Doing Nothing


Yesterday, I spent a couple of hours doing nothing. I can’t remember the last time I wasted time like that. However, that was the whole problem–I felt like I was wasting time. And doing nothing isn’t necessarily a waste of time. In fact, doing nothing is good for you sometimes. It’s time to relax, rest, contemplate, fill the creative well. I’m pretty sure I used to know how to do nothing more effectively. Feeling guilty while you’re doing nothing is completely ineffective. Ruins the whole thing.

Doing nothing is a good time to read a book, brush your dog, watch TV, go through old boxes or scrapbooks, pet a cat, practice knitting, or pick flowers. Anything’s that a hobby or just for fun is allowed when you’re doing nothing. Chores or work aren’t allowed.

Writers, especially novelists, are seasoned experts at the art of doing nothing and getting away with it. They can always say they’re plotting in their heads, working out an intricate point of characterization or conflict, or trying to figure out whodunnit. I used to stretch out on the couch quite frequently and say I was plotting. Sometimes I was. Sometimes I wasn’t. Writers also watch movies, go on trips, read books and magazines, and all sorts of other things and call it work. Writers have the best job ever.

In the past few years, I’ve gotten into the routine of being constantly busy. Busy to the point of never getting it all done in a day, so I start out every day behind. I actually love what I do, so that makes it even more difficult to stop doing it all the time. Occasionally, I think about doing nothing, but it’s last on the priority list and I rarely get around to it. And if I do, then I feel guilty about it. Doing nothing isn’t as easy as it looks! And the boundaries can be confusing. If I write about doing nothing, is that something? Does that make the time I spent doing nothing a form of research for writing about it?

WAS I ACTUALLY WORKING THE WHOLE TIME? (Does that mean I can stop feeling guilty about it?)

I can remember when I was a little girl sitting on the driveway watching the ants running along the cracks in the cement, some carrying crumbs, some not. I had names for the ants. (Seriously. As if I could tell one ant apart from another.) Kids are the ultimate champions in the art of doing nothing.

I can’t remember the last time I even noticed an ant.

I went in search of an ant. Fortunately, I didn’t find one in my kitchen, but I did find one outside and I wondered what this tiny ant could tell me about doing nothing. Ants are busy little creatures, yet I used to spend a lot of time doing nothing with them. I watched it and waited for what seemed like a really long time and finally I thought I heard the ant speak.

“My name is Buford.”


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Posted by Suzanne McMinn on June 12, 2010  

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13 Responses | RSS feed for comments on this post

  1. 6-12

    Oh I hear you Suzanne. Once we moved to the farm,doing nothing ceased to exist. There is always something to do but that is the great part of doing something you love. Most of the time when I do nothing I’m actually “doing something” and it usually involves the little goats.

  2. 6-12

    When my daughter was very little she loved to sit and watch the ants..and she named them! In second or third grade she wrote a beautiful paper in school about an ant who was in a race. His name was Antony. Later when she got a blue ribbon for her flute solo we bought her the cutest wood carved ant (about 2 inches tall) playing a flute. She has turned into the most wonderful 42 year old. I think some of it was from meditative time spent with the ants. Loved your story.

  3. 6-12

    Suzanne, You were still doing something as a child…you were learning about ants which have an extremely complex social system! It is amazing what children, who appear to be doing nothing, learn by making observations of the natural world around them. Like Mary said, those children tend to be wonderful people…we could all use more meditative time with ants!

  4. 6-12

    I can remember, as a small girl, watching the clouds race across the sky. Don’t know where they were going – but we had fun.

  5. 6-12

    Some days I forget what doing nothing feels like.I’ve sent the last 3 days baking for a bake sale that my friend is having at her shop. The town is holding it’s annual art walk. It’s been one baking disaster after another but I’ve managed to get a few goodies make. Boy do I miss my nothing time.

  6. 6-12

    “my name is Buford” LMAO. :happyflower:

  7. 6-12

    reminds of the story of the grasshopper and the ant. please, stop feeling guilty about doing nothing. do nothing is subscribed for increasing creativity and living joyfully, among other things. it is as important as productivity and even fosters it. have at it and enjoy Suzanne. :yes:

  8. 6-12

    Oh I can relate to this one. If I’m not doing something, I’m feeling guilty. What’s with that!. I’m retired and should just be doing things I love but life is a busy job, even when you’re not getting paid. I feel particularly guilty when hours are eaten up when I’m on the computer! I enjoy it so it should be my “doing nothing” time which it is, but how do you stop the guilty thing. Today, even though it was 87 degrees and HUMID! I trimmed some bushes and raked and fixed a drain that Rocky had dug up while after a chipmunk. Now that should be enough for today. Let me do what I want!!!!!

  9. 6-12

    There is much to be said for recapturing the habits of childhood. Would that I could, but I’m too busy trying, to relax and do nothing!

  10. 6-12

    I think ants are the busiest creatures on earth. Makes watching them while doing nothing that much more rewarding! SOMEONE (not shouting…just don’t know how to do italics here!) is doing something productive! :-)

  11. 6-12

    The ability to be still and quiet our minds is a skill we often lose as we grow up and are brainwashed into believing that we must be multi-tasking at all times. But we need those times of quiet and calm and we need to relearn not only how to get to that peaceful state, but how not to punish ourselves for being there.

  12. 6-13

    Hunting and fishing are my doing nothing exercises. You can observe nature and enjoy the quiet while at the same time appeasing that inner voice that tells you all the work you have left undone. Voice: Man, you have to get up and mow some grass, weed the garden, stake tomatoes, pick the beans, stir the compost, mow the field at the creek; you don’t have time to sit here and do nothing. Paint,fence,woodwork, the jobs are endless. Me: Shut up voice I am busy here; I am attempting to put some protein on the plate to feed you! Abracadabra, the voice shuts right up.

  13. 6-13

    Isn’t it insane we feel guilty over doing nothing!?!? I agree, we need to be that child again more often than probably any of us do, so we can continue to create and make those chores that we do more meaningful :happyflower:

    I spent yesterday hitting all the yard sales….which should be considered a doing nothing day, but we labeled it as a buying trip, we were working hard at saving money for things we needed! :lol:

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