In a few weeks, the Best of Both Worlds podcast will feature my interview with Celeste Headlee. Headlee, who I met on the conference speaking circuit, had been running a public radio show for years when she gave a TEDx talk on “10 ways to have a better conversation.” It has now been viewed almost 19 million times, which, as you can imagine, changed her life. She went from working very hard and making very little money to making quite a bit of money per speech…but feeling like she had less time than ever. This was not exactly how she thought success would play out.
Her new book, Do Nothing, talks about this trap — of how eventually her time became worth so much that “doing nothing” seemed absurd. You’ll have to listen to the episode for more on that (and buy her book!) but one point that I wanted to talk about here is her discussion of the difference between “laziness” and “idleness.”
These words have slightly different connotations. They’re listed for each other in dictionary definitions, but laziness is being unwilling to work or use energy. Idleness is a state of inactivity. It is slightly less pejorative. Headlee cites my research and that of others finding that we don’t work nearly as much as we think we do. But on the other hand, there is very little “idle” time in people’s lives where we’re not managing inputs. We have an hour of downtime, but we pick up the phone and clean out our inboxes or read tweets. Headlee gave herself a challenge to disconnect one day and then realized she had checked email 14 times. She didn’t even realize she was doing it until someone called her on it.
There’s been a lot written about the addictive nature of smart phones. I’m trying to be better about disconnecting and yet my screen time counts are still atrocious. Some is reading on the Kindle app but not all of it. A surprising (to me) amount is driven by texts. I love texting with friends and family but I’ve realized I don’t then put the phone down. I’ve lost half an hour doing…something. “Nothing” might have been better.
Headlee suggests trying to “invest in leisure.” Her grandparents and great-grandparents, she notes, were busy and productive people, yet they still made time for serious hobbies. It’s something she’s been working on, and something we’re trying to do around here too. My 10-year-old and I built our Lego Yoda set, all 547 steps of it. And there’s something to be said for just sitting and thinking occasionally too. Sometimes the answers are more likely to be found there than in our inboxes.