For most of my time in college, I was focused on being as productive as possible at all times. I developed impeccable time management skills, built up my self-discipline, and lived a regimented life that consisted mostly of doing homework.
While, yes, it helped me keep my grades up, and I don’t have any regrets, it did leave me feeling pretty burnt out at the end of the semester. Living like that may have worked for me then, but as I ease into my mid-twenties, I’m trying to find more balance in life.
This balance means taking more time to explore, occasionally treating myself to nice things just because I want to, and, on some days, doing almost nothing.
In the process, I’ve found that this is a real thing that I did not invent (surprise), and it’s called—you guessed it—a Do Nothing Day.
Why do I need a Do Nothing Day?
Each of us needs occasional Do Nothing days for different reasons, and those reasons will depend largely on how you usually spend your time.
For the uber productive, always-on-the-go type of people, it’s important to remember that taking a break is productive. I’ve encountered an astonishing number of people who do not realize that you’ll be both happier and more productive if you don’t work yourself to the bone.
Occasional days off, plenty of sleep, and giving your mind a chance to wander will allow you to relax, but it will also boost your creativity and problem-solving skills. Many of the best ideas and solutions come from unstructured time that is unrelated to the problem that must be solved.
If that doesn’t have you convinced, taking a break will also allow yourself to recommit with more energy and focus in the days after your Do Nothing day. The increased productivity and new perspective on life should more than make up for what might have been done in that day off and convince even the busiest of bees that a Do Nothing day might actually be good for them.
On the other hand, if you have a long list of things that you need or want to do but usually find yourself struggling to make them happen, a Do Nothing day might be just what you need.
“But, wait,” I hear you say, “if I’m already not doing what needs to be done, how will intentionally doing nothing fix that?”
In the times in my life where I’ve struggled to get things done, it’s often largely about mental health. At least in my situation, it wasn’t that I physically couldn’t do it, it’s that I mentally couldn’t do it.
That list of things felt so heavy, so daunting, that rather than chipping away at it, I’d do nothing. The only thing I could handle was just ignoring it completely.
But we all know that the list doesn’t go away when it’s ignored. It sits there, looming, reminding us that we can’t enjoy that thing we’re doing because there are important things that need to be done. Then we feel guilty about the things we aren’t doing and can’t have fun, either. It’s a mess.
Sometimes, it’s hard to work on the to-do list because of burnout. If I’ve been working a little too hard lately and haven’t been giving myself any time at all to rest, my body will eventually rebel and force me to take a few days off. On those days, no matter what I try, it’s a struggle to accomplish much of anything.
You could be in this phase of burnout, and rather than trying to chase after your to-do list and fight your way back to productivity, allowing yourself a full day of rest will actually help you feel ready to get back on the horse.
Taking this day off can help you to explore the relationship between your mental state and your actions (or lack thereof).
Giving yourself permission to do nothing, as opposed to doing nothing but feeling guilty about it, will help you find the answers to some questions that you may not have realized need to be answered. These may include:
What changes (in actions, thoughts, self-talk, etc.) occur when you approach down-time as intentional inaction vs. when you want yourself to do things but can’t make it happen?
What does that conversation with yourself look like?
How can an intentional Do Nothing day build self-compassion?
How can you bring those lessons into the days where you want to do things but can’t?
Giving yourself permission to relax and take time off lessens guilt and negative self-talk. Often, this can make it easier to start acting, as the guilt can be paralyzing. If nothing else, your mood will likely improve.
Give yourself space to explore the emotions and headspace that come with doing nothing and you may find that you learn a lot about your actions, emotions, and how to interact with those things. Introspection is invaluable.
How do I plan a Do Nothing day?
Figure out a date
Now, for most people, weekends are going to be the best time for a Do Nothing day, but if you have the ability, taking a day off of work—maybe a Friday—can be a great idea. I don’t recommend this if taking a day off will make your life harder when you go back to work, but for some, if work is stressful, this is a great move.
Don’t overthink it. Pick a day in your schedule that’s currently free and then refuse to make plans on that day.
If you don’t have any empty days in the next month or two, chances are good that you’re signing yourself up for way more than you really need to. Take a good look at what’s on your calendar and ask yourself which things really matter and which you’re only doing because you feel you should or because someone else wants you to. Make sure you’re living your life.
You may also be chasing your to do list and struggling to get everything done. This is another opportunity to cull the list. Which things really matter? Take off the things that don’t and you’ll find yourself with more time for the things that you actually want. It’s also okay to put everything on hold for a day. Nothing will explode. No, really. It’ll be fine, I promise.
Set some ground rules
Depending on your personality, maybe you’d like to be completely alone on your Do Nothing day. Maybe you’d like to spend time with friends. Everybody is different.
Decide whether you’d like to be alone or not and what your goals are for your Do Nothing day. Are you aiming to reflect? Relax? Recharge? Have fun? Learn? Now, don’t take these “goals” too seriously, but it can be helpful to know what you want. This will help you make decisions about what is and isn’t allowed on the Do Nothing day.
If you’ve decided to spend the day completely alone, make this clear to the people who are most likely to want your time and attention. Refuse to make plans with anyone.
If you’re okay with spending time with others on this day, decide who. Have a few ideas in mind for how you’d like to spend your time together. Does “do nothing” mean hiking? Or does it mean cuddling up in a blanket burrito and listening to music? “Nothing” looks different for everyone.
Make a budget
You don’t have to get too strict, but it’s a good idea to set aside a little bit of money for this day. Maybe you want to spend it on getting food delivered or on a movie rental. Maybe you won’t even touch it.
By deciding ahead of time how much money you can spend, you don’t have to worry about making difficult or stressful decisions on your Do Nothing day. Well, nothing more than pizza vs. sushi.
What do you do on a Do Nothing day?
Yes, it’s called a Do Nothing day, but that isn’t quite literal, mostly because it isn’t possible to do literally nothing at all. You still have to eat and move around a little. So, yes, it is a Do Nothing day, but you’re still going to be doing something.
The aim, though, is for that something to be activities that make you happy and feel generally effortless.
That something may or may not be “productive.” Don’t worry about it. The point of this day is to do what you want to do, but there are a few things to consider when figuring out how to spend your time.
Make a list of ideas
I often find that if I don’t have any ideas, I’ll spend all of my time in bed and really do nothing. If that’s your vibe, great! If that’ll make you feel worse, it can be helpful to have some ideas to pull from for inspiration.
Make a list of things that you enjoy and would feel good about if you spent your time on them. Don’t worry about productivity. The list could include things like reading, taking a bath, plant shopping, kayaking, cooking, or anything else that you like.
If you end up spending the day watching YouTube in bed because that’s what you wanted to do, that’s completely fine. This list is just there in case you decide you want to get up but don’t know what to do once you’re out of bed. No pressure, though.
Make sure you have some good food
The last thing you want on your Do Nothing day is to scrounge around the kitchen trying to figure out which of the sad leftovers you should be eating. Nah. Buy something yummy. Treat yourself.
If you like to cook, stock up on some good ingredients and make yourself something you love. If you don’t like cooking, grab some takeout. Either way, make sure you have good snacks.
Know yourself, love yourself
You know yourself best. If you’re the kind of person who loves alone time, turn off your phone and stay off of social media. If you love to chat, text every friend you can think of. Maybe don’t host a giant party that will leave you exhausted and hungover, but if seeing your friends recharges you, make time to hang out with them.
Don’t watch the clock
Take your Do Nothing day at a leisurely pace. Wake up when your body wants you to. Eat when you’re hungry. Sleep when you feel tired. Don’t worry about what the clock says or try to stick to your usual schedule.
It’s okay to Do Something
I’ve often found that the days that I intend to relax often end up being quite productive. Something about taking the pressure away makes me actually want to work on something that I may have been putting off for a long time.
If you end up working on something productive, that’s okay! Sometimes the thing that I want to do on my do nothing day is list clothes for sale on the internet or put all of my food into jars.
Being productive on your do nothing day isn’t a bad thing, and you may even find that you feel that is what you want to do when given the choice. But if that isn’t what you want, don’t stress about it
Don’t forget about your future self
There are quite a few activities that may feel fun in the moment but will leave you feeling terrible later. In general, it’s best to avoid these.
Eating candy for breakfast might sound fun, but if it leaves you feeling tired and irritable for the rest of your day, is it really worth it? There are plenty of enjoyable things that you can spend your time on without paying a price for it in the future.
Thinking about your to do list is off limits. The world will not fall apart just because you are taking some time to yourself. No offense, but you’re not that important. Give yourself a break.
It can be helpful to do some extra work in the days before a Do Nothing day so that you know that the important things are taken care of and can fully relax.
Yes, you can do little productive things as you want to, but worrying and frantically working and trying to catch up are decidedly out of the question. This is at least as much of a mental day off as it is a physical one.
You’ve got this
As you head into your Do Nothing day, I want to remind you that your self-worth is not tied to your productivity. You have just as much value when you’re relaxing as you do when you’re getting things done.
Don’t overthink it. Your Do Nothing day is about doing what you want.