One resolution that’s high on our lists this year is to enjoy the art of doing nothing and stop feeling guilty about it. In the past year we’ve explored new hobbies, done puzzles, baked bread, tried new exercise routines, taken virtual classes and admittedly cried once or twice while trying to balance it all. Why can’t we just sit and “be”? Lazing around can be completely rejuvenating when done correctly — so we asked a couple of experts to show us the way.
Celeste Headlee, author of “Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving,” says, “Even before the pandemic began, the world was experiencing a burnout epidemic so much so that the World Health Organization had already accepted the symptoms of burnout as not only epidemic proportions but as its own health syndrome. It absolutely is a thing to stop being productive all the time. Is it achievable? Yes, even if you start with just five minutes at a time, you can do it.”
Relaxing is an essential part of good emotional health, and should be practiced regularly,” says Dr. Paul Greene, director of the Manhattan Center for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and psychologist with expertise in anxiety. “We live in a culture that prizes productivity, so we fall out of the practice of relaxing. Like many skills, if we don’t practice, we get worse at it. Doing nothing helps get us out of ‘doing mode’ and into ‘being mode,’ which is something our minds need regularly to recharge.”
“I don’t want people to sit down on their couches and just lie there like a slug,” Headlee says. “But what I do want people to do is not do anything that is considered of value.” Here are some of our favorite ways to do — er, not do? — just that.
Zella Live In Pocket Joggers ($59; nordstrom.com)
You don’t have to go for bottom-of-the-barrel sweats to go into chill mode. In fact, make chilling feel even more important by going for some higher-quality lounge pants that Nordstrom shoppers adore.
Smoko Heated Potato Slipper ($38; urbanoutfitters.com)
It’s hard to think of anything cuter than heated potato slippers that you can just connect to a USB to warm up.
The Comfy ($39.99, originally $44.99; amazon.com)
Cute, practical and super soft, this fleecy machine-washable hooded blanket has deep pockets for hand-warming, glasses, fidget toys or whatever else you might want to tuck in there.
Make the bedroom strictly for sleeping
Mesqool Digital Alarm Clock ($19.99; amazon.com)
Headlee agrees with many other experts that the bedroom should be only for sleeping. Picking up an alarm clock means tucking the phone away for the night in another room is easier to justify. This top-rated one also doubles as a night light with seven light color options to rotate through.
Mavogel Cotton Sleep Eye Mask ($9.98; amazon.com)
Blocking out sleep disruptions like lights from traffic or a housemate with a totally different schedule is a lot easier with an eye mask.
The French Blue 400-Thread-Count Sheets (starting at $35; craneandcanopy.com)
One of our editors tried these sheets recently and can confirm that they’re worth the splurge. The extra-deep corners keep the fitted sheet from pulling out if tossing and turning is an issue. The crisp and cool cotton is a dream for hot sleepers too.
Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachutehome.com)
At-a-Glance 2021 Daily Appointment Book & Planner ($19.30; amazon.com)
“Create a diary of how you spend your time. And then start asking yourself some questions, like ‘How much time do I want to spend on social media every day?’ And then you can design your life,” advises Headlee. This planner has each day broken down by hour so that it’s easy to schedule in your activities (or nonactivities) on a daily basis. Check out more of our favorite 2021 planners here.
1801andCo Blank Acrylic Dry Erase Writing Board (starting at $16.06; etsy.com)
After observing your patterns via planner, Headlee suggests evaluating and writing out your ideal daily schedule — one that will bring the most peace and satisfaction — and posting it in a place where it will be a prominent reminder. “Once you start feeling like you have control of your schedule rather than being a victim of your schedule, you’re much more likely to say no to things that you don’t have time to do,” she says. This clear, acrylic dry erase board is prettier than a regular white board too.
Fitbit Versa 3 ($228.95; amazon.com)
Unplugging and getting moving is something Headlee says is easy to build into the day. By wearing a Fitbit or other wearable and leaving the phone at home, it’s easier to slow down and observe the world. Headlee encourages, “Take a walk for five or 10 minutes a day and leave your phone at home. You can do it.”
Antonki Kitchen Timer, 2-Pack ($7.97, originally $12.99; amazon.com)
Headlee also recommends the Pomodoro technique — where a timer is used to determine the amount of time between breaks — for people who like the sound of it. “There have been a number of surveys in offices that found the most productive employees worked for 52 minutes and then took 17-minute breaks and then they just repeated that throughout the day,” she says.
Look away from the screen
‘Trees: Between Earth and Heaven’ by Gregory McNamee & Art Wolfe ($43.72, originally $75; amazon.com)
Coffee table books are a brilliant way to slow down while sitting down. We love this one because it’s full of stunning images of trees in various locations and seasons, but any coffee table book full of large and interesting images should do the trick.
Occer 12-Inch-by-25-Inch Compact Binoculars ($35.99, originally $45.89; amazon.com)
If books aren’t sounding great, then try some binoculars. Following Greene’s advice to just look out the window, binoculars can provide a peaceful break from the daily hustle.
‘The Ultimate Brain Health Puzzle Book for Adults: Crosswords, Sudoku, Cryptograms, Word Searches, and More!’ by Phil Fraas ($11.69, originally $12.99; amazon.com)
Headlee has a passion for brain puzzles and crosswords. “I have them lying around so if I ever get bored, I don’t have to feel I have to pick up my laptop, I can lean over and do a really quick crossword or something like that,” she confides. This book is a bestseller on Amazon and is loaded with all types of games.
‘Pocket Maya Angelou Wisdom: Inspirational Quotes and Wise Words from a Legendary Icon’ by Hardie Grant Books ($9.99; amazon.com)
We love the idea of using poetry and quotations as a way to wind down because they don’t take long to read, but they do require the reader to pause and wonder. With quotes like “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude,” this collection of Maya Angelou’s wisdom is a solid place to start.
MindxYourxCraft Hand Embroidery Kit for Beginners ($24.35; etsy.com)
Keeping meditative crafts close by is another way Headlee likes to relax. Embroidery kits like this one come with everything needed to get started.
‘Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving’ by Celeste Headlee (starting at $12.99, originally $25; amazon.com)
Get a more in-depth understanding of how and why to slow down with Headlee’s very own book on the topic.