I’ll be the first person to say that I love optimising my life. I’ve spent over a decade mastering David Allen’s Getting Things Done productivity system, and tried-and-true lifehacks like email batching, meal planning, and habit stacking are all essential parts of my day-to-day existence.
But I don’t optimise my life to get more work done: I optimise my life to give myself more time for rejuvenation.
Yes, I’ll admit that when I first started working as a freelancer, I put in the time to learn how to be more efficient at the pitching, writing, and administrative work that makes up a typical workday. And sure, I took some of that time I saved and used it to write additional articles and land new clients.
But at a certain point, the most valuable thing I could do with my free time was spend it on myself and the people I cared about.
And when I spend my time on myself, well, sometimes it looks like I’m doing nothing.
Sometimes it literally looks like I’m staring out the window, or watching the flames on the candle that I light as part of my work shutdown ritual (it’s an effective way to turn my studio apartment from a work space to a home space).
I call that type of nothing-doing “meditating” when I want to justify it to other people, but I’m not actually trying to calm or control my own thoughts. I’m trying to listen to them. Basically, I’m sitting very still and thinking about whatever I want and enjoying the company of my own mind.
Which means that I identified very strongly with this recent tweet from author Rainesford Stauffer:
I feel like, in the age of optimization, self-improvement, and side hustles, "wasting" time might be the most valuable thing we could do? I interviewed an expert who studied self-care and they literally said "staring into space" was beneficial. https://t.co/O0i4Z3LHnH
— Rainesford Stauffer (@Rainesford) February 24, 2020
It also put me in mind of one of my favourite quotes from one of my favourite books as a child: Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey’s Cheaper by the Dozen, which is the true story of 12 children growing up in a household run by an efficiency expert:
Someone once asked Dad: “But what do you want to save time for? What are you going to do with it?”
“For work, if you love that best,” said Dad. “For education, for beauty, for art, for pleasure.” He looked over the top of his pince-nez. “For mumblety-peg, if that’s where your heart lies.”
So, listen: Of course it makes sense to make a bunch of food at once and then freeze it in individual portions, if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t want to spend part of every evening cooking. But you don’t have to use the time you save to be extra-productive at something else. You can spend it staring at a candle or having a conversation with a family member or even checking social media feeds on your phone, if that’s what you really want to do.
Because the end goal of lifehacking is more life. Not more lifehacking.