The art of doing nothing

Being idleHave you ever looked forward to sitting down at the end of a long day, only to find yourself getting a bit twitchy when you finally put your feet up? Maybe you’re one of those people who dreams about relaxing in a hot bath only to find yourself reaching for your phone when you get there. Do you struggle to watch a full TV programme without commenting on it via Twitter or Facebook?

I am all of the above.

I haven’t always been this way. In fact, I used to be pretty bloody good at switching off. Properly switching off I mean; shutting the laptop and turning down the volume on my phone. Pre-motherhood I thought a busy day was a 10 hour shift reporting on breaking news stories, with a rushed tea and only seven hours sleep rather than eight. Back in those days, I could quite easily walk through the door at the end of a long day and not think twice about soaking in a bath or watching a film.

Partly, I think the rise of social media is to blame. But I also think my own busy life doesn’t help. I spend so much of my time multi-tasking, communicating and juggling different roles, that when I actually get to sit down and stop…. I can’t.

I read this post by Alison at Not Another Mummy Blog the other day and found myself nodding my head in agreement. Alison admitted she’s not very good at “switching off” and often finds herself turning to blogging or tweeting etc when she should be lazing in the bath or watching telly.

Like Alison, I find it hard to stop. There’s always one more thing to do, one more piece of work to finish, one more chore to complete. When I eventually do sit down, I’m so out of practice at relaxing that I tend to sit there a big ball of twitchy nervousness. In an attempt to still my mind I do the worst thing possible – check my phone. And then my brain’s full of the chatter of Twitter or Facebook… and I’m even more wired than when I first sat down!

I was telling all this to a good friend of mine recently. And because she is such a good friend, a couple of weeks later she sent a book to me in the post. It came (unannounced) with a note, telling me to read it and make sure I started to be a bit kinder to myself. “Even if you let yourself have just one lie-in, then my work is done”, wrote my friend. (I have bloody brilliant friends.)

And I have been reading it. And I have been taking note. How To Be Idle is not for the faint-hearted. It encourages pulling sick days and ignoring deadlines. It’s probably not a book the boss would want you to start following to the letter. But it also makes a very good point: we are so busy these days, caught up in chasing material items and doing what we think we should be doing, that we don’t spend enough time thinking.

I can’t remember the last time I just sat down and mindlessly did a bit of knitting for a while. Or watched a film without feeling the need to check my emails at the same time. Or went for a walk (without my phone and the urge to capture it on Instagram) with absolutely no purpose.

Excuse me while I go all deep on you – but these things are all important for the soul. Taking time out, whether it’s lying in bed and looking at the ceiling, baking a cake just because you fancy it, pottering in the garden or meandering through a park for a little stroll, are all valid activities. I feel ten times better when I do something indulgent and lazy. I work ten times better afterwards, I am more focused, productive and organised.

So I’m making a pledge to myself to be more idle. Even if it’s just one evening in the week where I turn off my computer and fire down the phone. Rather than doing something I feel I ought to be doing, I’m going to do something I want to be doing.

Care to join me?


  1. says

    Yes! Me please! I definitely need to join you (as pointed out in my post that you so kindly linked to) but I just don’t know if I can. I haven’t even done either of the things I pledged to do in my post.

    I’m going to buy this book – the advice sounds really good. I put so much pressure on myself to do so many things that, like you, my brain is buzzing at the end of the day. I need to re-educate myself in switching off and relaxing.

  2. says

    It’s all a matter of balance isn’t it? I think I probably veer towards the other extreme. Lately I’ve felt I’ve been too lazy and had too much time to think! And way too much time watching Breaking Bad.

  3. says

    I’m good at doing nothing but I do usually do it with my phone in hand. Apart from when I’m in the bath because that is the one place I like to relax and unwind without my phone, but maybe that’s just because I’m scared of dropping it in the water! X

  4. says

    Yes!! I will. My life is bedlum at the minute but I see constant reminders in my life like this post encouraging me to sit. To wait. To meditate. To embrace life beyond my twitter timeline. It is difficult. But I’m on board with you.
    Thank you x

  5. says

    I can never settle in the house because there’s too much weeding/lime-scale removing to do. have to spend an hour three evenings a week hanging round while my daughter does clubs. I deliberately don’t have a phone with internet and don’t bring a book so that I can stare into space without distraction. I’d like to say I ponder profound philosophical truths; I don’t. But the mental emptiness is most restorative.

  6. says

    Yes, definitely, taking time out to let the mental cogs slow down is so good for the soul, and like you, I find I am creatively restored and a lot more productive. Thank you for the reminder as I am too busy at the moment too!

  7. says

    Such wise words from yourself and Alison-I’m the same and I really need idle training! Imagine if you, me and Alison met though-we’d not stop talking and it would be fun! I’ve even been known to chat through a massage! Right, here’s to being idle! I think!

  8. says

    I think it is also an age thing! I used to be able to0 sit and do nothing, now I have to do something. I have taken up crochet, so I can sit next to the fella whilst he watches TV. We have a no social media rule on an evening!

  9. says

    Have you read about mindfulness at all? It’s kind of what you’re talking about here and I’ve found it sooo helpful when it comes to switching off. Not the easier skill to learn but worth it I reckon in the long run. And yes, motherhood and social media make it that much harder to relax, instagram’s a real addiction for me in particular.

    • says

      I have heard about this – and I think it makes so much sense. To be honest, it’s just what I used to be like before I had a snazzy phone with the internet and apps and a job that required lots of time online!

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