The Challenge of Doing Nothing

Today we had another shortened day due to snow.  The minute I heard that another snowstorm was on its way, I started thinking of all of the things I could accomplish with the extra few hours.  Like Wallace, in Wallace’s Lists by Botner and Kruglik, I am a list maker.  I make lists at home and at work, lists of what to pack for trips, lists of items to remember to bring to school, lists of books I need to read and movies I need to see, lists of lessons that need to be planned and materials that need to be ordered, and even lists of what I need to add to my lists.  

Then, when I have some extra time (aka a delayed opening or early dismissal), I go to the list and I start attacking it, one item at a time.  Some items on the list take a few minutes (Call the vet to make an appointment for Bailey to have her nails trimmed.). Others might take days, weeks, or even months (Plan summer vacation to Ireland.), but however big or small the task, I love the feeling of accomplishment when I finish a task and cross it off the list, or when I finish the whole list, crumple up the paper, and slam dunk it into the recylcling bin (sometimes followed by one of those quarterback dance moves).

I pride myself on my ability to work hard and get things done, but it’s really kind of a disease. I’m terrible at relaxing.  I don’t know how to do nothing. I watch my husband on a shortened day, and he is able to just lie down on the couch, put his feet up, and do absolutely nothing.  He’s not watching the TV or reading a book or even checking his phone for text messages. He’s just relaxing. At times, it drives me wild and I start adding more things to my list and running around the house acting busier than ever (often adding stomping feet and a bit of extra force when closing doors and cabinets).  It’s like the act of seeing people relax makes me uncomfortable. I just can’t understand why he’s not taking care of all sorts of tasks that need doing.

One day at the start of summer vacation, my husband poured me a glass of wine and encouraged me to go sit on a chair in the lawn and relax.  “Just sit there? Can I bring a book?”

“Just try to relax for a few minutes.  Take in the day. Look around.” he suggested.  

I couldn’t even sit there for 5 minutes! I got up and started pulling some weeds.

I’ve read about the importance of mindfulness and being in the moment, about the powers of meditation and being peaceful.  This is a goal of mine.


I think I’ll add it to my list!




9 thoughts on “The Challenge of Doing Nothing”

  1. I can totally relate. Some days, I think I might sit on the couch and maybe watch some tv. It never happens. My goal today for the extra time was to hang up some clothes piling up on my closet floor. I’ve been following a fellow slicer who has written almost every post about mindfulness and meditation. I’m fascinated but honestly, it makes me a little uneasy. I may also need to add further exploration of this topic to my list!

  2. I’m a list-maker, for sure – and I’ve just added Wallace’s List to my holds at the library. 🙂 Last year, I had my grade 12 English students read some Emerson and Thoreau. It was challenging stuff. After a little bit of Self-Reliance and Walden, I invited/challenged them to spend 15 minutes on the school lawn with no phone, no books, no paper and no agenda. Some of them were able to really take in the world; others not so much. My favourite response? A list-maker sweetie divided the time into three 5-minute segments and created goals for each segment because she found just observing too stressful! A girl after my own heart.

    1. It’s nice to know that others suffer from this list making illness! I think you will love Wallace’s Lists! I am going to try your lawn challenge. Like your student, I think I will try separating my time into sections. Maybe if I try this a few times, I will learn how to just be in that moment, but it sounds like a way to begin. I have to get over the guilt I feel when I’m not accomplishing something – even if it is not something important. Are you like that?

      1. Ha! I definitely feel guilty if I’m not doing something (or if I’m doing something but it’s “not productive enough”.) I started adding “Sit down and lounge” or “Sit and be quiet” to my lists. That helped. It’s not meditation, really, though I sometimes feel guilty that it’s not. It’s more like permission from my own list to do nothing. But it’s time-limited. I only get to do nothing for a few minutes. 🙂

  3. My name is Peter, and I’m a list maker. However, in the summer, I actually put “Do nothing.” on my list. I wish I could put it on my weekend lists during the year, but I can’t. As a list maker, I totally saw that last line coming. I was happy to have it verified.

  4. Wallace’s Lists is a favorite! I could relate to everything you said about list making, especially the part about crossing items off (such a great feeling!). And your last line is perfect!

  5. I’m not the list maker in our family. But my husband is and so is my daughter and son. I excel at relaxing, but sometimes need to kick things up a notch. My list frequently includes a few things I’ve already done so I can get the momentum in gear.

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