Going from Life Hack to Life Back

The title of this post is the title of part two of Celeste Headlee’s book Do Nothing. It’s divided into six short chapters that address how to overcome the cult of busy and learn to do nothing.

Challenge Your Perceptions

“As we have become more efficient, we have also become more fragile.” This reminds me of another book I recently read called Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Systems are more resilient when they are inefficient, when they have redundancy and backups. But our modern life has become more and more efficient. This is great until something breaks. Then it breaks big time.

Many of us are convinced that we work many more hours than we actually do. But simply believing we work more has real negative affects. We need to challenge this perception.

This one small change—becoming more aware of what you do between waking and sleeping—could have a cascade of benefits. As I mentioned, it may leave you with a sense that you have more time to take care of both your needs and your desires and, as it turns out, that feeling is better for you than a raise in pay….

We work long hours in order to make more money, not realizing that once we’ve met our fundamental needs, it is leisure time that increases happiness, not necessarily extra cash.

Celeste Headlee

As a remedy the author suggests tracking your time and then making your ideal schedule. You won’t always achieve this ideal, but simply having it will direct your days more intentionally.

Take the Media Out of Your Social

Stop making comparisons. Social media encourages us to compare our everyday lives to the best snippets of our friends and celebrities. This is a recipe for unhappiness. Comparisons aren’t bad on their own. They can even be motivating. “So the urge to make comparisons is not necessarily bad unless our perception of others is inaccurate and therefore the comparisons aren’t valid.”

Step Away from Your Desk

Even when our bosses encourage us to go home and take our vacation, we don’t. We should. Working that crazy schedule will likely only get us a ten percent raise, if that. Why do we work those extra hours to get that promotion? We hope the extra money will buy us more time and peace of mind. It rarely does as we then equate time off with even more lost money.

If your goal is less stress and more happiness, years of scientific research have proven that rather than trading your time for money, it’s best to trade your money for time…. In other words, paying others to mow your lawn, clean your car or house, or do your laundry is a great use of your money, even if it means you can’t afford a bigger TV or an expensive vacation.

Celeste Headlee, Do Nothing

Working hard doesn’t even make us more productive, but less so. Back in the 1920s Henry Ford instituted a five day week and an eight hour day not because he was a humanitarian but because it made his employees more productive. It seems our focus on working more is counterproductive.

Research shows that if you work without interruption for fifty to fifty-seven minutes, then take a short break, you’ll get much more done, and because you’re more likely to engage the executive part of your brain while using this schedule, your work may be more insightful and creative.

Celeste Headlee, Do Nothing

Invest in Leisure

You need to take breaks. The human mind is not capable of focused concentration for more than an hour. And these breaks need to be filled leisure or nothing at all. Don’t just switch to another task. That’s not a break. We need boredom and daydreaming. Like dreaming in sleep, daydreaming allows our brains to go into a kind of “rest and refresh” mode that it can’t otherwise. This is when we process what we were focusing on. That makes leisure and time off essential to the focus needed at work.

Make Real Connections

Make sure you set aside some time to spend with friends in person. You can even strike up conversations with strangers like the checkout person at the grocery store. Humans are social animals, so it is important to our well-being and health to interact with others. Even just making eye contact with and sharing a smile with a passing stranger can make your day better.

If you take away nothing else from this book, I hope you understand that human beings are at their best when they are social, and human minds work best in connection with other human minds. It may not be the most efficient way to live, but it’s the most likely to foster well-being.

Celeste Headlee

We also need to work more in teams. “Brainstorm alone and evaluate or analyze as a group.” This will ensure a wider diversity of ideas for the group to look at. And do one kind act each day. This isn’t a moral instruction but a practical one. “I’m telling you to do this because years of research proves that doing nice things for people, even small things, is incredibly good for you.”

Take the Long View

The final chapter encourages us to focus on ends rather than means. When we focus on means we lose the purpose behind what we are doing. Practice asking the five whys to find out what your ends are. If your means aren’t bringing you closer to your desired ends, why are you doing them? Don’t give up on your ends; find better means.

The complete list of solutions she suggests in this last part of the book are:

  • Increase time perception.
  • Create your ideal schedule.
  • Stop comparing at a distance.
  • Work fewer hours.
  • Schedule leisure.
  • Schedule social time.
  • Work in teams.
  • Commit small, selfless acts.
  • Focus on ends, not means.

All of these actions are backed by science and by my own personal experience and research. They will probably work for you. But if they don’t, or if it’s not possible to carry out one of them, that’s perfectly fine. The point of all this is to simplify your life and increase well-being, not create another source of anxiety….

The overriding message is this: Stop trading time for money.

Celeste Headlee, Do Nothing

None of these are hard in and of themselves. However, if you are struggling to make ends meet, some may be harder than others.

If there is one flaw in this book, it is that it is primarily addressed to those who are salaried rather than hourly workers. It’s hard for hourly workers to slow down and take time off when doing so means lost wages. Difficult but not impossible.

I’ll leave the last word of my posts on this book to the author herself.

It’s time to stop viewing your off-hours as potential money-making time. It’s not worth it. You can’t put a monetary value on your free time, because you’re paying for it in mental and physical health.

Celeste Headlee, Do Nothing

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