August 15, 2019
The to-do list resting on my desk has 37 items requiring completion. Each line includes a box for a checkmark or bullet point, denoting it is done.
The list grows or narrows, depending on the day of the week, and some of the entries have been included for more than two weeks.
"I'll get to those tomorrow," I tell myself while perusing the contents and deciding which items are today's priority.
This weekend, while on our way to Ponca State Park for a family shindig, I started another list and was lucky enough to cross off two of the 10 items en route.
When we arrived, work mode continued. My aunts wanted to get a head start on food for the next day. Trust me, you have to plan when you're feeding 100 individuals. No waiting until the last minute to prep breakfast casseroles or make a fruit salad.
After the dishes were washed and put away, a group of us went to the patio and just sat.
We considering kayaking but didn't bring river clothes. A horseback ride sounded fun, too. But a lot of the younger kids went, so we opted to just sit and chill.
Lots of great conversation - and wine - but it was strange to do nothing, or niksen, as our family's Dutch ancestors would say.
To be perfectly honest, it felt good to relax and not worry about what needed to be done or what should be getting accomplished.
Has the to-do list become a status symbol, a way for us to sooth our overworked egos and boast of how much work we need to do? Is it a way to differentiate between what we need to accomplish and what we would like to do, time permitting?
Simply put, does being busy hurt us?
Cases of burnout, stress-related disease and anxiety disorders continue to grow. The World Health Organization characterizes burnout as "a state of vital exhaustion," a process where stress and anxiety "undermine one's mental and physical health."
That's why it is important to take time to just be.
Even if society or our personal work ethic or our spouse/loved one/family prods us into believing that we should be in a state of constant motion, that sitting still doesn't accomplish anything.
Being idle can be a good thing. Research shows that idleness can boost creativity, aid problem solving and increase productivity.
When we're running on overload, our mind tends to slow and productivity wanes. That's when taking a break can help.
That's the excuse I'm going to use for Friday afternoon, when a customer walked into my office and found me resting my head against hand, eyes shut, clearing my mind.
And guess what ... it worked. Finished two projects that afternoon.
It takes time to retrain the brain about being idle. Society tends to associate stillness with laziness, but it's actually a healthy alternative. Past legends prove it: Isaac Newton figured out the law of gravity while sitting under an apple tree. Einstein tended to stare into space and is considered a genius.
Since I'm finished writing this column, you'll have to excuse me for the next 10 minutes.
I have nothing to do.