If you’re like most action-oriented entrepreneurs, the thought of doing nothing isn’t even on your radar. (Heck, in today’s multitasking world, even doing just one thing at a time feels like we’re slacking.) But believe it or not, there are times when doing nothing is the most productive thing you can do. Here are eight of them.
1. When you’re getting angry. Are you in the middle of a negotiation, conversation or email chain that’s rapidly escalating into bad feelings on both sides? Time to step back and take a break. Tell the other party that you need some time to think about this issue. Use the time to cool off. You’ll come back to it with a clearer—and calmer—head (and the other person will appreciate it too).
2. When you find yourself obsessively twiddling with your phone. It’s gotten harder for most of us to just relax, because if we’re not getting an alert, we think we must be missing something—so we keep checking our phone, playing with apps and updating our statuses. This behavior can border on compulsive, burn you out and make you seem unapproachable in social situations (like networking events). The next time you find yourself spinning into a smartphone spiral, put the phone down and … do nothing.
3. When you’re getting ready for bed. Many small-business owners struggle to get a good night’s sleep, either because our brains are buzzing or because our devices are. Bright lights (like those on electronics) put your brain on alert, so they hinder sleep. If you’ve got a lot on your mind, write down a “worry list” before bed and put it out of sight. Turn off your laptop, tablet, smartphone and TV and take some time to do nothing.
4. When you’re burned out. Small-business owners typically have energetic personalities, and running a business requires 24/7 dedication. But no one can be “on” around-the-clock without paying a price. If you find yourself feeling frazzled, overwrought and wondering if running your business is worth it, it’s time to take a break. Delegate some tasks to trusted employees, then step back and do nothing. Even an afternoon of nothing can do wonders to rejuvenate you—trust me.
5. When you get an email. I’m not suggesting you do nothing with every email, just that you don’t need to respond to every email immediately. In fact, sometimes the emails with the most potential benefit the most from doing nothing—at least for a bit. If someone is asking for a proposal on a huge project, for example, don’t try to compose it on your smartphone while you’re on the subway. Send a quick reply that you’re excited and will work up a proposal by X date. Then do nothing until you’ve taken time to think it over, talk with your team, consider all the options and put together something that will truly dazzle them.
6. When you’re asked to make a rush decision. Ever notice that people who want you to decide now typically have something to gain from your hurry—while you often have something to lose? Whether it’s a salesperson, a vendor or a client, if an offer has to be decided now or never, but you can’t decide on the spot, do nothing. You’ll often find the offer still stands when you come back to it later, and the rush tactic was just a ploy.
7. When you hit a tech snafu. I’m an impatient person, and if my computer or device is acting up or moving slowly, my natural instinct is to push every button I can. That led to one of the most valuable lessons I learned from our tech support guy back when I was an employee: “Stop.” Frantically pushing keys overloads the system and only makes things worse. Stop and do nothing; this typically gives the system time to catch up.
8. When you’re spinning your wheels. If you’re sitting at your desk “working” but getting nothing done, or your output is rapidly diminishing compared to the energy you’re putting in, it’s time to take a break. Often we feel so guilty about doing nothing that, even when we have downtime, we force ourselves to use it working. If you’ve reached the point of diminishing returns, stop and do nothing. Come back to it when you’re fresh.
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Photos from top: iStockphoto, Thinkstock