Why being busy hinders your inspiration…
I was driving to B&Q with the intention of wandering aimlessly along the aisles to look for new taps, when I overheard an interesting radio 4 discussion about being busy…
The presenter was discussing the fact that our culture seems to be addicted to being ‘busy’ and that we feel the need to tell one another how ‘busy’ we are. This ‘busyness’ is having a serious effect on our health and wellbeing.
It was suggested that one of the side effects of maintaining this busy lifestyle was that, as a society, we may be missing out on some great innovative ideas (how to solve the housing crisis, world poverty, a better way to recycle, etc.) by never allowing ourselves to simply drift off into a daydream.
Apparently, we need to allow our brains to relax and think about nothing in particular. Being ‘unfocused’ for a while allows deeper processing and connections to occur, leading to the formulation of new insights and ideas.
As someone who studies unconscious patterns in our behavior and societies, I became interested not so much in the science behind the discussion, but in the reasons why we do this to ourselves.
WHY do we make ourselves so busy and what do we gain from advertising our ‘busyness’?
I decided to give myself 1hr of just doing nothing (except wandering around B&Q!) without thinking, planning, or trying to achieve anything in particular, in order to test this theory of our ability to come up with ideas when we ‘switch off’.
At first, I found it quite difficult to let go of any objective for that hour (apart from the objective of having no objective!) This was my first observation: it is so hard for us in our conditioned society to accept ourselves as just ‘being’ and not accomplishing anything ‘useful’. It is as if every minute must be spent achieving something.
Continuing my meander, I tuned in to my own internal dialogue, which went something like this:
‘Hmmm this is actually really nice…. But probably not for too long…… I wonder how long its been now?….. Oh, only 7 minutes, I would have thought it was longer than that! When I meditate, I actually sit and attempt to meditate, this doesn’t feel as worthwhile as that…. This feels more like just not being useful in the world…. I can’t pass it off as useful ‘meditating’ when actually all I’m really doing is wandering around aimlessly….’
I realised that perhaps one of our needs for ‘busyness’ is to give ourselves a sense of self-esteem. To feel that we have a purpose in our day, that someone needs us. I wondered whether we like to tell each other how busy we are in order to appear more successful, and therefore gain a feeling of being valued and respected for all the busy things we do. Especially all the things we do for others.
My mind meandered on:
What would happen if I simply didn’t complete some of these busy tasks?
Would the world end? Or would others step up and do them if needed?
Could I live with non-perfection?
Is all this productivity unproductive? Is less, actually more?
In my work as a leadership coach, I know that allowing time in the workplace for people to collaborate and be imaginative often leads to moments of great inspiration within a team. If we can make time for collective brainstorming, then perhaps we should also allow time on the ‘things-to-do-list’ for personal daydreaming… Who knows what we could come up with?
Or is that just giving ourselves another task to complete during a busy day?
One of the interviewees on the show went on to say that we should take time to reflect on everything we have absorbed during the day, otherwise there is no point having absorbed them in the first place! So I’m really pleased that I caught this programme and actually spent some time reflecting on it. I’ll definitely appreciate my idle time more from now on!
I’d love to hear your feedback on this one: Have you, or could you, give up a whole hour every day to being idle in order to allow unfocused daydreaming? Have you had an innovative breakthrough or revolutionary idea whilst daydreaming? Let me know!
Listen to Oliver Burkeman’s BBC R4 series on being busy (but remember to take some time to reflect on it!)