The cult of productivity has hit its peak. Some of us would like to not be productive every minute of every day, please. 

Maybe instead of speeding along on the productivity highway, we pull off every once in a while and take in the view. 

Maybe instead of getting it all done, we get done only what's urgent and important.  

Maybe instead of celebrating our busy schedules, we celebrate boredom.

Maybe by doing less, we accomplish more. 

This might sound appealing. But you may have been sucked so deeply into the productivity vortex that you don't know how to get out. Enter a new genre of self-help books. As counterintuitive as it seems, the anti-productivity movement is here for you. 

Here are a few books that will help you unpack your relationship with productivity and help you learn to be more thoughtful in how you spend your time, both online and off. 

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, by Jenny Odell

Wish you didn't have to be productive 24/7? Don't remember what it's like to enjoy a leisurely afternoon with not much to do? How to Do Nothing will help you re-center.

Oakland, California-based visual artist and author Jenny Odell unpacks her observations on how a capitalist-driven society pushes us to turn every minute of every day into a revenue-generating "opportunity." If we're not making money, we're trying to boost our skill set, increase our knowledge, or build our network. We must do more and be more. 

Yet unchecked growth can be dangerous. Odell encourages readers to embrace the right to do nothing. It's about resisting the urge to constantly produce, and instead to dedicate just as much time to maintenance and reflection. She preaches self-care, but not the Goop kind. 

"This is not a book about putting your phone down. We have enough of those." Odell said during a presentation she gave at Google. "It's more about questioning our current notions of productivity all together."

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, by Cal Newport

Must you deactivate your Facebook account to try to reduce your dependency on it? Should you toss your smartphone in a lake? Not at all.

Instead of an all-or-nothing approach, six-time author and Georgetown University professor Cal Newport advocates for intentionality. "Technology is intrinsically neither good nor bad," Newport says. "The key is using it to support your goals and values, rather than letting it use you."

He offers tips and practical advice to take back control of your digital life. Digital Minimalism is all about making conscious choices about how you use technology. Then, you design your own usage around that intent. The approach is not dissimilar from Marie Kondo's. When you use digital tools in a way that brings you joy, you can let the rest go. 

Here's an example of one of these digital life hacks, which Newport recently wrote about on his Study Hacks blog

Use your smartphone only for the following activities: calls, text messages, maps, and audio (songs/podcasts/books).

For accountability, he suggests you mark on a calendar every day that you successfully follow the rule. If you slip up to check social media, look at your email, or pull up a website, then that day doesn't count. 

Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self, by Manoush Zomorodi

What's the worst that could happen if you took the dog on a walk and left your phone at home? In Bored and Brilliant, journalist and podcast host Manoush Zomorodi encourages you to try this and other tactics that might (gasp!) force you to be a little bored.

It might be a little uncomfortable at first. But Zomorodi shows how a little bit of boredom goes a long way for sparking creativity. She incorporates research and anecdotes to back up her claims. 

The book came out of an unplugging challenge Zomorodi launched on her podcast in 2015. She led her listeners through a week of small daily challenges. Day one: Don't reach for your phone while walking or in transit. Bonus points if you take it out of your pocket and place it in the bottom of your bag. This ends up being harder than you might think. 

If you completed the seven challenges, you may have come to realize how dependent you were on your phone. They helped you disconnect and carve out space for mind wandering. After reading Bored and Brilliant, you might be able to stop bringing your phone with you to the bathroom. 

Niksen: Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing, by Olga Mecking

Niksen is the Danish concept of allowing yourself to be idle without any particular purpose. It's being embraced as a way to combat stress and burnout. 

Olga Mecking is the admin of a niksen Facebook group and recently spoke to The Washington Post about how to actually practice it.

"For example, when you're waiting for the coffee machine to make your coffee, do nothing," she told the Post. "Or when you've just finished a project and don't want to move to another one, don't spend that time browsing Facebook. Instead, sit for a moment and do nothing."

Mecking's book on the topic isn't out yet. She just sent it to the publisher this month. But when Niksen: Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing does hit the shelves in 2021, it will likely contain some good tips on how to just sit around and do nothing -- without feeling guilty about it. ​

Published on: Dec 19, 2019
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