As a columnist for Inc.com, my inbox and RSS reader are filled with experts touting productivity hacks every day. Most of these are old news, but recently I noticed something that genuinely surprised me in the pieces coming through my various feeds -- apparently, these days, doing nothing counts as a trendy new productivity trick.

I first noticed experts touting 'do nothing' as a surefire way to boost your output when I came across this WSJ blog post from psychiatrist Samantha Boardman. More and more of her patients, she reports, are struggling to do nothing.

Downtime is challenging? Really???

"Downtime is challenging, not because they are workaholics but because they are used to having their minds occupied all the time," she writes. "Having time to just sit and think can be uncomfortable, if not unnerving. Indeed, being alone with one's thoughts can be downright scary."

But you need to get over your fear, she goes on to say, citing studies showing that "solitude is associated with freedom, creativity, intimacy, and spirituality." Maybe try meditation, she (and every other expert in the universe) suggests.

Hmmm, I thought when I read that. Are we really so far gone down the rabbit hole of constant connectivity that we need to be reminded to occasionally just sit and think?

Apparently, yes, as but a day or two later, Medium helpfully included a piece entitled "Productivity hack: Do nothing" in one of the occasional newsletters they send me. Slightly tongue in cheek, the post is by author David Kadavy, who enthuses of this so-called hack, "you can do it anywhere, you can do it anytime."

Why should you bother? "Doing nothing is in a category of activities psychologists call incubation. Incubation helps you solve insight problems," he explains before offering instructions to help you do nothing. They basically boil down to ''ignore your anxiety.' "Doing nothing is hard at first," he allows, "but if you get good at it, you don't even have to wait until you are on a plane or dining alone. You can actually choose to do nothing in the comfort of your own home."

Unlike the straight-faced concern of Boardman's piece, Kadavy's is pretty funny, but funny in a dark way. Do we all really need to be reminded that just being with our own thoughts now and again is essential for creativity and self-definition? It is so hard that we need instructions, whether serious or satirical? Does "do nothing" really count as a productivity hack these days?

What do you think?

Published on: Jul 5, 2016
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