CHANCES are, you haven’t done much lately. It’s that time of the year when there’s not much to do, television is not worth watching and, if the new year resolutions are going OK, you’re not eating or drinking as much. So, how does less feel? This is the period for less in the same way that Christmas is the period for more. The time for less comes after the wrapping paper has been stashed, the sales tables have been trashed and the relatives have left with a few more stories to hold against you next year. Unheralded, it creeps up with exhaustion and stays for the cricket. Like cicada thrum, we notice it only when we switch off everything else. Maybe it can be this way all the time. Doing less is rarely a resolution. It’s not on any wall at the gym; you won’t find it in too many religious texts; and it’s definitely not written in your performance contract. Nike is not about to change its slogan to Just Don’t Do It. But that doesn’t mean it’s not possible.
Ever since Samuel Johnson wrote The Idler about 250 years ago, there have been treatises on the art of doing less and not all the authors have been sacked — although a French slacker, Corinne Maier, was disciplined for her book, Hello Laziness. The latest exploration of idleness is Autopilot: The Art and Science of Doing Nothing by Andrew Smart. His take is that busyness deprives us of those ‘‘ Ah ha’’ moments that occur when we sit under the apple trees and watch the apples fall. Being too busy dumbs us down, even though we may feel sharper.
It might be a little late for new resolutions but, if you’re in a barefoot frame of mind, the kids are amusing themselves and the cicadas are drowning out other thoughts, you could give it a go. Here’s where you might start.
Do less parenting. Turn off the helicopter blades, turf out the tiger mum and let your kids jump on the bubble wrap from a height. You don’t have to be your child’s sunrise and sunset. In fact, if you give them a bit of space, they will survive the trip, learn from their mistakes and may discover who they are.
Do less shopping. This is easy after Christmas but the frugality can continue. If you don’t consume as much, you don’t have to store it, finance it, clean it, insure it, learn how to use it, make excuses for it, hide it from your partner or develop a relationship with it that you really didn’t need.
Do less communicating. Facebook doesn’t need your eyeballs, Twitter will still scroll without your comments, the Nigerian prince will still be asking you for money next week and, if you miss a TV program, you can always download it/iView it/ask friends what happened. Step back from the screen and smell the roses. Just take a few deep breaths and get a screen-free life.
Do less eating and drinking. This may be on the agenda anyway but, besides saving your waistline and liver function, eating less gives your body a break. That’s how the 5:2 diet works. Eating less food — way less food — for two days a week gives your body a holiday from digesting duties. And, like you, it appreciates the break.
Do less judging. Hey, that’s my resolution but you may as well try it.
Do less work. This is a tough one but it’s possible to work smarter and work less. But you have to convince the boss it’s a good idea, and the author of Autopilot has a few tips. If you’re accused of laziness you just retort, ‘‘ I’m letting the hub of my default mode network oscillate so I can figure what I want to do with my life.’’ If that doesn’t shut them up, you can quote the author’s claim that busyness ‘‘ destroys creativity, self-knowledge, emotional wellbeing, your ability to be social — and it can damage your cardiovascular health’’. Then run.
Just do less. Do less, not because it’s easy but because you’re choosy. Doing less is not about idleness, it’s about preparedness. It allows creativity to come into your life, it gives scientists their ‘‘ Ah ha’’ moments, it helps parents figure out what’s important and gives columnists ideas for mid-summer columns.