The Benefits of Doing Absolutely Nothing for Exactly 6 Minutes

Give yourself a microbreak

Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

For many of us new at working from home, there’s a peripheral, palpable energy about our days that didn’t exist when we were going into an office pre-pandemic. For me, it starts right when I wake up, and it doesn’t end until my kids are in bed. It’s 14 hours of buzzzzz. It doesn’t feel draining exactly, but it complicates a workday that’s already complicated.

Forge’s resident time-management expert Laura Vanderkam recently wrote a popular story on how to feel calm despite that buzz. She endorsed taking three short breaks each day—one physical, one spiritual, one social. It’s the kind of advice we love at Forge: easy to implement yet potentially transformative.

But there’s another kind of break I’ve been experimenting with — one with no purpose at all. It’s an impromptu, emergency break that allows me to unburden myself of whatever pressures I’m experiencing and my brain to perform the kind of mental processing that comes more naturally to the brains of humans. It’s six minutes of nothing, starting right now.

“Nothing” is subjective, of course. For you, it might mean a kind of rest or meditation with your eyes closed. Or maybe with your eyes open. (Note: Either of these moves will creep people out.) The point is that you’re moving away from the energy of your day and creating a space for a kind of counter-energy that will exist for a very short time and then, after serving its purpose, will be gone forever.

Now, this might be mistaken for puttering around or, depending on your relationship with your housemates, loitering. So it’s best to find a space where you can be alone.

Me? I simply move away from my desk when things feel a little overwhelming (it helps if you’re not on a Zoom call for work when doing this) and just stand around somewhere that’s visually stimulating but away from a screen or a device. Lately, my destination has been the workshop in my basement. It’s quiet. Lots of interesting things to look at — clamps and chisels and saws! — but nothing going on. Sometimes I pick something up. Sometimes I tidy a corner of the space. Sometimes I think about the next project I’m going to do around the house. If my brain starts to focus on something, I’ll reset it.

Consider it a way more modest version of the “third space” attention shift that Jenny Odell, author of the brilliant book How to Do Nothing, espouses. But it’s not a mindset shift, really, and it’s not a rest. It’s just… nothing.

Try taking six whenever you need it. It’s just enough time for your mind to reset but not enough time for your work to suffer.

(Why six minutes and not five? Built-in snooze. You deserve it.)

Editor/Director, Medium//author, Works Well With Others//writing weekly about creativity, work, and human behavior, in a useful way//rossmccammon.com

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