Strategic Idleness

shutterstock_134514503 - CopyIn a recent survey in the US, 83% of people said they had no time for ‘relaxation or thinking’ at all. In a knowledge economy, what hope can we have as individuals or as corporations if we’re not thinking. More specifically, there’s a type of thinking that is more under threat than any other kind: the thinking that happens when we’re relaxed or idle. Martin Heidegger made the distinction between calculative and meditative thinking. Calculative thinking is focused, activity-driven and outcome-oriented; meditative thinking is more relaxed, internal and expansive. When we’re busy, we employ calculative thinking. When we’re consuming reality TV or YouTube videos of dancing cats, we’re not really thinking at all. Meditative thinking only happens when we are neither producing nor consuming; in other words, when we are idle. My concern is that the twin drives to produce and consume are squeezing idleness out of our lives; and idleness is important because it is the origin of meditative thinking.

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Embarrassed about being busy

Embarrassed‘How are you?’

The chances are high that your response would be ‘busy’. Most of us today lead hectic lives, crunching through emails, racing between meetings and juggling competing demands. Overwhelmed by it all, our busyness can come to dominate our work, lives and relationships. Continue reading…

The Busyness Law

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If you saw a man collapse in front of you, in a clearly distressed state and needing help, would you stop and help? The answer is that it depends. In a famous experiment, social psychologists John Darley and Daniel Batson ran an experiment with people who might be expected to help: trainee priests. Just before leaving for the lecture, some trainee priests were told they were late, others had plenty of time. The effects were dramatic. Only 10% of those trainee priests who were late stopped to help the collapsed man (who they had no way of knowing was an actor). Of those with more time, 63% stopped!

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Big problems and busyness

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In the 1940s Enrico Fermi was listening to other distinguished physicists discuss the possibility of extra-terrestrial life. Given an enormous universe, it seems scientifically unlikely that life has only occurred on this planet. It appears, for example, that planets orbit most stars that could sustain life. It also seems that, when life evolves, it is likely to produce intelligent beings given enough time. Finally, they argued, an intelligent species capable of exponential reproduction could colonise a galaxy in a million years. At this point Fermi stepped into the conversation and asked ‘So where is everybody?’ The question ‘Why haven’t we found any aliens yet?’ has become known as Fermi’s Paradox.

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Taking the risk to move beyond busy

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There’s a lot of insecurity in the job market these days, so it’s natural to want to play it safe; and the safest option is normally to do what everyone else is doing.  To hide ourselves in the herd.  So what does this mean?  It means to cram our days with activity, to respond instantly to every message and request; to be always on and always available.  To race from meeting to meeting, proclaiming in our body language or our conversations how busy we are; because hat’s what everyone else is doing.  Anything less would make us stand out; anything less would exposed us and put us at risk.

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Hot emails and emotional control

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Abraham Lincoln got mad at times.  When he did, he had an interesting technique to deal with it. 

He’d write what he called a ‘hot letter’.  In an article published yesterday in the New York Times, Maria Konnikova describes how Lincoln, for example, wrote a hot letter to General George C. Meade to express his fury and frustration that he’d allowed Robert E. Lee to escape Gettysburg.  He would pour all his bile into these letters, then mark them ‘Never sent. Never signed.’ Continue reading…