The art of doing nothing: how to stay productive when WFH

The art of doing nothing has become an almost lost cause. Don’t misunderstand that phrase though, as doing nothing here does not mean sitting and staring off into space, with a blank mind. Doing nothing simply means slowing down and taking some time for yourself. Unwinding from the day to day bustle you call normality in order to give both your mental and physical state a metaphorical time out. Before COVID-19, people felt guilty for taking time out to relax. It is, perhaps, an issue facing more so the self-employed because they are meant to set their own work hours. But even those in 9-5 jobs face the same problem, where people refuse to leave at 5 – just to make a little more progress in their project, or to write a couple more emails to their colleagues. Before they know it, it’s 9 pm; their brain has turned to mush and instead of putting the milk in the fridge, their phone finds a new storage space on the bottom shelf next to the apple juice. It’s like society has placed a blanket of guilt on our shoulders in order to induce productivity – but it’s one of those weighted blankets, so if you don’t shrug it off, you begin to sink, stumble and stutter until you give up altogether. This is known as “burnout”. But, it depends on you to try out and squeeze out the benefits of the weighted blankets and bring positive elements in your life.

Among all the other issues which this pandemic has brought, it has increased pressure for productivity. The idea is that as we have more time (we no longer have to commute, and essentially can set our own hours), we should be able to get more done. As the majority of workers attempt to make the most out of their new remote work lifestyle, many of them are struggling to balance work and free time. Now, if we remember the fact that people struggled to relax in the first place, and we then add a global pandemic into the mix – it becomes a recipe for disaster. 

Just as people schedule their work, they need to find time to unwind. This unwinding will differ from person to person. Perhaps, your way to unwind and relax is to watch brainless tv, to game or to scroll through social media. Perhaps, you already have your own ways to relax. If not, you may be reading this and thinking you’re a lost cause because you can’t turn your brain off, you don’t watch ‘Love Island’ and you will never understand the appeal of ‘Call of Duty’. 

Whether you excel at switching your brain off or have not yet dipped your toe into the water, there are several products and strategies to help you to perfect the art of doing nothing. 

  • CBD products are often used to relieve anxiety and help with insomnia. This option is best for those who struggle in the evening to turn their work brain off and relax. CBD products come in many forms, for example, sweets, teas, CBD oil, tinctures (for oral consumption), balms and even vaping. This may seem daunting, but you can buy a bag of gummies or brew a cup of tea and relax in front of the tv, with your favourite film – an easy addition with potentially huge benefits for your mental state.
  • Essential oils can also help to achieve a stress-free state of mind. Oils such as patchouli, neroli, lavender and ylang ylang are often recommended in order to achieve relaxation. Even dabbing a few drops of lavender on to your shirt collar can make the difference between a stressed state of mind and a peaceful one. Essential oils can help enhance what should already be relaxing moments, such as a bath or before bed when our brains may have the tendency to overthink.
  • If you are someone who lives by a timetable, you could write your plan for the next day in the evening. You could begin scheduling in an hour in the morning or in the evening in order to concentrate on yourself. Starting with an hour will ensure you ease into this new routine without stressing about whether you are taking too much time off. If this has been scheduled into your day, you do not need to worry about feeling guilty as you will have allocated yourself a set window of time to work already. This change will help boost your productivity as you can either choose to look at it as a “treat” for working hard or a necessity in order to work better later in the day. This strategy ensures that you have a set time to do nothing and can be paired with the products from 1 or 2.

These are only a few suggestions, as there are countless ways to encourage yourself to relax and take time for yourself. Try different things, work out what works best for you. Perhaps 2 hours of gaming in the evening is your way to do nothing. Or maybe a pamper evening every week ensures that you do not overwork yourself. Remind yourself that it is not being selfish or narcissistic. Remind yourself that taking half an hour out of your day to do nothing is not going to ruin your progress. Shrug off the guilt blanket, take some “me time” – a form of self-care which is becoming less and less prevalent in society because we’re driven by success and ambition and money. But we can’t continue to strive if we have burned out, it’s like bringing a lighter to a candle with no wick and expecting it to create a flame. Our lives pre-pandemic already faced the issue of burnouts, COVID-19 has simply exacerbated the existing problem; therefore, we must actively fight against it in order to protect our mental and physical health.