Time for Nothing

TAoN No. 71(a): Why you should make space for "off leash," recurring-nothing time on your calendar

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The Prompt: Put an anti-appointment on your calendar.

Today I want to say something about nothing.

Specifically, I want to follow up my recent DealBook piece about the importance of taking (good) time off from work. That piece mentioned the Shabbat strategy — borrowing Judaism’s mandated weekly day of rest and taking one day a week off from technology, screens and/or work — championed by the writer and filmmaker Tiffany Shlain in her noted book 24/6.

I didn’t have space to mention this recent interview of Shlain by On Being’s Krista Tippett, in which she talked about how more than a decade of tech Shabbat practice had made her realize that her screen-free Saturday is actually her “most creative day,” specifically because it made time for her to go “off leash.”

“All the ideas come on Saturday. And I think about that a lot because, as a filmmaker, when am I feeling most juicy and creative? And it’s when my mind gets to go off leash, and it’s not responding to things on my screens. It’s just doing its own thing.”

It seems counter-intuitive when you’re talking about that feeling of mental and creative freedom, but part of the power of the tech Shabbat as Shlain practices is it is that it’s non-negotiable. This is time off that must be taken. “You can’t cancel Shabbat,” she says.

Speechwriter Sarah Hurwitz made a similar point in an episode of the Happiness Lab podcast focused on the “day of rest” as an example of the happiness wisdom of the ancients. Discussing her memoir Here All Along, focused on her Jewish faith, she told host Laurie Santos that giving up control is part of the point.

It’s not just about rest, or a short-term fix to “rejuvenate so you can crush even harder,” she said. It’s about “stop, cease, off,” taking a clean break from the secular workday world that can’t be negotiated or postponed.

Most of us routinely accept the non-negotiable dictates of a work schedule — the appointments, the deadlines, the meetings. But somehow it feels much harder to block out what I guess I’ll call recurring-nothing time — time free of work or other outside obligation, time off leash, a kind of anti-appointment — and really honor that commitment.

Maybe the Sabbath idea seems daunting because it’s an entire day. But if so, you can still borrow a scaled-down version of the idea, and schedule smaller (but still non-negotiable) chunks of off-leash time. Whatever period of time you can swing, what really matters is to be rigorous about observing it, and making it truly “feel different from the rest of the week,” Hurwitz said. Quality is more important than quantity.

Part of the payoff will be knowing that, counter to the familiar feeling of being time-starved, you’ve always got this off-leash time waiting for you. Instead of an obligation, make it something to look forward to — an opportunity for a rare feeling of, as Santos put it, having a little “time affluence.”

More/related:

  • I really enjoyed and learned from this conversation between Kara Loewenthal and Simone Seol, analyzing and challenging the way work productivity has become linked to self-worth — sometimes at the expense of what Loewenthal at one point refers to as “freedom to rest.”

  • I’ve been checking out the discussion in Austin Kleon’s “Read Like An Artist” Book Club via Literati of Jenny Odell’s widely praised How To Do Nothing. I admire both Odell and Kleon, each of whom have of addressed today’s subjects of downtime and creativity in useful ways.

  • [Note: This post was supposed to go out yesterday but I ran into a technical glitch! Probably dosn’t matter, but just saying: In the future there will be a bonus post for subscribers on Thursday, not Friday.]


In other news


Okay that’s it!

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