Doing Nothing

I was addicted to progress.

My life was becoming an Excel spreadsheet.

My reading regimen was insane. My exercise routines were ridiculous. My projects were impossible.

But then I started doing nothing.


Three hikers saw a lone monk standing atop a small mountain. After hours of climbing, they finally met him.
The first hiker asked, “are you waiting for a friend?”
The second hiker asked, “you’re just out here observing nature, right?”
The third exclaimed, “so you’re just standing here, enjoying the fresh air?”
“No, I’m just standing here.”

0. What is “Nothing”?

For me, sometimes “doing nothing” is literally doing nothing: neither napping nor thinking. Other times, “nothing” means surfing Reddit and making music.

It’s all about intent. Abandon plans! Stop scheming!  Without expectations, everything and nothing are equally unexpected.

Imagine a beach ball on the water. It’s incapable of doing anything, and yet it responds to every force with an appropriate reaction. Dive in the pool, and it rolls with the waves. Pull it underwater, and it shoots back to the surface!

It’s fun to live like a beach ball. By doing “nothing”, I find myself bouncing from adventure to adventure.

When I stop doing things, it gives the universe a chance to play with me; I become like a kite in the sky.

1. “Productivity” is Unproductive

Productivity is a difficult illusion to dispel; it appears to be the only path to achieve our aspirations.

Doing nothing is scary, because it feels like a waste of time.

Calendars, to-do lists, and emails often become the focus of employment. Playing with tools is not work. Let go of “being busy” and you’ll find that you’re doing actual work.

Successful people produce, but not for the sake of “productivity”. They just do it.

But just a warning: don’t throw out productivity to be more productive! Because it’s the desire to be more productive that causes us to do less.

The quickest way to get everything off your to-do list is to throw it out!

2. “Fun” is Not Fun

Doing nothing sounds boring! Most people would prefer to do anything than nothing.

But “fun” can be a lot of work!

A “fun” night-on-the-town is waiting in line to stand in a sweltering room with deafening music to spend paychecks on drinks to erase your “fun” memories!

A “fun” vacation involves fighting [other] tourists to look at historically-significant-but-not-very-interesting monuments through your smartphone’s outdated camera between bouts of overindulgent meals and expensive souvenirs.

These scenarios aren’t actually fun because there’s too much attachment to “fun”. When drinking is your “fun”, you’ll constantly be hungover. When vacations are your “fun”, you’ll forever be stressed.

When you’re having quality time with friends, you won’t drink excessively. When your vacation is genuinely entertaining, you’ll feel adventurous, yet relaxed.

And here’s the paradoxical secret: the easiest way to have fun is to stop trying to have fun. Because trying to have fun is  no fun at all!

3. “Doing Nothing” is Doing Something

For the first few months, I set a 10-minute “nothingness timer” every morning and evening.

How ridiculous! I actually tried to time my nothingness. The moment I set the alarm, it became something!

Remember the cool kids in school? They were cool because they didn’t try to be. When you start worrying about labels, you lose your cool!

Therefore doing nothing is not an additive process, it’s a subtractive one. There is nothing you can do to do nothing. You can only achieve nothing by not doing.

How do you make muddy water clear? You leave it alone. In the same way, muddy minds clear themselves. Any attempts to do nothing are futile, because attempts are something!

You can’t do nothing. But if you make peace with the void, then maybe one day you’ll get lucky, and find yourself doing nothing.

The “This Sucks” Productivity Method

Step 1: If it must be completed in the next eight hours, do it now.

Step 2: Find the most ugly thing on your to-do list. Do it now.

Step 3: Repeat.

Some tasks haunt me for months. I find endless excuses for why these sucky things can wait until tomorrow. But let’s face it, chores are usually sucky because they’re important.

Lately I’ve been starting my day with ugly stuff first. When I pick up my to-do list, I promptly start the worst tasks. And opposing all intuition, they become easy, enjoyable experiences! Here’s what I’ve learned so far from This Sucks:

1. Sorting by Suckiness Gives You Time

Parkinson’s Law is a double-edged sword. It explains why students are able to pump out ten-page essays in 90 minutes. It also explains why employees are able to spend five hours sifting through their emails.

work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion

When the hardest labor is highest priority, we don’t have the opportunity to spend all day on petty minutiae.

Don’t spend all day on dumb stuff. Save compressible tasks for later.

2. Sorting by Suckiness Reduces Decision Fatigue

Decision fatigue is a subtle phenomenon. Every trivial choice we make wears down our stamina.

To circumvent DF, automate your decision-making processes. Tackle your to-do list in a specified order (any order, really). Instead of laboring over “what to do next”, you simply do “what’s next”.

This Sucks prevents nasty tasks from loitering in your to-do lists. When you complete a chore, it’s no longer an option! Don’t let DF weight you down.

3. Sorting by Suckiness Clears Your Mind

Ugly to-do lists ruin lives.

Uncompleted affairs are mind-gremlins. They nag you. They keep you awake at night. They distract you at inopportune times. They occupy your working memory.  They prevent you from enjoying truly important things.

Be kind to your mind; put your ugly chores to rest.

4. Sorting by Suckiness Destroys Procrastination

Procrastination is simply doing things out-of-order. Sometimes it’s putting video-games before homework. Other times it’s doing email before projects.

Let’s face it, we substitute mountains for molehills. Feeling busy seems easier than being busy. But prioritizing actual work prevents the chaos of the chronic postponement.

Chronic procrastinators starting This Sucks will probably avoid their to-do lists, and that’s alright. The power to confront chores will come with time; it simply takes courage and momentum.

By doing sucky things first, you’ll complete nasty tasks today, not tomorrow.

5. Sorting by Suckiness Makes Chores Easier

I constantly resist oil changes. Procrastination may seem “easier”, but life is going to suck when I pay for engine repairs.

Chores grow with time. Dishes and trash scale linearly — the problem grows little-by-little. Maintenance and bills are nonlinear — there’s an enormous difference between mailing taxes on April 15 and April 16.

Always do “explosive” (nonlinearly problematic) tasks first. Your life shouldn’t be a minefield.

6. Sorting by Suckiness Feels Good

There’s a huge difference between problems and challenges. Problems are gross, belaboring endeavors. Challenges are invigorating experiences that elicit life-long growth.

Scary things become exciting when you tackle them head-on.

Don’t be a victim to your to-do list. Slay your dragons; claim your honor.

7. Sorting by Suckiness Encourages Quality

It feels good to do real work.

When ugly chores are repeatedly shoved to the side, we make shoddy stuff.

By doing hard things first, you pour time and energy into life’s most important tasks. Focused effort results in quality labor.

“I noticed that the dynamic range between what an average person could accomplish and what the best person could accomplish was 50 or 100 to 1. Given that, you’re well advised to go after the cream of the cream…. A small team of A+ players can run circles around a giant team of B and C players.“ —Steve Jobs

People recognize A+ work. By allotting time for hard projects, you’ll gain a reputation for quality. This trust results in fulfilling relationships, bigger opportunities, and self-satisfaction.

Take pride in your work. Do hard things. Do amazing things. And do them first.

The Fear of Failure

The fear of failure is the most insidious dream-killer. It’s a crippling anxiety that prevents us from taking our first steps into creativity.

It took me 13 months to create this simple post. Every writing attempt confirmed my failure as an essayist.

For a while, I stopped trying. I was too afraid to make bad content. My writing aspirations got in the way of my writing! All because I didn’t want to face the fact that I’m a terrible essayist. So what changed?

I embraced failure. I stopped worrying and got messy. Avoiding failure assures failure. Something about ‘missing 100% of the shots you don’t make’ comes to mind.

Quixotic projects defeat many artists before they even start. Let go of perfection. Stop worrying about excellence. Don’t even do ‘good enough’. Stop setting the bar. Go have fun!

It’s fine that I suck at writing, and it’s okay if I never improve, because I’m enjoying the journey while it lasts. Go forth and embrace failure.