My day is practically an art form at this point. I’ve manipulated all the relevant factors to the exact desired ratios, while keeping them just flexible enough to be changed up for variety’s sake. This is on purpose: As someone who has battled boredom since birth, I learned how important it was to build in escape routes from the daunting prospect of an entirely open day, because I knew what I’d be like if I had nothing but unstructured time: miserable.
To be clear, I absolutely need some unstructured time, though. And a little goes a long way. I think unstructured time, like unstructured play for kids, is critical to let the mind wander, to let ideas marinate, to let epiphanies happen, to get creative, to let shit meander up in your brain bank, if you’ll forgive the visual. This is how good thoughts happen, how bad ideas reconfigure into good ones, and it’s also how most people decompress, regroup, or whatever your favored term is for sitting around doing nothing for long enough to feel like you could maybe start doing something again, only this time, refreshed.
Or is free time is the enemy of progress? So says Casey Neistat, one of those hard working overachieving type people who loves what they do and loves every minute of doing it and is super successful and so who probably has everything all figured out. Who would you rather listen to? My money’s on him. I have less of it though. Definitely ask him who his money is on and go with that.
Neistat is a director/vlogger/triathlete who exposed the iPod’s irreplaceable battery life (18 months) back in 2003, takes mischievous approaches to ads for brands like Nike and others, and who is otherwise a relentlessly prolific doer. In a recent vlog he spoke about how incomprehensible boredom is to someone like him, which kills me because that is exactly what I would expect someone who was really prolific and successful to say.
Neistat explains in his opening that he has his Snapchat account set so that anyone can send him snaps. He laments:
The snaps that I get the most are from people and it just says “bored.” Or it’s like a selfie of them and they’re like, ‘Bored. Nothing to do.’ How do this many people have all this time and no way to occupy it? You could build a city with all the free time that people spend sitting around being bored sending me snaps of themselves sitting around being bored.
Well, I mean, or you could hang out on Snapchat? Chillin’? That’s cool too, right?
So Neistat gets into his pretty fascinating philosophy about time management. First off, this neon sign hangs above his office door:
In case he forgets his mantra, he also has it tattooed on his wrist.
He explains his philosophy on productivity, which is basically to never “waste” time: “Seneca said ‘It’s not that we have a short time to live, it’s that we waste a lot of it.’ … Right now it’s go-time for me. I want to maximize every waking second.”
He admits that to him, not working is the only time he gets bummed out or depressed. And so he never doesn’t work.
I relate to this, only, without needing to annihilate free time from my existence altogether. If I don’t have anything going on, or coming up to work on or think over, I feel entirely invalidated. Which is probably not the greatest quality to have in the universe, but I don’t think they make any good meds for this other than like, painkillers.
Neistat continues, “Nothing makes me less happy than sitting around with nothing to do.” As much as I admire this guy’s get-up-and-go, I can’t get behind this. Because to me the best feeling ever is the doing nothing JUST BEFORE the having of the something to do. There’s almost nothing better than pre-something nothing. You definitely need both the something to do, and the nothing to do, to hit this sweet spot, but boy is it ever sweet.
Research backs this up: Many creative types are not just intense go-getters every second, but rather have paradoxical sets of traits, such as intense periods of productivity followed by intense periods of nothingness to recharge and think. The idea that time management should strip out all free time is probably not workable for a lot of people, but furthermore, a luxury, specifically a luxury of someone who has the creative autonomy to call the shots.
I think if most of us were a bit more freed from the constraints of having to earn, we would spend our days differently. Mostly. Some lottery winners insist they will keep on working as they always have, while others immediately tell their places of employment to shove it. Some retirees can’t wait to stop clocking in; others die within months of no longer having somewhere to show up.
But even a blank slate day still requires figuring out what to do with said day. Once I was given advice while laboring over a very tender teenage heartbreak to “take it in bite-sized pieces.” The idea was that I couldn’t handle this feeling forever, but I could handle it for a few minutes. And then a few minutes after that. And so on. I think this is actually a great approach to life in general, managing it in bite-sized units you can get your head around. Here is a very good approach:
Also, as David Berman of the Silver Jews once sang,“Half hours on earth/What are they worth/ I don’t know.” Doing nothing, I’d say! But yeah I don’t really know. But you know who does know? Casey Neistat. He provides an illustration of how he manages his time, and breaks it down into these units:
- Free time
- Family time
- Fun/partying/video games
Here’s how it all shakes out:
Um, dude exercises for three hours a day.
I just need a minute OK? To think about how buff yet cranky I would be if I could get up at 7 a.m., on like, no sleep, and just get mad ripped every morning. God, that’s a life I want to try on for a month without having to do all the actual moving around. Technology, catch up already.
Note he also works from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. From 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. he hangs out with his family. But from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. he WORKS AGAIN. Then: 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. sleep. Not getting enough sleep is incredibly bad for you, but who am I to say how much gods among us need to sleep?
So really, this is admittedly Neistat’s entire solution—to steal hours from sleep—because, “time is the most precious resource,” but I have to wonder how sustainable that is over the long-haul. And one thing workaholics always want more of is time, no?
I can totally dig his philosophy to living—yes, I agree, life is substantiated by whatever contribution you make when you’re alive. “Sitting around is doing nothing. I try to omit that entirely from my life.”
But a life without nothing is no life at all. Obviously, what you do with your day says a lot about you. But so does what you don’t do. And in my very humble less prolific and far less compensated opinion, it’s important to do a little bit of nothing every single day. It keeps you young. But on second thought, maybe also broke.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.