The underappreciated value of doing nothing

I have had many conversations with friends about the guilt they feel over “wasting time,” by which they mean using their time for anything that doesn’t have to do with school work or making money.

We have learned to value productivity above all else, at times even damaging our health or investing less in our relationships with other people.

School is a lot of work, it’s expensive, and we are all privileged to be here, so it is only right that we should put in effort and try to get the most out of this experience. However, there are other uses of time that are just as important as work, such as spending time with friends or family, learning about things that don’t have to do with class work, or sitting around doing literally nothing.

The value of doing nothing is vastly underestimated. It is a versatile activity that can be done in solitude or communally, inside or outside. I do not consider it a waste of time because even though it may not directly improve my academic standing or benefit me materially, it is essential to my well-being.

A lot of unexpected things can happen to you when you are wandering around aimlessly or staring into space that might become just as important to you as your homework. You might run into someone interesting or discover something new about the place where you live.

We are conditioned to value spending our time on activities that add to our outward achievements and generate respect and approval from other people, rather than on anything that benefits us in an internal, invisible way. It is inevitable that I will not be constantly working, and I do not want to spend all my time outside of work internally berating myself about how I should be working. People need time to relax, reflect, and engage in activities that are detached from any external value without the persistent worry that their time would be better spent elsewhere.

Balance is important. You can’t just do nothing all the time or work constantly, but I believe we are off balance when we start to feel guilty about the time we don’t spend on work. We get disconnected from other necessary aspects of life that don’t get graded or make money.

If we allowed ourselves the opportunity to be unproductive every once a while, it might even improve the quality of our school work. We could be more thoughtful and purposeful in our studies, rather than burned out and exhausted.

Next time you feel like you are losing focus, don’t feel bad about taking a break and wasting some time. Your work is important, but it does not have to take precedence over all the other things that make you happy, even if what makes you happy is doing nothing.

 

Opinions expressed in columns and letters are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Chips or organizations with which the author(s) are associated.

 

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