remember those long summers as a kid when there was nothing to do but lie around and do nothing? Back in the 50's and 60's, parents didn't try to keep boredom at bay by planning every second of a kid's time. They simply banished us kids to the outdoors to create our own boredom busters. Somehow, left to our own devices, we always found ways to entertain ourselves. The sheer adventure potential revealed by having nothing to do was the most delicious part of summer. So why do we find it so hard to do nothing these days, and even harder to enjoy having nothing to do? And exactly when did doing nothing become the forbidden fruit?

Doing Nothing in the Good Old Days

The American lifestyle over the last 5 or 6 decades has evolved into one that seeks to fill every second of available time, in order to avoid boredom at all costs. Or more likely, it's an effort to be productive at all costs. In fact, it has gotten to the point where it is flagrantly and decadently sinful to be unproductive during ones waking hours. It is impossible to linger a few extra minutes in bed, spend more than ten minutes at the lunch table, or make public appearances with anything smaller than a 6-inch thick time tracker, a smart phone filled with appointments, or a 10-mile long to-do list in tow - without the inevitable "you're not busy" guilt trip setting in.

The Impossibility of Doing Nothing Today

Add to that the 24/7 nature of today's media, which has convinced Americans within spitting distance of a TV, radio, computer, or newspaper to keep up with up-to-the-second news on everything there is to know and do. Otherwise, we we're left feeling like we missed something or that the competition is passing us by. So, we schedule our life away, for appearances sake, keeping busy doing things none of us really wants to do. The guilt, the fear, and the embarrassment of not being super-men and super-women, leads most Americans to seek out anything that will fill up their free time. The favorite activities used to fill up this free time include: 1. Technology: MP3 players, DVD's, laptops, computers, smart phones, electronic games; 2.Comptitive games and sports: soccer, tennis, baseball, softball, bicycle racing; and 3.Overdosing on communication: e-mail, palm pilots, cell phones, pagers.

Time for a Change

It really makes the laid-back days of our childhood seem like heaven, doesn't it? Maybe it is time to quit frittering our time with meaningless and unproductive chores and jobs and all of that technological and competitive stuff, and get back to plain, old, lazy-Jane simplicity. Take one day off a week, with nothing planned, and just be. One day of downtime a week, left to one's own devices, leaves us with time to think, imagine, and catch up with ourselves. Giving ourselves permission to do nothing provides the opportunity to put meaning back into our lives, and frees up our unconscious to yield all manner of creative – and frequently fully formed - ideas.

Ways to Enjoy Having Nothing to Do

So how does one practice creative nothingness without boredom running rampant and insisting we do something "constructive?"

  1. Send the Kids Out in the Yard to Play. Yeah, yeah, yeah. They will probably whine and complain, "But there's nothing to do!" Remember your mom's admonition. "Well, go find something!" she would say, as she pointed at the door. We always did, and so will they. It may just be something like laying back and finding shapes in the clouds, watching butter flies, hiking or bike riding, or finding some trees to climb.
  2. Take the Summer Off. That's right. Stop scheduling play dates, and lessons, and meetings, and … The kids will appreciate the downtime as much as you do. Besides, you will save money since you won't be paying for all those activities, and wasting gas running all over town to get to those activities. In this economy, that is a plus. The kids get free time away from the adults in their lives. The adults get free time without the constant demands for entertainment. Everyone gets time to do something he or she wants to do – just for the fun of it. Then after your odyssey of nonsense is exhausted …
  3. Spend a Languorous Saturday Afternoon Picnicking in the Park. That is it, just picnicking. No thoughts of chores, work, problems with kids, the economy, or world peace allowed. Then, if you can stand the excitement, search out the nearest spot of shade, pull up a tree, and settle in for hearty and vivacious game of cloud watching. Or park near a pond and share your picnic with some ducks.
  4. Quit feeling the Need to Account for Every Second of You Time. Take off your watch and hide your calendar. Then spend a little time every day, daydreaming. Who is going to bust you, the Schedule Police?
  5. Ignore the Nothing Critics. Their mantra is "Don't just sit there, do something." Adopt the opposite mantra: "Don't just do something, sit there."
  6. Un-clutter Your Brain. Let your mind ramble. Enjoy a few mindless repetitive tasks that require no thinking skills whatsoever, like: building a model, crocheting or knitting, painting, drawing, playing music, swimming, bike riding - whatever feels right. Don't think, dream, or imagine anything on purpose. If something "constructive" pops into your mind, write it down, and go back to being unconstructive – quickly.
  7. Knock, Knock, Knock. It is the great outdoors calling. So what are you waiting for? Take a walk, find a swing set, go swimming, or hop on your bicycle. Their only two requirements: (1) leaving the cell phone and pager at home and (2) have fun.
  8. Sit on the Porch. Watch the world go by while chomping into a sweet, ice-cold slice of watermelon; letting the juice trickle down your chin, and run down your arms to drip off the ends of your elbows.
  9. Enjoy Blessed Solitude. Spend time alone. How is anybody ever going to get to know you if you do not take time to get to know yourself? The sheer silence of not having to listen to everyone else's voices constantly slamming against your eardrums and banging around inside your head is such major relief to the senses and sensibilities. The silence isn't just golden, it's glorious.
  10. Take a nap. N-A-P is not a dirty word. In fact, are really refreshing, especially if you let the nap decide when it's time instead of penciling it into your calendar. Doesn't a nap sound delicious right about now? Can't you just feel the yawns coming on and the zzz's taking over?

Schedule some time to do nothing into your week right now. You know you want it. Go ahead! You have permission!


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    • joanwz profile image

      Joan Whetzel 5 years ago from Katy, Texas

      Pavlo, I like what you said about the usual advice telling people to squeeze every last second out of our lives. It's exhausting. A little downtime does amazing things for the spirit.

      Kathleen, isn't it amazing what creative things a child can find to do, given half a chance - without having to be entertained every second? It's fun just to sit and witness what they come up with.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Don''t the Italians call this "the joy of doing nothing"? Sounds wonderful and you've provided a great list of options.

      Yeah, summertime used to seem to last forever and you did get so bored you were forced to use your imagination. I just spent a week with my grandchildren, 3 and 6. I turned of anything electronic, gave them a tub full of legos and they had the time of their lives for seven glorious days. The only other activity was taking an afternoon dip in the pool followed by a siesta!

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

      Pavlo Badovskyi 5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      This hub definitely touched my heart. Your observation of nowadays crazy life is absolutely correct! I support every word you wrote. Most nowadays articles are devoted to precise planning of time, intensive work and squeezing juice out of every second of our life. But nobody usually writes how to enjoy the days granted to you in this life. That is amazing but sometimes it is easier to run rat race, then to enjoy life because most of people around you hurry, hurry, hurry and you join this race forgetting simple things which make you happy! Shared!

    • joanwz profile image

      Joan Whetzel 5 years ago from Katy, Texas

      Your welcome mjboomer.

    • mjboomer profile image

      Mike Elzner 5 years ago from Oregon

      In this fast paced world we find it difficult to "Do Nothing." Doing nothing may be the best thing we can do for ourselves, thanks Joan for your share!