15 Quotes from Do Nothing by Celeste Headlee

Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving by Celeste Headlee is an interesting book on productivity” where it combines a critique of the capitalistic nature of our productivity (focusing on the history of labor) while also arguing for doing less. I’m sure some people won’t resonate but overall I found the book helpful in many ways, especially the call to look at your production rather than your productivity. Oftentimes its easy to get bogged down in doing things better without actually producing anything of value.

Below are 15 quotes from the book that resonated with me or that I thought were helpful to capture:

  1. We judge our days based on how efficient they are, not how fulfilling.
  2. What is the cult of efficiency? It’s a group whose members believe fervently in the virtue of constant activity, in finding the most efficient way to accomplish just about anything and everything. They are busy all the time and they take it on faith that all their effort is saving time and making their lives better. But they’re wrong. The efficiency is an illusion. They believe they’re being efficient when they’re actually wasting time.
  3. When we’re faced with a difficult problem, we search for the right tech, the right tool, and the right system that will solve the issue: bulletproof coffee, punishing exercise, paleo diets, goal-tracking journals, productivity apps. We think our carefully designed strategies and gadgets will make us better. My goal is to dispel that illusion and help you to see that we are not better, but in many cases, worse.
  4. The feeling of being productive is not the same as actually producing something.
  5. Idleness in this sense does not mean inactivity, but instead nonproductive activity. Leisureliness,” says Daniel Dustin of the University of Utah, refers to a pace of life that is not governed by the clock.
  6. What I learned is that if you don’t consciously choose a slower path, you will likely default to the pedal-to-the-metal speeds of modern life.
  7. There is a wealth of historical data that suggests we prefer a balance of leisure and toil. But we have been convinced through more than two hundred years of propaganda that inactivity is the same as laziness, and that leisure is a shameful waste of time. If you think I’m using the word propaganda metaphorically, you’re wrong. Let’s dial it back to the 1920s for a moment. The battle over work hours was still being fiercely fought throughout the industrialized world, but the workers were winning. The punishing days of the nineteenth century were far behind us, and workdays were getting shorter and shorter in most industries. There seems to have been a realization among employers that they couldn’t win a direct fight, so they used more subtle tactics learned during World War I. Employers realized they could borrow strategies from the War Department in order to motivate the production line.
  8. For many of us, this drive to leverage every moment eventually gave rise to an obsession with life hacking and a pursuit of ever more complex, arcane, and counterintuitive methods to accomplish what we probably know how to do already. Not only should we fill our off-hours with photo-worthy pursuits, but those pursuits should be awe-inspiring. If we can’t get our friends to like” our hobbies, then what’s the point?
  9. In many ways, I think we’ve lost sight of the purpose of free time. We seem to immediately equate idleness with laziness, but those two things are very different. Leisure is not a synonym for inactive. Idleness offers an opportunity for play, something people rarely indulge in these days.
  10. Speed and efficiency are, by their nature, antithetical to introspection and intimacy.
  11. Psychologists say modern society often suffers from a split consciousness or absent presence,” in which we are never fully paying attention to what we’re doing or saying.
  12. The truth is, productivity is a by-product of a functional system, not a goal in and of itself. The question is not whether you are productive but what you are producing.
  13. So here is the complete list of solutions, all designed to break your addiction to efficiency without purpose and productivity with production.
    • Increase time perception.
    • Create your ideal schedule.
    • Stop comparing at a distance.
    • Work fewer hours.
    • Schedule leisure.
    • Schedule social time.
    • Work in teams.
    • Commit small, selfless acts.
    • Focus on ends, not means.
  14. Stop trying to prove something to others. Reclaim your time and reclaim your humanity.
  15. Creativity cannot be institutionalized. Most of the time, new innovations are developed in order to solve problems, not because someone set aside time to be creative.” The key is to create an environment in which the brain is most likely to access its creativity.

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