We’re told to hustle, grind, and maximize every moment. We’re like soldiers in a battle, preoccupied with objectives rather than why the fight is happening. Perhaps we’re missing something important by rushing all the time? Maybe we need to waste time.
Rushing to Nowhere
The world is in constant flux, always shifting and changing, and yet nothing truly is happening. Cultural theorist, Paul Virilio, called this feeling “frenetic standstill”. There’s this urge to keep doing things, but we often can never “catch up” and are thus left with the hollow sensation of being left behind.
Literary critic, Alan Jacobs, talks about how we zip through experiences as double speed. But where exactly are we trying to get to? More items on our ever expanding list?
“The whole attitude seems to be: Let me get through this thing I don’t especially enjoy so I can do another thing just like it, which I won’t enjoy either…. I say: If you’re trying to get through your work as quickly as you can, then maybe you should see if you can find a different line of work.”
We should savor the things we do, especially if they are part of our leisure-time. Watching or speed-reading as fast as you can is counter-intuitive to the idea of leisure.
Learn to Waste Time
Sometimes it feels like these bits of empty space in our schedule need to be filled with something. But perhaps we need to embrace wasted time.
American poet, John Ashbery, has this to say about wasting time: “I waste a lot of time. That’s part of the [creative process]….The problem is, you can’t really use this wasted time. You have to have it wasted.”
He’s not alone in linking wasting time with creativity. Gertrude Stein said, “It takes a lot of time to be a genius, you have to sit around so much doing nothing, really doing nothing.”
When you’re always on the go, you’re draining your energy and attention. By taking breaks, naps, or walks, you’re giving yourself a chance to rest and restore. Idling your brain-engine gives it the energy to get to work when you need it.
Slowing down allows you to wander, daydream, and discover new things. You can read books, watch movies, listen to music, or talk to strangers without an agenda. You can let your curiosity guide you and find unexpected connections.
Freed from the pressure to produce results, you can try different approaches, styles, and formats. You can doodle, scribble, sketch, or write without worrying about the outcome. You can make mistakes, fail, and learn from them.
In the end, we have so little time to waste. We need to make sure we waste it well. Doing nothing can really lead to some interesting things.