Article: The Art of Doing Nothing To Be Sane

Performance Management

The Art of Doing Nothing To Be Sane

A skill that may turn out to be a savior in our activity filled lives in keeping us sane and more effective
The Art of Doing Nothing To Be Sane

It is tough to do nothing! Should we then hurtle along in this mindless activity trap forever in the maya of doing something?


From ratings to the rupee valuation nose-diving, one hears a lot of new reality, new skills to tackle the new economy da dada. This can be quite intimidating and you don’t know if it’s another fad, so I ignored this, as fads come and go more quickly than the newspaper headlines! Until Rajlakshmi, People Matters’ Deputy Editor messaged me that this would be the theme for the July issue!

This coupled with market realities hitting me with an interim sales role I got handed by my manager… had me thinking! I am certain the pundits and experts will debate this to death and provide you with tons of sage advice.

But this column is called different strokes - the important yet never spoken about nugget, sometimes against the grain of conventional advice. This is easier said than thought up, especially when everything that can be said will be said! But deadlines have a way of making elusive nuggets float up my relief and hopefully yours too. Here you go…

I was on a long flight with my wife and son for a short vacation. After all the crazy check-in, immigration and boarding procedures, I settled in my seat with a sigh of relief ready to tune out and sleep the flight out! Just when was I drifting to La La Land, I was rudely shaken awake by Agastya, my 8-year-old son with the urgent request, “Appa, what do I do.” Half asleep, half irritated, the following conversation ensued!

Me: “Play on your iPad”
Agastya: “No charge Appa”
Me: “Then play with your Mama’s phone” (I was now really irritated as the sleep was fading)
Agastya: “She doesn’t have it”
Totally irritated I retorted: “Then, do nothing!”
Agastya (now exasperated): “How do I do nothing Appa?”
Hmmm… finally, we found a book for him and he was soon deep into Narnia world. However, sleep eluded me and this whole “do nothing” kept ringing in my ears.

Is this an option for us? How many of us actually do nothing? Or can even think of doing nothing? I can think of a few times I have come closest to doing nothing:

1. Vegetate: The most sublime form of doing nothing, especially when you have had a really long bad day. Best vegetating method is watching television oblivious of which channel or what is playing – just the flicker lulling you into a sense of calm.

2. Gaze: Switch off the phone, the pager, the tablet and go to the most comfortable corner of your house. This could be your cozy bed, your couch or the bean bag. Look up, and gaze at the ceiling. The cracks and the grey stains will talk to you! And as they begin to confide, is when the gecko will suddenly whizz past your meanderings and you will be carried off into yet another reverie.

3. Observe: A mug of coffee in hand, step out into your balcony tomorrow morning. Observe the street sweeper, look at the garbage collector, the vegetable vendor selling his ware or the poor urchin, his little toe peeping out of his torn blanket. Everybody finding contentment in the state they are in, braving their circumstances, smiling and embracing life!

4. Pout: Pout when faced with an irritating spouse, who decides to point out all your shortcomings from a misplaced towel or your complete inability to find the evening tablets. This is the best form of defence so the next time you can still forget and request for a find!

5. Postpone: Postpone when faced with a tough decision like firing your domestic help, knowing that the next one will be equally bad. A known devil is better than an unknown angel. And it also boosts your managerial ego of trying to make a non performer work!

6. Smile: Take a deep breath and take another and another - when you are stuck in the Bangalore traffic jam this is all you can do! With petrol prices going up, you better wind your glass down and breathe the polluted air – you may land up burning your pay for that month in that jam!

Phew, I realized with all this, I am still doing something! I guess each of us have always been ‘doers’ and that we have lost the ability of ‘not’ to do anything.

Agastya was right…it is tough to do nothing! Should we then hurtle along in this mindless activity trap forever in the maya of doing something!

However, doing nothing may be the perfect recipe to reduce blood pressure and busting the stress of the daily grind! A few moments of doing nothing in the washroom or staring at the ceiling in the middle of a hard deal negotiation clears your head better than a cup of coffee.

In our busy days filled with deadlines, meetings and phone calls, we have lost the art of doing nothing. It seems strange but it may turn out to be a skill that will keep us sane and better equipped to deal with our activity filled lives. It may even make us more effective…

Go on, what are you waiting for, head for that corner for doing nothing!

Warning: Being seen doing nothing could get you in trouble with your boss, so be careful! While I meditate on this, I have a column musing on doing nothing! Nothing came to something for me already.

Remember, this ‘doing nothing’ break may just help you break the pattern, think out-of-the-box and come up with the next game changer. If nothing, you had a few moments of quiet!

Meanwhile, don’t forget to leave your comments on ideas to do nothing!


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Topics: Performance Management, Watercooler, C-Suite

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