Monday, 27 July 2015

The Art of Wasting Time

Dolce Far Niente - John William Waterhouse

I have often thought myself to be a Jack-of-all-Trades, the silent "Master of None", always quite audible to my mind. I was an all rounder at school (except sports which I forgoed as soon as I realised that my lack of co-ordination, read concentration, meant that I would have to work extra hard to be just average.

Since leaving University I have walked through my professional career believing that I am decent at most things I try my hand to, but not especially exceptional at anything. I have since realised that this is perhaps an ingrained mental belief in “not being good enough” that finds safety in hippity hopping between skills and completing them with passable ability rather than stepping out of the safe box and owning brilliance in something or other.

It is a classic trait of insecurity and something I am now trying to rectify. In leaving a traditional, full time, salaried job, I am having to learn to fight against all these learnt instincts. My life and career is now what I make of it and I need to believe I am the best person to do X, Y, Z.

This is especially true in the novel and play that I am writing. For the best friends of Jack-of-all-Trades are Unfinished Projects, Procrastination and the skill of Wasting Time.

The amount of times I have said I wanted to do something whether that be enter a particular writing competition, join a rowing club, a drama club, do the three peaks challenge etc and not completed it are innumerable. Sometimes it has taken me three hours to make a phone call to, for example, the dentist to make an appointment. My talent in time wasting is exemplary.
Looking into this further and researching my own patterns of behaviour in order to overcome them has become paramount in overcoming this flaw. This flaw which I know to be completely changeable; a habit which can be broken.

Having said that I have also recognised the need to be kinder to myself, for there are some “time-wasting” activities which are beneficial, if they are part of a balance of organisation and kept promises. The artist Waterhouse painted a picture called Dolce Far Niente - a famous Italian concept which basically translates as the true delight in doing nothing - something which has been much explored by artists and writers. But this is only delightful when it is enjoyed in conjunction with time spent doing a lot.

Here is what I have learnt so far:

Rising early to begin a work day with a list of tasks to complete, my hands will wander to my social media tabs in the morning. And bang. Three hours have gone and I have not written a word or sent an email. The whirling, wondrous vortex of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram can render an inquisitive mind aimless with choice and indecision.

Since part of my job is to undertake social media strategies for clients – something I can own up to being good at being good at purely because of aforementioned enquiring mind – completely disengaging myself from it is not an option. However, there is a need to set parameters and timings and not to follow every little interest that piques me until I have 20 tabs up.

Following on from this is the hurdle of too much choice. Sometimes I will sit for hours, skim reading six different blogs, picking up a book off my shelf that I had forgotten I have, trying to read all my emails even the ENDLESS newsletters I have subscribed to, thinking about my plans for the week and messaging friends, worrying about a family member, bookmarking several furniture sites for something I want to buy for my house, checking Happn, worrying about what I am meant to be doing and then forgetting all of it and having to start again. Closing all the tabs.

Modern life requires us to multitask at points. I realise this, but we cannot Рeven the smartest I believe Рcomplete any of them if our thoughts are constantly hopping between a hundred tasks. We are dragging our poor brains from item to item within milliseconds, not giving them enough time to sit with a particular task and bring forth a solution. Like the clich̩ of a child in a sweetshop, there is much activity but no choices made.

Other things I do to waste time that are not beneficial include cleaning – sometimes my entire house, sometimes a surface. It is like the physical activity of putting things in order tricks my brain in to thinking it has accomplished something. There is a time and a place for this and I am all in favour of order, I just wrote a post on Clutter after all, but when you are trying to accomplish a task such as writing a business plan, cleaning the kitchen floor will not help.

Eating is another example – not at meals or for an 11am cup of coffee, but the aimless meander to open and close the fridge door expecting to find a solution in there. It is unlikely unless you are writing a cook book.

The art of time wasting is to waste time doing things that will enrich your soul or clear your brain or calm you down or raise your energy. Whatever it is you need most, this then becomes not wasted time but hours that enrich the productivity of your “work time” and in fact make your overall life more joyful.

Arianna Huffington quotes Marcus Aurelius in her book Thrive "People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills... There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind... So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself."

Think of it like your down time is a sorbet between meals, leaving your brain palate clear and clean for what comes next. For me these things include long walks – especially in nature, meditation and yoga, reading good books, watching Ted Talks, Napping – I am a serious advocate of the nap, pampering, meeting friends and talking everything out, going to watch talks or plays or live music, baths. The time spent in our "down-time" helps our minds all the time. Helps us work better and helps us love it and focus upon it and realise it is part of our whole life - until our mind becomes the retreat Aurelius mentions, able to cope with anything.

In conclusion, I believe the Art of Wasting Time is much like the art of spending your “work” time wisely. It is about Mindfulness, a trendy word in the media at the moment, but to me what it brings to my life and my work is being present in what I am doing in that exact moment. It is concentration, focus and welcoming the gaps in between for thought about what you are currently doing in that moment instead of trying to fill it with a hundred other tasks that eventually distract you from what you were originally doing. This modern habit of trying to think and do a million things at once renders us unproductive in our working lives and unsatisfied in leisure as we fail to enjoy the moment we are in.

Don't waste the moments... they are what life is.

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