About last night, Too much to do? Try doing nothing 21-01-18

January 25, 2018

Q: Pam is a wonderful woman – hardworking, and dedicated to her job, the family and our home, but it’s like living with a Bunnings advert. Every time I’m off work, even if it’s only for the weekend, she has an endless list of chores for me to complete – mow the lawn, assemble flat-packed furniture, hang a picture, paint the kitchen, wash the car … I’m happy to do my fair share, but I’d also like some quiet time, reading, watching sport, or just veging. To her, sitting down means being lazy. How do I get some time out?

A: Many of us do seem to be endlessly busy. What used to be called the Protestant work ethic is now ubiquitous. In addition to working unpaid overtime, maintaining a house and garden, ferrying kids to after-school activities, and keeping fit, modern technology has brought us the added pressure of keeping up with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other cyber demands. As a result, many of us are compromising our health by never getting enough sleep, and not taking time out to smell the roses.

Because being busy is seen as a virtue we rarely question this, but it can appear that some people spend every moment doing things in order to avoid thinking about what really matters. They rush through life helter-skelter and then slide into the grave wearing a smug smile. This is fine, if it is how you want to live, but some busy people also judge those who prefer a slower pace, and have different priorities.

In long-term relationships, this over-active mindset can become a barrier to making space for love-making and intimacy. The challenge is to find a balance.

Simply being busy is not necessarily being effective or productive. Manfred Kets De Vries. a distinguished professor of leadership development and organisational change, is the author of Doing Nothing and Nothing To Do: The Hidden Value of Empty Time and Boredom. He says that “slacking off, and setting aside regular periods of ‘doing nothing’ may be the best thing we can do to induce states of mind that nurture our imagination and improve our mental health”.

This is an ancient wisdom with which we have lost touch. Taoism valued something called “Wu wei” (doing nothing).
“Introspection and reflection have become lost arts as the temptation to ‘just finish this’ or ‘find out that’ is often too great to resist. But working harder is not necessarily working smarter,” says Kets De Vries.

So, how do you convey this truth to Pam? You need to talk to her, not as a whinge, and not making her wrong, but in a way that expresses how you feel, and asserts your right to a different perspective. It might be useful to show her the scientific evidence for the benefits of being less busy.

Pam has tasks that she wants performed, and is not able, or willing, to do herself. Discuss this list, and work with her to prioritise the tasks. Commit to doing certain jobs, but ask her to allow you to do them in your own way, and at your own pace. For example, you might agree to paint the kitchen over Easter, but insist that you want to take any time left over for yourself.

It is important, especially at the beginning, that you do what you promise to do, so that Pam can trust you, and leave you to it. Do not resort to passive aggression, dragging everything out, as in the humourless meme: “When you ask a man to do something, trust him to do it. Don’t remind him every day for the next six months.”

Pam may need to accept that some things will not happen as quickly as she would like, but she needs to respect your right to allocate your time in a way that suits you.

Once this ceases to be an emotional battlefield, you might be able to encourage Pam to prioritise her own to-do list, and invite her to join you in some down time – take a walk, go out for coffee, or just sit down and be in the moment.

Email your questions to abtlastnight@gmail.com

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