Here’s What I Learned

While doing nothing for one day

Jan M FlynnDec 23 · 3 min read

Doing nothing takes courage.

I usually do a lot. Sometimes too much. And sometimes it’s hard to stop.

Even when I get to the point where my reserves of energy, creativity, and enthusiasm are so depleted that I don’t even have fumes to run on, my default setting is to just keep going.

I’ve learned to recognize the signs: irritability, jagged emotions, general reluctance, and a niggling, sour sense of dissatisfaction with myself.

When I get like this, it’s tempting to just keep pushing until I bully myself into meeting some arbitrary target of worthiness. There are times when action is called for, such as when I’ve been sitting still too long and it’s time to haul myself out of my chair and get some exercise.

But occasionally what I really need is . . . nothing. Not an agenda, not a goal, and for God’s sake, not another To-Do list. This runs against my deeply ingrained Protestant work ethic, so it requires resolve on my part to take a day really and truly off.

It also means turning a deaf ear and a blind eye to the relentless, ever-present admonition to Do! More! Today!


Turns out it’s impossible to literally do nothing.

Unless you’re in a coma, of course. Other than that, if you grant yourself a long block of time in which to do only the things that refresh you, it’s surprising what you get up to while you’re not doing anything.

A point of clarification. My definition of “nothing” for this usage does not include bingeing on Netflix or even watching cat vids on YouTube. Those activities, however passive, fall under the category of doing something.

Doing nothing means dozing (not for too long — otherwise it becomes sleeping, which is doing something), daydreaming, and thinking about unimportant yet absorbing topics.

It means I allow myself to devote full attention to the kind of stuff with which I’m tempted to distract myself when I should be working. This is what I call recreational thinking.

Drinking tea is doing nothing. Staring at the fireplace is doing nothing. Reading the newspaper may or may not be doing nothing, depending on how het up I get over what I’m reading (in which case, on a do-nothing day, it’s time to stop).


So what’s the result?

After an entire day of daring to slack off, I see that the world has hummed along quite nicely in my absence. Life has a way of taking care of itself when I relax my grip on the throttle.

My interior is a calmer place than it was yesterday. I’ve quite enjoyed my own company these past quiet hours. And I’m feeling a building interest in re-entering the fray and doing something. Like writing a story.

And that’s not nothing.

6 Replies to “Here’s What I Learned”

  1. Hannah Celeste

    This is a lovely challenge! My default is also to *always* do something, doing nothing for a day would suit me well. I’m especially comforted by your reminder that even if we do nothing for a day, life goes on.

  2. Laurie

    I approve of your day of doing nothing. For you, of course…I would never approve of one of those days for myself. 🙂 Seriously, I get some of my best thinking done when I do absolutely nothing. I think it’s called “being in the now”.

    Good to see you back in this space, Jan. I was worried about you! 🙂

    • Jan M Flynn Post author

      So sorry to have worried you, Lorrie! I’ve lost track of time, I guess, and have been writing a lot on Medium.com. Happy to at last have caught up with your wonderful posts! Merriest Christmas to you and yours 🙂

  3. Book Club Mom

    Hi Jan, I am also a doer – I’m happy with a routine and a list, but there are also times when my mind and body tell me to stop and then I doze or not do whatever. I agree it is so important to open yourself up to this state. After about a month of constant doing, today I have no schedule other than be a sloth and it’s a great feeling. Happy New Year!

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