Nothing Doing

By Robert Goldman

May 9, 2019 6 min read

I don't like to brag, but I am very busy. I am busy doing nothing, but it still counts. In fact, being busy doing nothing counts a lot more than being busy doing something.

If you doubt me, ask Olga Mecking.

Mecking is the author of "The Case for Doing Nothing," a recent article published in The New York Times.

The basic premise is that being busy has become a "status indicator." As in, "I'm so busy because I'm just so important."

But being busy does not make you important. It only makes you a target for "burnout, anxiety disorders and stress-related diseases."

This is not a problem in the Netherlands, in case you were wondering. In the Netherlands, being unbusy is a thing — a thing called niksen.

In case your Dutch is a little rusty, niksen means "to take conscious, considered time and energy to do activities like gazing out a window or sitting motionless."

(If you have not progressed sufficiently in your career to have a window, walk over to the nearest manager's office and look out their window. They're so busy with their niksen, they'll never notice you.)

Alas, we live in a society where an ability to do niksen is not really appreciated. When was the last time you were dinged in your annual review for not spending enough time doing nothing?

According to psychologist Sandi Mann, niksen helps generate creativity, but there is a catch: "Total idleness is required."

You may think that you're really good at doing nothing, but think of all the times a highly productive burst of idleness was spoiled by your cellphone ringing or your email dinging.

In other words, you have to work hard to do nothing, but following the following rules could help:

1. "Make time for doing nothing, and do it with purpose."

The idea here is to "figure out when you're most productive and creative, then notice when your mind starts to shut off."

Easy-peasy. You are most creative in the period between leaving home and arriving at the office. Your brain is bursting with reasons for you not to go into work. It's when you're walking through the company's front door that your mind shuts off. At this point, the experts say, "That's when you should go for a walk or take a break."

I like this idea. Consider a nice walk to The Kit Kat Club, where your unproductive buds are practicing their niksen over artisanal boilermakers. Just be sure to start back to work by 5 p.m. You want to take full advantage of your next creative burst, which is when your brain dreams up all sorts of ideas for never going back to work again.

You are also advised to "prioritize the things that are important to you and the things that bring you pleasure, and outsource everything else."

Excellent idea! Your priorities are gossip, snacks and online shopping. Why not outsource the boring work stuff to a Third World country, like Nebraska? The people there will happily do your work for peanuts, freeing you up to do the kind of nothing that is sure to turbocharge your career.

2. "Resist the culture of busyness."

"If you're doing nothing, own it," is the advice here. "When someone asks you what you're doing during a nothing break, simply respond, 'Nothing.'"

Of course, if the someone asking is your manager — who has woken up from their idle hours to check on you — there is a better answer.

"Doing nothing," you say, adding, "but thinking about how much I admire you, boss."

(Be careful with this ploy. It probably won't work for longer than 20 years.)

3. "Reorganize your environment."

It is difficult to fully turn off when you're surrounded by unenlightened idiots running around being "productive."

That's why you are advised to "add a soft couch, a comfy armchair, a few cushions or just a blanket." This advice is for your home, but at work, it works even better.

If your work area is not large enough to hold all these niksen-friendly accoutrements, get rid of your computer, office chair and desk.

If you're still unable to detach from the destructive concept of doing something, psychologist Doreen Dodgen-Magee suggests you "host boredom parties, during which a host invites over a few friends to ... be bored together."

Make it easier on yourself by inviting the entire human resources department. They're already super boring, which means it won't take a lot of work for you to do absolutely nothing.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He now works out of Bellingham, Washington. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at [email protected] To find out more about Bob Goldman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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