Succeed by Doing Nothing?


Succeed by Doing Nothing?



The year was 1665, and the Great Plague was raging through the city of London. Upwards of 15% of the population died from what we now know as the bubonic plague. Experts estimate that over 100,000 people perished. 


Knowing this, who in their right mind would refer to these as the years of wonder? The answer is historians, specifically, biographers of Isaac Newton. Working from his home in Cambridge, to avoid the plague, Newton took the summer of 1665 through the spring of 1667 off from his studies and responsibilities at Trinity College. That’s right – Isaac was working from home. Freed from the restrictions of limited curriculum and rigors of university life, Newton had the time and space to develop his theories on calculus, optics and the laws of motion and gravity.


As Newton said later in life, “Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.



A friend of mine told me this story. He was sitting in his office one day, simply staring straight ahead. A colleague from the home office in the U.K. was passing by, noticed him in this somewhat unusual state, and asked “What are you doing?” He replied honestly, “I’m thinking”. His colleague got a big smile on his face and said, “Good, you Americans should do more of that.”


The reason this story stuck with me was I realized he was right. As stated in a Forbes article entitled Why It’s Okay To Do Nothing Sometimes for True Success., the author, Sarah Jeanne Browne says, “Often, we feel lazy if we stop to rest. But we are unable to sustain perfectionism. Instead, you should simplify your life and make your priorities more about purpose. Motivation will come from meaning. Do not feel like a failure for feeling like you need a break.” 


If you don’t give yourself time to do nothing, you’ll have nothing to give. Everything takes time. Water doesn’t boil immediately. When cooking, to extract the best flavors, you often must reduce the liquid to create the sauce. By concentrating, you get to the essence.


As explained by Ms. Browne, breaks lead to breakthroughs. I know that all of us can recall a time when we found a solution to a problem only after we’ve rested and recovered from our efforts. Rest doesn’t need to mean lying flat on your back and taking a nap. Although it sometimes works for me. Rest can be different for different people. A break is anything that gives you a mental and sometimes physical respite from the normal routine. 


If you’re like me, you’ll admit that often, we feel lazy and even guilty if we stop to rest. However, it is impossible to sustain perfectionism. If you feel like you need a break, you probably do – just don’t confuse this with procrastination. If you’re truthful with yourself, you’ll know the difference.


Sometimes we need to force ourselves to stop. We are slaves to the calendar and the to-do list, often mistaking activity for productivity. If you find yourself having trouble taking a break, you need to put it in your calendar. Look at your schedule and determine when you should stop. It’s easy. We all know when, during the day, we start to lag. We know what can be rescheduled and what can’t. Start there. Pick the best times and put a break right on your calendar. Don’t accept meetings. Don’t schedule phone calls. If you’re someone who has trouble relaxing, think of something you like to do and do it. Reading, gardening, cooking, working out – whatever floats your boat. And above all – turn off the phone and silence your email alerts.


As reported in Psychology Today, “Great ideas and discoveries don’t come from thinking or doing, but from being.”