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The Importance of Doing Nothing

The Importance of Doing Nothing by Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries (INSEAD Knowledge)

In today’s networked society we are at risk of becoming victims of information overload. Introspection and reflection have become lost arts as the temptation to ‘just finish this’ or ‘find out that’ is often too great to resist. But working harder is not necessarily working smarter. In fact slacking off and setting aside regular periods of ‘doing nothing’ may be the best thing we can do to induce states of mind that nurture our imagination and improve our mental health.

Our lives have become defined by busyness. Look around you at the train station, in cafes, out on the street, people are glued to their mobile handset or tablet.

I recently asked an executive I once coached how many emails she received a day. “Five hundred,” she told me. “But I don’t read any of them. If I did, I wouldn’t be doing my job.”

The challenge, she said wasn’t attaining information but “pushing it away so I don’t suffer from information overload. I need time to think.”

When I was a child growing up in the West Indies, saying the phrase “I am bored" was often met with “Go outside and play with your brothers” from my mother. Of course, I did what Mom said, and my brothers and together, we got into all sort of mischief. Climbing trees, running around the…

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