The Art of Idleness: Striving for the Path of Least Resistance

At the time when most people are rushing to get through the holidays or thinking about their new year’s resolutions (something I don’t do anymore), I’m trying to do as little as possible. I’m trying to become an expert in the art of idleness and striving for the path of least resistance.

Here’s why I’m setting myself in “idle mode”

It’s been a bad year. Really, really tough. I’ve had tons of stress in many of the major areas of my life:

  • Deaths in the family

  • Major illnesses in close family members; caring for sick family members

  • Job-related stress

  • Financial stress from large, unexpected emergency expenses

  • Environmental stress (lots of ambient noise, uncomfortable living conditions), drastic changes in climate

And through it all, I’ve been dealing with my own chronic health conditions. Unsurprisingly, they don’t react well to stress, making my own health decline.

Which is why I finally said, “enough is enough” and quit my job this month.

I’m definitely not lazy

There are still plenty of things to do. My husband just had surgery on his shoulder earlier this month (right before I quit). So I still have to help him do a lot. He’s not allowed to hold anything heavier than a plate with that arm, so I’ve been lifting a lot of stuff that I would normally leave to him.

Also, we have mom on board now. We drove from northern to southern California with her, and spent the next several days unpacking and organizing. As of this writing we’re still not done, because I got sick.

And I still have to do a lot of the cooking, dishes, cleaning, etc.

Plus, I may have quit my job, but we have other income streams we have to keep running.

But my goal is to do as little as possible

Now that I don’t have my job to contend with, I’m spacing things out more. Before, I would put a lot of time and energy into my “day job” and have very little effort left over to do other things. Our businesses suffered, which is the exact opposite of what you want when you’re trying to leave your job and be self-employed. The solution finally became obvious: I had to leave my job so I had time to make money as an entrepreneur.

It may seem backwards, but I feel like I’ve been more productive in my “side hustles” since I left, despite spending less time on them. I think it’s in part because I feel less pressure. I do my best work in the morning, which is why I usually did my day job first thing in the morning since it was our main income source. But now I can work on things I’m really passionate about at the time of day that I work best, because my soul isn’t being sucked away by my previous position.

But it also means I don’t have to rush to get things done. I can work a little, take a break to do some dishes or take a walk, and then come back and do more work.

It feels like I’m doing less, but in reality the gap left by my job is taken up by other things (like helping mom). I just don’t have the same time restrictions. Or the stress I felt when I was working and mom would need something. I had to decide whether I had to tell mom to wait, or my boss. Not a fun decision.

I guess the point is, I’m not adding anything new to my list of responsibilities. Now that I have more free time, I want to keep it just that—free.

How you can be more idle, too

The number 1 piece of advice I have is to start saying “no" more often. Say no to…

  • Things you feel obligated to do, rather than what you want to do

  • Activities that cost more than you can afford, financially or emotionally

  • Things that are urgent but not important

  • Work that takes you farther away from your goals

  • Something that your instincts tell you is a bad idea without more investigation first

It won’t always be easy to say no. Just remember that it is your right to do so, and it is always your choice to participate or not in anything, no matter whether it’s a boss, friend, or relative who is asking. There may be negative consequences to saying no, but sometimes what seems like a bad result works out for the best.

It also is not a requirement to give a reason for saying no. You can find ways to politely but firmly decline any invitation. “Thank you, but I’m not available;” “I’m going to have to decline your invitation, but I appreciate the offer” or “Thank you, but not at this time.”

I’m well aware that some people feel it’s their right to demand an explanation. If they persist, you can tell them “My reasons are personal,” because they are. Or, if they’re getting aggressive, you can be more direct as well. You can say “It’s none of your business” or “Because I don’t want to,” or “I don’t need a reason, I’m just saying no.” Only you can know where to draw the line between polite and confrontational in your own situation.

Find your own path of least resistance

The art of idleness is personal to each individual. It’s also different from not being productive, being lazy, or procrastinating. It’s an intentional choice to do nothing, for whatever reason and for however long. So make it your own, and see what happens.

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