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The Importance of Finding Time to Do Nothing

10th August 2022

Thinking is really difficult, which is why so few choose to do it.

Henry Ford

“Time is money” as the old adage goes. Businesses have invested millions into streamlining productivity and efficiency, always with the aim of squeezing as much work out of the smallest amount of time. The exponential growth of quotas, timesheets, efficiency workshops and tech solutions in the last 10 to 15 years bears testament to the importance of this viewpoint.

I – as I frequently seek to do – chose to do the opposite.

I gave my employees two hours a week, and told them to do nothing at all.

Most of us have a routine every day, and I’m no exception. For many, the routine is broadly the same – wake, wash, coffee, commute etc. Routine is one of the core elements of a healthy lifestyle, and even those of us who appreciate a little carpe-diem in our daily life usually have some kind of structure wrapped around their spontaneity.

The benefits are endless. Evidence shows that a certain amount of structure (which varies from person to person I might add) helps reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, and has been proven to increase concentration and focus. On a more practical note, a routine can help us structure our day and plan our activities, work and leisure. Our routines are often bursting at the seams, trying to incorporate the demands of our careers, families and desire for leisure, so the idea of trying to wring out an extra hour a day to do nothing at all may seem a bit preposterous.

But if there is one thing that I’d recommend, it is that we should all try to find one hour a day to add to our daily routine. What for? A period of reflection and mindfulness.

Now those of you who have met me might find it difficult to imagine me engaging in a period of reflection and mindfulness. I think that for many people, mindfulness conjures images of cross-legged yogis in flowing white garments meditating.  Maybe it’s hard to picture me – a late-50s, east-ender turned CEO – meditating in a park or performing sunrise tai chi.

The reality is mindfulness doesn’t have to have anything to do with yoga, meditation or eastern philosophies. Mindfulness can be as simple as sitting on a sofa, alone with your thoughts, or taking a quiet walk through the park. It’s about self-reflection and taking a little bit of time out of your schedule to let your mind run loose and turn over some of the thoughts you’ve had during your day. For each of us, the method may vary, but the goal needs to be the same – to put aside the worries and demands of your routine, and let your mind run.

The benefits are staggering. The American Psychological Association has found that a period of mindful reflection can reduce stress, reduce negative thoughts and ‘dwelling’, increase relationship satisfaction, reduce the severity of emotional reactions, and dramatically increase mental health by reducing the strains that underlie many serious mental health issues like depression and even psychopathy.

Not only will mindfulness bring about improvements in your personal life – it can hugely increase performance in work lives. The same report has found that mindfulness provides substantial boosts to memory, focus and ‘cognitive flexibility’ – the ability to become more adaptive and think outside of the box when faced with complex or stressful tasks.

Mindfulness isn’t just a way of improving personal lives (although it certainly does) – it’s a way of improving an entire business or organisation. CEOs, managers and team leaders should all encourage staff members to engage in a period of mindfulness, as the benefits will have a direct impact on the capacity and capabilities of their employees.

However, this does bring us back to the issue of routine. For many people it’s impossible to find even an hour a week to be able to be alone with their thoughts; and the manager that encourages them to put aside other parts of their routine to do so will not be a particularly beloved one. People don’t like being told what to do with their personal time, and rightly so.

So, what’s the solution?

The solution is to give them the time back from their work schedule, not their personal schedule. You may struggle to encourage employees to sacrifice an hour a week of their personal time to engage in mindfulness, but if you offer them a fully-paid hour out of their work schedule once a week to sit in a park, you may find them much more willing to do so.

Somewhere, there is a team-leader reading this and sweating profusely whilst imagining proposing to senior management that everyone in the company should be given a fully paid hour to do nothing but sit with their thoughts. I’ll admit, it can be a hard sell, but the evidence speaks for itself. That’s why I’ve implemented this policy across my business. Once a week, for two hours, my employees are instructed to engage in mindfulness in whichever way they see fit. I’ve seen the results first hand, and so can you.

If you aren’t quite sure, try it for yourself. Go for a walk through a park today for an hour or so, and let your mind run free. Contemplate your day, and you may enjoy a little peace, find some abstract solutions to your problems, or even discover something profound about yourself in a moment of self-reflection.

After all, as Nietzsche said, “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.”

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