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The Beauty of Doing Nothing: Why I’ve Embraced Being Unproductive

“Every good cause is worth some inefficiency.” ~Paul Samuelson

I made a mess yesterday. The mess is still there. Who knows when the mess will disappear.

The mess provided me with one of those sense-pleasing plates of food that lingers in the mind long after the last bite. The kind that makes you wonder if there is a rhyme and reason to our world after all. A plate of food so delectable it provided a raison for my être. (If only for a little while.)

But this story is not about the art of nourishing oneself. It is about dirty dishes and unfolded laundry. And also a little about unfulfilled potential and the beauty of living in the maybe.

You see, I have been living rather inefficiently lately. To-do lists have been decorating the inside of my recycling bin. I’ve been measuring my progress by the amount of naps taken, and I have forgone the opportunity to expand my productivity. Because productivity requires focused effort. And lately, effort has been spilling left and right, wasted a little here and a little there.

I’ve consciously decided to use my time frivolously, dipping in and out of idleness like a bag of crispy treats.

This newfound way of organizing my days still feels very fresh and raw to me. It comes after years of optimizing every aspect of my life. Formerly, I neatly arranged my life into one-hour timeslots in an attempt to mold a perfect career, body, and even perfect relationships. I tracked my success with a meticulous timesheet. And success I had (or so I thought).

I was ticking off one accomplishment after the other and always strived to be, do, and have more. Although strenuous, the method worked. Until one day, it didn’t.

About two years ago I woke up and nothing worked anymore. My body had decided to no longer cooperate with my frantic behavior. It had simply been worked too hard for too long, and it had nothing left to give.

Stubborn as I was, I treated my worn-out body like a new project. I took every vitamin in the book, quit sugar, quit gluten—basically quite everything tasty—did #yogaeverydamnday, went on social media detoxes, and hopped from one alternative healer to the next.

Nothing helped, and I became increasingly desperate. I had developed stubborn back pains, anxiety-inducing tinnitus, and crippling insomnia. My concoction of remedies did pretty much nothing for me. My will to live plummeted with each misshapen step to health.

And then a little (and at the same time big) miracle happened.

I decided to simply let go. I surrendered to the sleepy eyes and the fuzzy brain and the profound, yet inexplicable sadness inside of me. I let go of trying to make it go away.

I tossed my strict diet and exercise regimes in the bin. I didn’t meditate anymore at times when I would rather sleep, or spend money on health practitioners at times when I would rather spend money on a movie ticket.

I simply let go and accepted my current reality. I gave in to the impermanence of life and accepted that I could no longer do what I was once able to do. In return, I have received a gloriously inefficient approach to life and a deep sense of the present moment.

Let me illustrate what this means with a typical Saturday in my current life:

6.30 AM – I wake up in accordance with my natural body clock. I vow to no longer wake up so early on weekends.

9.00 AM – I am still in bed.

9.15 AM – I get up and make myself a simple porridge. I proceed to eat this for the next hour and a half. The porridge gets cold halfway through. I vow to eat a little quicker next time.

11.45 AM – I proceed to alternate between reading my book and dosing off for short periods of time.

2.00 PM – I have a short lunch and contrast this with a long stroll in the park afterward.

4:00 PM – I make an attempt to write, but mainly just stare at a blank piece of paper. I vow to stare at a blank piece of paper more often.

5 PM – I start preparing a meal. I don’t use a recipe, but the dish is surprisingly tasty. I vow to use fewer recipes going forward.

7.00 PM – I pick up my book but decide to do a mindful stretch instead.

9.00 PM – I wanted to do a meditation before bed, but the stretching has lulled me into a sleep-like state. After a day of doing nothing much at all—especially not the dishes—I go to bed early.

I vow to do the dishes tomorrow. Or perhaps the day after tomorrow. (I have no intention of keeping any of my vows.)

I know there are still so many runs to be ran, works to be worked on, and loves to be loved.

But lately all the runs and the works and the loves have had to wait. Wait in order to make room for all the nothings I have been neglecting for too long. The nothings that have been patiently accumulating in my mind and are now pouring out with urgency.

Nothing has been more important than those nothings and the inefficiencies that come along with them. There are, of course, still occasional runs and works and loves. But mainly a lot of naps.

When life doesn’t move forward it moves backward, they say. But was life really that backward, back in the day? What I mean to say is that it seems silly to me. To run around and produce all of the greatness. Greatness that allows us to be seen, and heard, and held, and kept. By our friends and our lovers, our colleagues and our neighbors. Yet is it good to be great? Or is it greater to just be? Like a two-year-old child. Like back in the day.

The neighbors’ grass might be greener, but I wonder if they have time to lie on it.

To look at the clouds passing by. To feel the breeze on their cheeks and hear the birds in their ears. To dream about the life they’ve lived so far. The life to come. And the life better left for another round. The neighbors might have cleaned their dishes, but I doubt their naps are as glorious as mine.

Perhaps tomorrow I will be productive again. After all, balance is key. But not today.

Because today, I risk wasting my time for a chance at feeling alive.

About Lizzy Dean

Lizzy is a dreamer and a writer from the UK. After a health crisis in 2016, she now chronicles her attempts at cultivating a slower and more meaningful life on her blog Lizzyfied. On this platform, she explores how to live in the question and anchor into the present in a non-judgemental and (self-)compassionate way.

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