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  • The Inaction Digest: Strong Rest Ethics, The Vacation Mindset, and The Science Of Doing Nothing.

The Inaction Digest: Strong Rest Ethics, The Vacation Mindset, and The Science Of Doing Nothing.

Two weeks ago, we learned the mantra that helped Doug Conant turn around Campbell Soup: “the action is in the interaction.” 

Well, this week we’re putting a spin on Doug’s line to propose a complementary maxim: “the action is (sometimes) in the inaction.”

Because it turns out that, in some circumstances, doing nothing can be a surprisingly effective approach to getting more done. 

Coming up in this week’s inaction digest:

  • 🤪 Why “the most interesting man in the world” thinks goofing off will help you get more done.

  • 🏝️ A Harvard professor teaches us the surprisingly relaxing way to show up to work each week as our best selves.

  • 🏞️ We’ll take a walk with Charles Darwin to see what we can borrow from his daily routine to spur our creative thinking.

P.s., you can check out editions 1-9 here in case you missed them, including insights such as The Paradox Of Creative Consensus, winning creative strategies from Stanford designers, and the audacious motivational hack used by Yellowstone’s showrunner.

Seriously, there are some gems you’ll appreciate in these early editions. ;-)

1. Goofing Off Is Essential and Instrumental For Later Productivity

Kevin Kelly has been dubbed “the most interesting man in the world.” Part of what makes Kelly so interesting is the vast range of projects he’s worked on since co-founding Wired magazine in 1992. But another part of Kelly’s intrigue is the counterintuitive life advice he imparts, like when his son came to him after finishing college to discuss his next move: attending grad school.

“No, no, no,” Kelly responded, “don’t go into a career, don’t get a job, goof off. You haven’t goofed off in your entire life. Your entire life you’ve been striving and trying to get good grades, and it’s like you need to spend some time goofing off, doing nothing.” 

Taking his Dad’s advice to heart, Kelly’s son embarked on an unconventional project: for one year, he made art daily, wrote a thesis, and self-published it, effectively awarding himself a Master of Fine Arts.

“I am a huge believer in sabbaticals, sabbaths, vacations, goofing off—as instrumental and essential for later productivity,” Kelly explains, “obviously for themselves they have value but they also happen to be one of the most productive things you can do.”

Kelly calls this having a good “rest ethic,” and insists a good rest ethic is essential for counterbalancing a good work ethic.

2. Taking Time Off Helps You Do Your Job

Harvard professor Jon Jachimowicz is one of the world’s leading experts on the science of passion. While having passion for your work is widely regarded as something positive, Jon has learned that passion has a dark side.

Passionate people invest more time and energy in their work but “when you’re passionate,” Jon warns, “you’re not necessarily going to plan opportunities to recover, and so if you don’t pay attention you’re just going to drain yourself out until that passion is gone.” 

As Jon searched for a remedy to this problem, it dawned on him that one holiday where Americans are great at recharging is Labor Day weekend. Jon did some research to confirm his hunch: “we actually asked people to tell us how psychologically detached they felt after a normal weekend and how psychologically detached they felt after Labor Day weekend,” but even Jon was surprised by how rejuvenating people felt after Labor Day weekend, “the ‘d’ is 1! Like the effect is point 99 - it’s a BIG effect size - I don't know when you ever see a ‘d’ of 1 in the wild. I was shocked at how big that effect size was.” 

When Jon dug into the data to learn what made Labor Weekend so special, he found that it was partly due to the unique way Americans spend their time: “we looked at how people spent their time, and on a normal weekend—a few people did a lot of leisure time activities, [but] on a labor day weekend—most people did a solid amount of leisure time activities that allowed them to replenish.”

So it seems one secret to recharging our passion is to prioritize leisure activities, but the problem, as Jon originally pointed out, is that passionate people are bad at planning for leisure. Fortunately, a study from 2020 conducted at UCLA found a great strategy to help us engage in leisure more reliably. 

The researchers behind the study gave half of their participants a simple prompt: treat the weekend like a vacation. Upon returning to work the next week, weekend-vacationers reported having a much more enjoyable weekend. As a result, they showed up happier, less stressed, and more satisfied with their lives than those who had a “regular weekend” mindset. 

And when the researchers took a closer look at why a vacation-mindset proved so effective, they found that it encouraged people to spend their time on more enjoyable activities, and—most crucially, participants felt more present: “by mentally approaching this regular time off like a vacation, people became more attentive to the present moment, which was associated with greater subsequent happiness.” 

“Taking time off helps you do your job,” Jon concluded, and one way to make the most of that free time is to treat it like a holiday.

3. Proactively Incorporate Time For Uninterrupted Thinking

Charles Darwin’s Daily Path, By Tedgrant at English Wikipedia

When Charles Darwin reflected back on the traits that led him to breakthroughs, he gave partial credit to his ability to think patiently. “From my early youth, I have had the strongest desire to understand or explain what I observed,” Darwin wrote, “these causes combined have given me the patience to reflect or ponder for any number of years over any unexplained problem.”

The ability to spend long stretches of time mulling over a problem was, unsurprisingly, something Darwin put a lot of thought into. “I had, as a very young boy,” Darwin reflected, “a strong taste for solitary walks.”

Walking held a special power for Darwin because it allowed him to think in a way that other activities couldn’t. “He would say that riding [a horse] prevented him thinking much more effectually than walking,” his son recalled, “having to attend to the horse gave him occupation sufficient to prevent any really hard thinking.” 

Walking and thinking had become so vital to Darwin’s work by 1846 that he bought up additional land around his English home in order to build a gravel “thinking-path.” The “famous Sandwalk,” as Leonard Huxley, Darwin’s biographer writes, is “where Darwin used to take his allotted exercise after each spell of work, freshening his mind and shaping his thought for the task in hand.” 

These walks were so valuable for Darwin that they became a staple feature of his daily routine. “He came down at four o'clock to dress for his walk,” his son explained, “and he was so regular that one might be quite certain it was within a few minutes of four when his descending steps were heard.”

In a world of constant stimulation, we have the ability to almost never be alone with our own thoughts. But if we are to solve the toughest and most valuable problems in our lives, we must proactively incorporate time for uninterrupted thinking within our days.

4. Always Work With A Bias Toward Action

What happens when you’re walking through the English countryside and a brilliant idea strikes?

You pull out your Action Method Journal and jot it down, of course!

Later, when you sit down to work by the fireplace in your 18th century manor house, you pull out your journal once again, and the empty Action column will remind you to convert your ideas into action steps.

This layout gives you permission to brainstorm freely and then trust that your future self will turn your ideas to action when you revisit the page.

“Gone are the days where I walk out of a meeting with long notes and no clear understanding what I need to do. These notebooks keep me on track.”

Tina Roth Eisenberg, founder and designer

5. Mind Wandering Can Set The Stage For Creative Incubation

Mind wandering is generally viewed as a negative occurrence. However, Professor Erik Dane has found over years of research that mind-wandering has many upsides. 

“While acknowledging that mind wandering can compromise how effectively one engages with an assigned task,” Dane writes, “research maintains that mind wandering can…

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We’ll leave you with this…

“The biggest lie we tell ourselves is 'I don't need to write this down because I will remember it'.” 

Kevin Kelly

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