Doing Nothing is Very Efficient

Doing nothing is very efficient 125x93

Doing nothing is very efficient 200x185How can I think with all these voices in my head?

Life today has too many distractions, and I just recently uncovered yet another destructive modern distraction – the… dum da dah… PODCAST. Oh yes, believe me, those podcasts are an insidiously destructive evil force upon your ability to work. They are also an amazing source of many interesting, even inspirational, things.

I am a creative person, and I need to use my imagination a lot. I write software during the day and fiction at night. Both of my writing needs require logic, structure, and a fairly impressive level of creativity. Except, it appeared I was running low on that creativity juice as I just have had a really hard time “being creative” for a few months now. I would sit down with plenty of time to get the job done, push and strive to get work out, and when I was forced to stop, it seemed I had done very little overall. This is a big problem for both of my professions.

At first I thought I was spending too much time surfing the internet, which I was doing a bit more than usual; however, surfing the internet, looking at stuff turned out to be yet another symptom of my real problem. In fact, I only discovered the real source of my problem by, well to be truthful, running out of podcast voices to fill my head. Once I had “caught up” with the current production schedule for the podcasts I was listening to, I was forced to wait a week or two for the next show. Once all three of my feeds had run dry, I suddenly had an upswing in creativity juices. Being the analytical person I am, I spotted the association and then started some experiments on myself. The results were surprising.

First, put aside the idea I was listening to podcasts all day, every day, even at work. I was not. I ride the bus to work, and I have a short drive to and from the bus stop to my house and a short walk to and from the bus stop to my office. Normally, I didn’t listen to much for my daily commuting, maybe the radio in the car, nothing on the bus, and nothing at all while walking to work. I had a Kindle but I only read that once or twice a week on the bus and usually only read it at the gym while walking on the treadmill or stationary bike. So, my days had essentially an hour of general wakeful silence in the morning going to work, and a semi-wakeful hour of silence on the way home in the evening. I would read for thirty minutes on my Kindle every day at the gym.

I had a smart phone and tablet. But, I don’t have games installed on them for a reason. I used them for keeping track of my calendar and other office notes, only. They were tools for getting stuff done, and I purposefully kept them that way.

I had never listened to podcasts and barely knew what they were. Then, I became a bestselling author and started getting interview requests. Naturally, one of them finally came in as a recorded podcast interview instead of just a series of written questions or a telephone conversation. I knew in general what a podcast was, but I never bothered to listen to them. I wanted to be at least comfortable with the format of the podcast I was going to be on, so I bought a podcast app for my phone and started listening to the earlier episodes of the show I was going to be interviewed on as part of my pre-interview research.

It seemed logical that I used that commute time to listen to these podcasts; after all it was “dead air” time, right? Oh how very wrong I was. I loved the podcast show. I had a paid application that was very smart, and poking around, I discovered almost all radio shows now put out their entire show, commercial free, as podcasts after they air. There are a few radio shows I loved to listen to, yet never had the time to actually listen to the radio for the entire show. And the very nice podcast application generously helped me find and connect to those beloved radio shows’ podcast streams. Having to miss up to half of a good show was always annoying but just part of life. Now my phone could be a more enjoyable tool. I could listen to podcasts while commuting.

It almost goes without saying that I started listening to the few radio shows I loved from their very first show. Oh how wonderful it was! Each day I heard at least two whole shows totally complete from beginning to end, no commercials, and all while commuting. As I listened, I filed many facts and ideas away for future work or research. Day after day, for months, I listened. Next, I started listening at the gym instead of reading; it was so much easier, just like the siren songs of old I was lulled into a state of self-destructive bliss.

For months, I enjoyed all those radio voices of my favorite reporters, journalists, and scientists talking away in my head from the time I left home all the way to my desk, even in the elevators. I would pause them, start working, and come gym time, simply plug in and let them continue, maybe even repeating the prior five minutes just to remind me where we were. After the gym, I hit pause and went back to work. At the end of the day, in went the ear plugs and the external voices just flowed directly into my head.

Hundreds of episodes later, I finally caught up with the current time for all of those shows. I wasn’t sad. In fact, I was happy, I had heard far more than I ever expected to; vast reaches of science and technology had been brought into my world, and strange twists of psychology were now part of my lexicon. Interestingly, my word counts at night shot up. At work, things that had been difficult to comprehend suddenly started making sense, and the features I needed to write started rolling out of my head at their normal rate.

A week passed, and a little blinking light on my phone told me I had five new shows. Excited by the new episodes, I listened to them over the next few days. My word count dropped; the features in the code at work became a little blurry. All caught up with the shows, I was back to normal. The following day my creative endeavors again sped up. That was a pattern, and my programming instincts and finely tuned pattern detection senses alerted me that something was up. The next time some episodes came up the pattern repeated.

And there it is; that “dead air” time was actually being used. I had to pay attention for a few weeks, but I discovered that all that silence was important to my abilities to think clearly. I suspect the same is true for most people. You see, I found that fresh from an evening of writing the current adventures of my characters, and then sleeping on them, the “dead air” time in the morning on the way to work was actually time I spent contemplating my fictional characters’ current dilemmas. I considered all the current facts, timelines, plots, and other narrative elements and semi-planned that night’s work. On the ride home, my mind filled with code and complex inter-system behaviors, I continued to work on the complex systems until I was almost home planning out the following day’s efforts. By taking away that “dead air” time, I actually was pushing all that planning and analysis into the hours when I need it to be already done.

In short, it is actually more productive to give yourself thirty minutes to an hour of “nothing to do” quiet time twice a day. It is during this quiet time that you can consider what needs to happen next and simply rest from the otherwise overly busy modern day.

I still love my radio shows, and I still plan on listening to their podcasts. Only now, I will allocate time to listen to them, just like I would allocate time to go see a movie or watch a particularly interesting television show.

  • Robin Lythgoe

    In this day and age of multi-tasking, I find this info very interesting and useful. When there are piles of things to do, it’s tempting to try to do at least two things at once, and there is plenty of “stuff” to fill up every spare minute of our lives—and then some! One week of 20 minute meditations before work helped me feel more relaxed and focused. Then I got caught up in the rush (and oops, sickness!) of the holidays. That and quiet time are essential. I’ve actually found one instance of multi-tasking that actually works: mindless chores + thinking about my current WIP.

    Long live quiet time!

    • Robin I hear you loud and clear. I’m really enjoying having my mind back online. That quiet time really is important for my creative good functioning. Thanks for reading!

  • Sherry Laflamme

    Love the Golden Threads “duo-oligy” (note: not trilogy). Hmmm, just waiting…

    • So pushy…dang I’m trying to make it great. Working on it right now as a matter of fact. 🙂 Well, not right now, or right then, because I’m here, but, I’m getting to it in a moment…BTW did you know a moment is defined as ninety seconds? Okay almost now (which will be then, when you read this) getting back to writing the fall of Allornia to the Nhia-Samri.

  • Joy Wilson

    I have never listened to a podcast. They sound like something I need to avoid. I have my first Kindle and I am slowly becoming adjusted to its intrusion into my life. I value my quiet time.
    I am an avid reader. I am waiting for _Thread_Skein_ somewhat patiently. When I am unhappily and rudely torn from a world I am inhabiting With Great Interest Because The Author Has NOT Finished the Next Book, I can console myself by rereading the preceding volume(s). Obviously, this only works with excellent authors. I might not be so accommodating were it not for the fact that I am between book one and book two! Thank you for the pleasure your books have given me. I look forward to the fruits of your future quiet times.

    • Joy thank you so much for the inspiration. I have been posting snippets of the ongoing work on book three onto the Facebook page for the Golden Threads ( (link is external)). I got stuck last week because of a family move. Happy to report that a week later all the stuff and shuffling is finished and I’m back on my main system. I’ve been having to do a lot more research than I originally planned for, but I am loving it. Lately I have been studying desert survival and all the horrible things that can go wrong in a deep desert environment. :^) I have five more chapters to go before the book is ready for the editors!

      Again thanks for the kind words!

      + Leeland

  • J.D. Hallowell

    I agree – the hours I spend “doing nothing” are some of the most truly productive ones.