For a while now, I’ve spent a lot of time doing nothing. I discovered its importance a few years ago by accidentally eliminating it from my life in search of maximal productivity. Only then did I realize, doing nothing is essential.
But I’ve never been able to put into words why doing nothing is so important. I used to bluntly advertised the slogan, “Doing nothing is productive” as part of my personal brand but the oxymoron was always met with frustration. People asked me “why”, “why is doing nothing productive?”
Several months later, I realized doing nothing is essential for the same reason play is essential for the same reason routine is essential: they create space.
Doing nothing creates the time for space, routine creates the energy for space, and play stretches the limits of that space. I believe these three things are exceptionally undervalued in today’s world.
Almost Everything is Noise
Here’s a list of things I no longer concern myself with:
- The News
- Any type of “extracurricular” club or group
- Fake Friends
- What people think about me and/or what I’m doing
I used to feel a strong pull towards being one of those people who has something meaningful to say about everything. Now I prefer to say less and do more. I revel in the bliss of being ignorant and uninformed on many topics so I can think deeply about the ones that actually matter to me. But I get it. In a society that puts doing it all on a pedestal, it’s hard to be an essentialist.
I attended a very pre-professional university and one thing that always frustrated me was that people wore busyness as a badge of honor. It was all about who was taking more classes, who was applying to more jobs, or who was doing more extracurriculars, which ended up being both figuratively and literally a contest of who was dying more.
After my freshman year, I quit all of the clubs that I joined because I realized none of them were really important to me. I’ve never felt particularly busy even though I graduated with a dual degree and worked part-time throughout college because having control of my time was a priority for me.
Any productivity guru will tell you that time is the most important, nonrefundable resource you have but what they don’t tell you is that cramming as many activities as possible into your schedule does not mean you are using your time effectively.
To really use our time effectively we should only spend it on that which is truly essential. Almost everything is noise.
Trim the Fat
I struggle the most in practicing essentialism with my own hobbies and my self-imposed projects. I have too many interests but I love my curiosity as it helps me explore and engage with the world. I love projects with a passion only those slightly afflicted with workaholism will understand. As a result, I have been consistently bad at piling too much on my plate. But how many things can a person meaningfully work on at once? The answer is not many.
Here was a list of my hobbies/projects before reading Essentialism:
- Learn how to cook fancier meals
- Learn how to make fancy bread
- Practice reading and speaking French
- Learn a new language (either Spanish or Italian)
- Practice speaking Chinese with my grandma
- Build a capsule wardrobe
- Consistently write blog posts for my website
- Consistently create YouTube videos for 2 channels.
- Write my first song for the piano
- Practice playing classical music
- Make background music for my videos
- Improve my coding skills.
- Read and take notes on lots of books.
- Write a book.
After reading Essentialism this is what’s left:
- Consistently make at least one video/week for my personal development YouTube channel
- Write for my book, almost every day
By reading and taking notes on books, then writing book-inspired essays that provide the words for my videos like the ones you’re listening to right now, I can indulge several of my interests with a single focus, my YouTube channel. As for the book, I just couldn’t get rid of that one. It’s too much fun.
But what happened next absolutely baffled me. Everything came into focus. Even though I love food, music, and languages, dropping those and other superfluous hobbies gave my mind a razor-sharp focus. I wake up with a head full of words, but instead of the normal scattered thoughts, I find myself drawn to pen and paper, words already flowing for one of my two priorities. I’m not going to lie and say the transition was easy. It was definitely hard to get rid of those other goals I had because part of me really wants to work on them. But all of me wants to work on these two essential projects, and trimming the fat was profoundly freeing.
I naively expected that essentialism was only valuable in its ability to agglomerate time for fewer projects, but the true value I’m seeing is clarity of mind. Having only two projects means I can think with more depth on each of them, without feeling guilty for neglecting others. This finding makes me want to trim even more so all of my thoughts and energy can be funneled towards a single focus. That being said, I’m not ready to give up either my YouTube or my book at the moment. But maybe, from now on, I’ll focus on only one essential project at a time. I’m curious to see what would happen.
For my 8 key takeaways from the book Essentialism, check out my video here.