ISSUE NUMBER 123 | August 22, 2016 
The Importance of Doing "Nothing"
A couple of weeks ago, I was returning home from a client engagement and found myself with an hour to kill in the airport. I could have spent it in highly productive fashion - returning emails or calls, editing documents, nudging colleagues, making lists.  Free wi-fi was at my fingertips and there were any number of things I could have accomplished.
But instead, I chose to do nothing.
Now, don't get me wrong. When I say nothing, I don't mean I sat there like a lump. I took some deep, regenerative breaths. I reflected on the meeting just accomplished and gave myself a mental pat on the back for a job well done. I imagined how my client might expand on the information I'd shared. Then, I allowed my mind to wander further. I thought of other clients and their work, I thought about my own business and how it might grow and change. I toyed with ideas for my next book.
I thought about many other things as I sat there - not documenting, not checking things off the list, not worrying about how I was spending my time. And when the hour was done, I felt refreshed, inspired and creative.
This isn't an unusual phenomenon. I remember reading an article about the actor John Lithgow a few years ago, in which he talked about the importance of taking a walk every day and letting his mind wander. He explained that by giving himself time and permission to "do nothing," he became more generative and creative in his thinking. In fact, he credits his walks with the inspiration to become a successful children's book author in addition to being an actor.
There seems to be an increasing pressure in our work society to constantly be doing "something" in order to be productive. Perhaps it's a holdover from farm and factory work, in which idleness was directly counter to productivity. Perhaps it's an unpleasant side effect of the Internet age, where we actually do have the capacity to be doing "something" all the time.
But just because we're busy doesn't mean we're being our most productive selves. When we break away from the constant feeling that we need to be doing "something" and give ourselves time and permission to do nothing, we're giving our brains the chance to shift gears, think differently, and be more creative. This is what allows us to come up with those "ah-ha" moments, those brilliant new ideas, those new connections that can push our work light-years ahead.
So next time you're stuck in an airport, or contemplating your work to-do list on a Sunday afternoon, or simply feeling fatigued at the day-to-day routine, give yourself the time and space to do nothing, even if it's only for an hour. Don't worry about generating a concrete idea, just enjoy the mental musing time and see where the road leads you. (And if you end up writing a book, I want a signed copy!)


Kris Putnam-Walkerly is a global philanthropy advisor and was recently named one of "America's Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers." She will be speaking next at Exponent Philanthropy's Annual Conference on September 28th in Chicago on "High Risk, High Return Philanthropy", and is the featured speaker at the North Carolina Network of Grantmaker's Health Legacy Foundation Board Summit on October 17th in High Point, NC.

"Our evaluation work with Putnam was essential to supporting one of the most significant grantmaking endeavors our foundation has ever had. Kris helped our board see the importance of looking beyond the grant award itself, and we are looking forward to doing more evaluations like this as our organization matures."
~Alison Belfrage, Executive Director, Ohio State Bar Foundation

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