Home HR & Learning Technology Developing the Art of Idleness

Developing the Art of Idleness

OPINION PIECE: Fiona Campbell discusses how Idleness can indeed be a Virtue


With the speed the world is moving, are we forgetting the value of making space in our mind to think?

Some definitions of the word idle:

Without purpose or effect

Spend time doing nothing

Run slowly while disconnected from a load

Today, because we all lead very busy lives, we are in danger of losing the ‘Art of Being Idle’. We are always in a rush, jumping from one thing to the next. Setting goals, talking about what you are going to achieve moving faster and faster through life.

When everyone around you is so busy, it becomes compelling to keep up the same pace.

But what if we are all busy doing nothing? Caught up on a treadmill of action that seems impossible to get off. In this context it is easy to forget that it really is ok to stop and do nothing. Your brain requires to process information and you do this by having thinking time to ponder about things.

The average person speaks between 110 and 150 words per minute and thinks about 400 words per minute, so you don’t have to keep physically busy for your mind to work. Your brain will keep going even when you are doing nothing.

Your ability to process information consciously is much less than your ability to process information unconsciously. That is why solutions to a problem ‘spring to mind’ when you stop thinking about it consciously and let your ‘unconscious’ do the work.

It’s only when you stop thinking about a name you can’t remember, that a few moments later it appears. The art of idleness is a powerful business skill to develop because this is where creativity lives.

Would the Universal Law of Gravitation have been discovered if Sir Isaac Newton had been running past the tree texting on his mobile when an apple fell from a tree?

Even Archimedes was in his bath when he had his ‘Eureka’ moment!

As a business leader it is important that you take time to give your brain space to become creative. The more you slow down, stop and breath, the more you start to notice things around you and the better your brain works.

If you are having difficulty making a decision about something, often the best thing to do is not to make a decision at that time. You don’t always have to be charging ahead and filling your mind with constant busy thoughts.

Some of the best decisions are made when you make space in your mind to allow lots of choices to develop.

One of the drawbacks of being idle enough to become creative is, that this process of becoming creative does not start until you have become really bored.

People become impatient and want things to happen fast just at the time your mind is doing the opposite.

Moving past the boredom is where the magic begins as you watch all your solutions and choices appear. In fact, often you get choices that you would never have thought about had you rushed your natural creative thinking process.

Business is changing and the definitions of a business leader are also changing. According to some of the latest research, creative thinking is now a highly sought after skill.

The days of being chained to a desk are over. Just because someone is not at a desk does not mean that their brain is not working.

Sitting back and doing nothing is often the time when the most brilliant idea to take your company forward will appear.

So, if you are struggling to make a decision, say to yourself “ok brain you sort this out while I go off and make myself a wee cup of tea”.

Opinion Piece: Fiona Campbell