There are plenty of places to find advice on how to do more with your day, books, TV shows, even YouTube videos and websites to teach you how to be more productive. But there is someone who thinks we should also learn how to do nothing! Her name is Jenny Odell, and she is an artist and writer who teaches at Stanford University. She makes her case in her new book How to Do Nothing:Resisting the Attention Economy.
Despite the book’s name, Odell is not advocating to do literally nothing. She is arguing for people to do nothing “productive.” “By nothing, I just mean a kind of receptive state of mind rather than a knee jerk reaction or judgmental analytical state of mind which is something that our culture certainly encourages,” said Odell. Essentially, to enjoy being you in the place that you are instead of always responding to those around you and the events happening. The reason? She argues that multitasking promotes a state of perpetual distraction from personal fulfillment and societal change, and instead pushes attention toward work. “We’re faced with some problems of a scale and complexity that really require time and space for reflection rather than sort of a constant knee jerk reaction,” said Odell. Always reacting to the situations outside ourselves stops us from being able to properly solve our problems and truly feeling fulfilled.
She gives some examples of what she means by “Doing Nothing” when she describes a six-hour hike up a hill that she took in May. An avid birdwatcher, Odell saw a rare bird feed its young, she saw wildflowers, and she starred at a hill and she says she felt “full.” She also points to Finnish artist, Pilvi Takala, who spent most of her internship at the accounting giant, Deloitte, staring into space and riding the elevator. When Takala was asked what she was doing, she would reply, “It’s good sometimes to try to do the work in your head.” These actions, standing and starring at a hill, or riding an elevator starring at the doors would seem odd to many in our society of always being busy. That is Odell’s point. No one is taking the time they need to simply exist.
It is an interesting idea that centres around being able to focus on your surroundings and your well-being instead on always being busy ‘doing something’.