Increase Your Productivity by Engaging in “dolce far niente”

The headline in the WSJ story caught my attention immediately:

How Being More Productive Starts With Doing Nothing

If it’s true, given my mastery of doing nothing, my productivity should be ready to explode.

The article, written by Annemarie Dooling, offers some suggestions on the best ways to “do nothing” Dooling notes that even brief timeouts help the brain reinforce long-term learning and productivity. You come out of downtime able to learn more, and can access that learning faster.

Here are five activities Dooling offers as a way to ease yourself into doing nothing:

  • take a long shower – who doesn’t love taking a shower, as long as it’s a hot one…
  • play a game without keeping score – this one might be tough for me; after all, isn’t keeping score an important part of playing a game?
  • take a solo walk – as I’ve written before, if I am going to go for a walk, I prefer to go by myself. However, Dooling also suggests not turning such a walk it into a competition, and to leave your Fitbit at home. Again, I would have trouble with this part. I like checking how far I’ve walked, how long it’s taken me, and what my heart rate is. But I do look at nature while out on those walks, as Dooling suggests. Well, at least a little bit…
  • cook a big meal – even though this is where part of my title comes from: dolce far niente, I think I’d have to skip this one. Cooking does nothing for me, and would probably increase my stress level. By the way, dolce far niente is Italian for the “sweetness of doing nothing”. What a great phrase…
  • just sit down – hard to argue with this one, and perhaps my favorite one on the list. If I were to add “in front of the TV” to it, it would be perfect.

The only issue I have with this theory of doing nothing as a way of increasing productivity, and it’s really my own personal issue, is that at some point I guess I have to stop doing nothing and actually be productive.

I’d prefer to simply spend my time enjoying dolce far niente…



53 thoughts on “Increase Your Productivity by Engaging in “dolce far niente”

  1. All theses suggestions appear,to me, to be doing something. Or at least in my book. My favourite way to do nothing is stopping at around 4:00 on a summer day for a glass of wine on the deck. But then I am still drinking wine and that is something. Obviously I have a different definition of nothing.

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  2. Hmm…I agree about the cooking one not fitting in there! And yes if I play a game against my husband and I am winning we better be keeping score!
    Sitting down with a good book sounds perfect to me!

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  3. Doing nothing is what I am doing now when I should be doing something but it’s not really doing nothing so I suppose the writer is correct I am thinking about what I should be doing which in a roundabout way is productive…The kitchen calls…Bread is needed and pumpkins need to be made into puree…Again I couldn’t like…Happiness Engineers are something…sigh

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    1. yes, it’s hard to really do “nothing”. I guess the key is to spend time doing things you enjoy, and it seems like your kitchen is your happy place.

      I’ve noticed that while using the WP Reader to leave this comment, I like the post, and then in ten seconds, the like button is no longer starred…


  4. I agree with the list. The first one depends on where you are. When I was in the Philippines I prefer the water to be colder than 25 degrees Celsius since it’s always so hot.

    Sitting down with a book sound better for me 😁

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  5. I do a lot of these things, Jim, but I always listen to audio books while I do them. I know that is not what the author is meaning here. In order to make leaps of imagination and creativity you need to let your mind rest. I always think of it as watching the clouds change shape. I haven’t been doing this and that is why my poetry muse has gone quiet. I know this. Great post.

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    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Robbie. And it is hard to find those moments of quiet so that your mind is free to wander and create. I am sure your muse will return…


  6. It’s a weird dynamic because haven’t we all fantasized, “Oh, I wish I could just sit and do nothing today.” The problem with that is most people won’t be content for long if they are inactive. I try to be active with both my mind and my body. That’s when I feel my sharpest and feel best about myself.

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  7. Meditation is my opportunity to unplug and rest my mind. I do think whatever course you choose, finding time to “do nothing” is beneficial mentally and physically. I agree that “cooking a big meal” would not make my list of rest activities, as I consider that to be more than a casual bit of work. Great post Jim!

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    1. thanks, Brad. and I’ve got to get back to my meditation. I had been doing pretty well, but once school started I’ve gotten out of the habit. Thanks for the reminder…

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  8. I find it really hard to do nothing. If I can’t sleep at night I think – OK, how am I going to end that short story?
    (if that doesn’t get me to sleep, nothing will!). Then I have to unearth the notebook from under my pillow and write the things I thought of because I won’t remember them in the morning.
    My youngest daughter meditates. While I was staying with her I went along to a session, but trying not to think of anything seems such a waste of life.
    Some of my best solutions to problems have come when I’ve been walking the dogs, so it must work, but somehow doing nothing has to sneak up on me. Even when I’m watching TV I am crocheting (although that’s to keep my hand from going to the glass of Scotch too often).

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    1. what a great way to write down thoughts as they come to you…

      I have wanted to mediate, but I too struggle with just sitting there and doing nothing.

      But it seems like TV, crocheting, and scotch are the perfect way to relax πŸ™‚

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  9. All together now…🎢 β€œI’m busy doing nothing, nothing the whole day through, trying to find lots of things not to do…” 🎢

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