How to be deliberately unproductive?

Your life is a coalition of different roles: employee, boss, parent, friend, daughter, sister, neighbor, caregiver, garage band guitarist, learner, etc., which keep changing throughout your life course.

Even when you enter retirement, each role continues to demand its share of your 24/7. It advances its own agenda, and is driven by competition and conflict.

Maybe you’d already replaced career’s meetings and reports with volunteering, caregiving, or the uncelebrated chores that may never disappear, such as paying bills and washing dishes. There’s still structure and direction, and things that must get done.

Author Annie Dillard said:

“How we spend our time is how we spend our lives… a schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.”

Yes, and here’s what’s missing: Personal time that’s free of adult obligations.

How about day dreaming? Leisurely walks? Reading for fun? You know, that delightful stuff that feels like a sheer waste of time.

Are you feeling any productivity guilt yet? Then you are not alone. For many people just the thought of being deliberately unproductive is a real source of anxiety.  

Children thrive on unstructured play time. It reduces toxic stress, enhances brain function, and builds trustful relationships. And it delivers the same benefits to adults.

Neuropsychiatrist Dr. Dan Siegel describes play as: “When we allow ourselves to be spontaneous or creative, playfully enjoying novel experiences, which helps make new connections in the brain.”

Unstructured time works best when you intentionally structure it into your day, even when every day feels like the weekend.

You could choose to spend this daily purposeless hour or two on spontaneous and non-competitive activities such as learning something new, spending time with family, carving time for a hobby, acting on a whim, and being playful.

And what about those daily chores? They won’t go away, but surely they could wait till later.

Looking for some inspirational ideas? Try Dr. Siegel’s whole platter for all your well-being daily essentials, or the Mayo Clinic list of specific activities to spark your interest.

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Through my work and interest in life beyond midlife, I come across meaningful stories on what impacts this chapter of your personal journey.

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