Do Nothing

Sometimes, you need to take a break to idle for a while. You can learn to take more time away from so-called "productive" activities to give yourself the chance to unwind and regenerate. You can spend your free time doing nothing, learn to steal some extra time at work, and commit to a more long-term style of idleness.


Doing Nothing in Your Free Time

  1. Steal time. Life gets loud, stressful, and tense. When you're ready to pull the trigger on some serious leisure, set a block of time and keep it. Doing nothing on a regular basis is very healthy for your mind, body, and emotional life, especially if you find that you're really wearing yourself thin. Every now and then, it's ok.
    • If you're feeling stressed and overwhelmed, you don't need to set aside hours and hours of nothingness, which would just be silly. Steal 15 minutes every now and then, and you can seriously de-stress.[1]
  2. Find a quiet place to sit. Go somewhere you can escape, zone out, and find some peace. If you live in a small apartment, set aside a corner of a larger room with floor pillows, a softly scented candle and maybe a cozy throw. Wherever it is, make sure you can feel comfortable and calm.
    • You don't have to be a monk sitting on top of a mountain in Japan to find peace and quiet. Hit up a quiet corner of the public park, or set out a deck chair in your backyard. Park your car in an empty lot and just sit there.
  3. Eliminate distractions. If you're looking at your phone, you're doing something. Turn off your phone, computer, radio, television and any other means of sending or receiving calls or messages. These distractions will only keep you from enjoying the nothing.
    • It can be nice to set an alarm, if necessary, so you can remind yourself when your period of "nothing time" is over.
  4. Try DIY sensory deprivation. Some people pay good money for the experience of sensory deprivation, which is basically doing nothing in a dark tank set at your body temperature. While you might not be able to get it perfect, you can approximate the experience.
    • Draw a warm bath and wait until it gets as close as possible to your body temperature. Turn off all the lights, put some earmuffs on, and try to float in the tub for a while. Trippy stuff.
  5. Just sit. Zazen, commonly shortened "zen" is a kind of meditation known as "just sitting" meditation. If you ask Zen monks what they're doing during meditation, they would say, "Just sitting." There is no goal to sitting meditation, no end result.[2]
    • Doing nothing is sometimes a lot harder than doing something, and one of the central learnings of Zen is to just "do" whatever it is you're doing. When you're eating lunch, just eat lunch. When you're sitting, just sit. When you're collating data at work, just collate data at work.
  6. Try clearing your mind and "watching" your thoughts. Meditation is not thinking. Meditations is allowing your thoughts to occur, unaffected. Let your thoughts of work, worries, family go - not by simply letting them go, but by watching them leave from a distance. Doing this not only allows your body to do nothing but your mind as well.
    • Imagine that you're pulling the camera back away from your thoughts, watching them from a distance. Who's doing this watching? Keep pulling the camera back until you can't. Look for stillness.
    • Don't be discouraged if you find your mind quite active in meditation. Buddhist monks dedicate their entire lives to freeing their minds. For now, shed your worries as much as you can and revel in feeling lighter and less encumbered.
  7. Find a meditative activity. While this may not be "nothing," strictly speaking, some people find it easier to avoid distressing thoughts if their mind is focused on a rote activity. Try arranging a Zen garden, or stacking rocks, or engaging in a repetitive activity such as crocheting. Pay attention to only what your hands are doing, and don't allow other thoughts to intrude.
  8. Try progressive muscle relaxation. This process can help you achieve deep relaxation while doing nothing. Focus on relaxing each muscle group, from your face to your feet, slowly and with regular, even breaths.

Doing Nothing at Work

  1. Practice looking busy. Get in the habit of making rushed runs to different rooms in your office, with a frowning look on your face, shuffling papers through your hands. When people see you, they'll think, "Must be really busy."
    • Always keep moving around when you're at work. If you're just sitting there doing nothing, someone will notice. But if you're all over the place, nobody will think to question whether or not you're doing something, or just wandering around.
    • If you're working on a computer, tilt your screen so nobody can see it and type furiously. Listen to music or podcasts instead.
  2. Volunteer for brainless tasks. The boss needs someone to sweep up the kitchen? Volunteer. Somebody's got to sit out back and sort boxes? Sounds good. The more brainless the task, the more like doing nothing it will be. The more stressful thinking required, the more difficult the job.
    • Alternatively, it may be better to never volunteer for anything. If you ever find yourself standing around on the clock, just keep standing there. That's good money.
  3. Lie about how long it takes to do things. Scotty said it best on Star Trek: "Tell the captain it's gonna take you four hours, so you can look like a genius when you get it done in two." If nobody else can do what you do, then nobody knows how long it should take.
    • Tell your boss it took you all day to drive around selling ads, or that you're running into all sorts of problems filling out that report, so you haven't gotten it finished, and it'll probably take a few more hours. If you're already done, just sit there doing nothing and making your money.
  4. "Let the foreman find you." An old adage from automotive factory lines, passed down from older hands to new workers was to just sit tight if something went wrong. If your machine stops working and the line stops, don't go running off to tell someone. Just stand there. You're getting paid either way.
    • You don't have to work in a factory to abide by this basic rule. If you're ever working and something goes wrong, or breaks, just kick back. Put on your confused "trying-to-figure-it-out" face and scrutinize things closely, doing absolutely nothing.
  5. Let someone else do it. Some people let their egos get in the way of their doing nothing. You're not in a productivity competition with your coworkers. You don't need to be hyperactive if you're being paid hourly and you're on the clock. If something comes up that anyone can do, let someone else do it.
    • You can even help this process along. Learn to say, "I could do it, I guess, but that's totally in Jim's wheelhouse. He'll knock that out of the park."
    • Of course, at some workplaces, your paycheck does depend on your productivity. You usually can't let someone else do everything for you.
  6. Take a long lunch. Take as long a break in the middle of the day as possible while you're working, especially if you're on the clock for it. When five o'clock rolls around, that extra fifteen minutes you got to steal to finish your sandwich will be the last thing on everyone's mind.
    • At most jobs, you'll have to feel this out to see how far you can push it. If you're on the clock from 8-3, you can always say that you've got to be somewhere else and you can't stay when it's time to leave.
    • Just ignore anyone who makes comments or tries to make you feel "lazy" for taking a decent break. Unless it affects your employment, it's not your job to care.
  7. Play to your strengths. Depending on what kind of worker you are, and what kind of job you have, you can always find a way to emphasize your good characteristics as a worker, to allow for a lot more laziness.
    • If you're a talkative, active presence, make that presence known at meetings and in group situations by talking a lot. Be the "idea" person in the room. You'll seem like you're busy and valuable, even if when you're alone, you do basically nothing.
    • If you're a quiet, but studious worker, get away with doing nothing by putting it off until later. Do nothing Monday through Wednesday, but slam yourself on Thursday and Friday to get all your work done for the week.
  8. Fail in calculated ways. You don't have to be the best worker at your job, you just have to be good enough to keep getting paid. That's all that you have to worry about. If your boss saddles you with a big responsibility, it's ok to fail. In the future, you won't be asked to take on special responsibilities again. Good deal.
    • It's important to look as if you came close, but couldn't get it done. Take a project in the completely wrong direction, but take some time to do it. It's better to make good-natured mistakes.
  9. Get a job that's basically like doing nothing. If you could do nothing and get paid for it, that'd be a pretty sweet deal. Jobs in which it's very easy to steal time include:
    • Night security
    • Ticket-taking
    • House-sitting
    • Writer of spa reviews
    • Cute pet video aggregator
    • Food testing
    • Any telecommuting job

Doing Nothing as a Lifestyle

  1. Keep your inbox full. If people try to get a hold of you on the phone and get the full-inbox treatment, they'll think you're so busy you're totally swamped with things to do. Here's the secret: just don't listen to any of them.
  2. Be positive. If you're good-natured, hapless, and lazy, people will think it's just part of your personality. If you're a jerk and try to get away with doing nothing all the time, people will think you're a super-jerk.
    • If somebody catches you doing nothing, or gets on your case about it, just admit that you're confused: "I wasn't sure about that. You're right, you're right. Thanks for getting me on track!"
  3. Eliminate your attachments. The less personal responsibility required of you, the less you'll have to do. It's hard to get away with doing nothing if you got to pick up kids from soccer practice, walk a dog, or go on lots of dates. If you want to do nothing in the long-term, keep your life and simple and streamlined as possible.
    • Be a minimalist. Keep your relationships few and far between and your belongings cut to the absolute bare essentials.
  4. Accept the charity of others. When you let other people do things for you, that's less you have to do for yourself. If you let your studious and friendly neighbor know that you don't have a lawnmower because you can't afford one, watch how fast your grass gets mowed. Even if the real problem is laziness, coax out charity from others to get away with doing less.
  5. Commit to happiness, not responsibility. Anytime you "have to" do something, it's less satisfactory than doing something you want to do. While some people think fulfilling your responsibilities is a rewarding and wholesome way of living life, it's also meh. If you want to do nothing, stay focused on having fun and idling, not ladder-climbing social responsibilities.
    • Often, we define doing something and nothing in terms of whether or not we deem it "useful." Your happiness? Yeah, that's useful. That means taking some time, every now and then, to do nothing.[3]
  6. Sleep in. Great way to do nothing? Sleep. It'll cut into your opportunity to be productive throughout the day, and it'll be the most comfortable and restorative way of doing nothing in the long term.


  • Remember, there is no guilt in giving yourself some private downtime. How often you do nothing is up to you, but it should be a rejuvenating experience.
  • Worry about nothing. Just be calm and collected.
  • Once you become good at doing nothing you can use this new found time and energy to think of things, instead. This would not be doing "nothing"; rather, this would be thinking while shutting out the world. Focusing on one thing this way will help you concentrate better than having your mind zoom over a million thoughts a minute.
  • It's kind of simple. You don't do anything. If you're thinking oh I want to go paint that door, say no. I don't want to do anything. I want to do nothing.
  • Get comfortable. It can clear your mind and relax you.


  • At first you may feel nervous, sad, and restless. Try to relax and understand that doing nothing does not mean that you're being unproductive or irresponsible. Keep in mind that you are doing this in order to clear your mind and ultimately extend your life so that you will have even more time. In the end, setting time aside to recharge your batteries will make you more productive, creative, and more able to concentrate in the long run, and that's very good for work, school, or other areas of your life.
  • If you are exhausted while you try to do nothing, you may end up falling asleep. If this happens, consider adding more sleep to your daily routine.

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Sources and Citations