FOCUS: Do Nothing

Personal Mastery, Team Learning, Mental Models

I am so busy doing nothing... that the idea of doing anything –
which as you know, always leads to something – cuts into the nothing and then forces me to have to drop everything.
Jerry Seinfeld


I have no idea what this Seinfeld quote actually means, but it makes me laugh – out loud. And when I’m focusing on the idea of doing nothing, sitting and laughing at something I don’t understand is a good start.

So let me back up. If you’re the sort of person who can sit and do nothing easily, stop reading right now. This is addressed to people, like me, who stay busy doing something almost all the time. Some of us have developed a relentless habit of being busy.

Many jobs today, including that of a student, require a high level of activity, day in and day out. Studies are uncovering that this is not something people can continue to do over an extended period. Either the quality of work goes down, or the person gets sick or cynical, quits or fails. Students do have built-in breaks that allow some recovery time before they go back to the non-stopping. What about the rest of us?

Some serious life change, such as the death of a loved one, serious illness or a natural disaster can bring the busyness to a halt. I’m advocating that if we learn how to do nothing, schedule it in and practice it, we could prevent all those bad things, be more focused and energetic when we are busy, and be happier and more effective in the long term.


First, we have to try it. I’ve started scheduling some small pockets of time (10-15 minutes) in my calendar (labeled DN for Do Nothing), which I protect. Then I do something spontaneous when the time comes. Yesterday I looked out the window at the river traffic. Friday I played the piano. Later when I had a little DN time, I called an old friend I hadn’t talked to in months. Today I sat and thought, reflecting on 2013.

When we meditate or do something meditative, it has a powerful effect on our minds and bodies. Richard Brown, M.D., a psychiatrist who has written a book called The Healing Power of the Breath, documents the amazing results to mental and physical health when people simply breathe slowly for five minutes/day. If totally stopping feels really uncomfortable to you, try something like Zen Doodles, or walking meditation. 


Doing nothing has many benefits:

  • Refreshes us – giving us renewed energy
  • Staves off burnout
  • Allows us to reflect on our experience and course correct, if needed
  • Provides time for thoughtful solutions to problems
  • Makes room for creativity
  • Allows us to experience the present instead of being off in the past or the future

I recently learned of two trends that delight me. College students, including football players, are learning that meditation and yoga are antidotes to the rest of their lives, where they are busy and often connected electronically 24/7. Another treat is learning of Tim Ryan, a US congressman from Youngstown, Ohio, who has written a book called The Mindful Nation. He suggests increasing mindfulness and meditation for all of us. With his staff in Washington, DC, he holds meditation sessions before major meetings and votes.

My hope for you in the coming year is that you will learn, grow, serve, and have fun. And that in order to make sure you keep all of those things happening, you will build in some time to Do Nothing!


  • How might you build in some time to DO NOTHING in 2014?
  • When will you start?
  • Besides you, who else will benefit from your slowing down, regrouping?
  • How will you know it’s worthwhile?



Please join me for a 45-minute telegathering to explore DOING NOTHING more deeply Thursday, ,Jan. 23, at noon Eastern (11:00 a.m. Central, 10:00 a.m. MT, 9:00 a.m. Pacific)  1-218-862-1300 PIN 276583.  No need to register….just call at that time!

Read an excerpt from Liberating Greatness, the Whole Brain Guide to an Extraordinary Life, the book Hal and I wrote, at


Reach me: 1-888-907-HOPE (4673)or e-mail I am a personal and executive coach and would be happy to offer you a complimentary coaching session by phone. Each month FRESH VIEWS focuses on a single topic, relates it to one of the five disciplines of a learning community, and offers a coaching tip and a follow-up telegathering. Please forward it to friends and colleagues. My purpose in writing FRESH VIEWS is to nurture, prod and encourage readers to think and talk about these topics with their families, friends and colleagues. Mine is only one view. Multiple conversations may deliver us to insights only hinted at here. Such a process sustains the vitality of learning relationships, learning families, learning organizations and learning communities.

Sharon Eakes | 720 Maple Lane | Sewickley, PA 15143

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720 Maple Lane, Sewickley, PA 15143
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