Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

All work and no play make many a dull human. But even in play, there is a purpose. You might join a volleyball game to reach your target heart rate. Or, you might enjoy your vinyl collection so you have something to listen to while folding laundry. Before you know it, play has become work, and your mind and body have officially become an inhuman machine. At least you’re being productive. But, productivity for productivity’s sake might not be good for your mental health. Don’t worry, there’s an alternative.  

An alternative approach to productivity

What if there was another way to be productive, a category far beyond the reaches of work? Enter niksen: The somewhat new, chic, and trendy Dutch method of doing nothing. Literally nothing. And in doing nothing, you have been productive in boosting your mental clarity, preventing and reducing burnout, and improving your overall health. Not bad.

According to Caroline Hamming, the Managing Director of CSR Centrum, everyone should incorporate niksen for a few minutes every hour to boost productivity and prevent the symptoms of burnout. And on your days off, make doing nothing an essential to-do, enjoying niksen for longer periods. Hamming suggests that niksen can enhance creativity, balance moods, optimize energy, and promote quality sleep. It may even make you nicer.

Hamming, who developed the CSR method, continues to work as a teacher, coach, and researcher in regards to work-related stress and burnout. She identifies the most difficult challenges to niksen as redefining the social concepts of productivity and laziness. From a young age, children are taught to constantly perform, whether through their own activities or by watching their parents’ ceaseless doing. This idea isn’t unique to the Netherlands, of course; the Americans have nearly perfected the art of doing. So what about the art of doing nothing?

Deprogram and discover

Today, we have access to a number of devices that help us stay connected and keep us task-oriented. Whether we use these devices for personal status updates or keeping work in hyperdrive, our brains are under constant assault. Research out of UC Irvine suggests that it takes the average person 23 minutes to recover after an interruption. Emails, phone calls, text messages, Did you get that memo? The barrage is endless. To compensate, the brain adapts to the stress, moving faster and eventually getting stuck in the “on” position. This can lead to chronic stress, burnout, and mental fatigue.

When the brain is constantly tuned into work, it has no downtime. Downtime leads to creativity. A wealth of ideas exist in the subconscious and are just waiting to emerge if you let them. By allowing the brain to take a breath, you are providing it an unstructured environment to replenish and play.

A prescription for play 

Like kids on a playground, your brain also benefits from unstructured time to experiment and just be. What is the best method for getting your daily niksen on? Take time to tune out. Sit back, close your eyes, and daydream at your desk for a few minutes. Go find a park bench to sit on and just sit: No phone, no book, no conversation. Stare out a window with no intention at all. Stand up, sit down, or lie still. It doesn’t matter as long as you’re doing nothing.

Doing nothing may seem incredibly easy, but it’s not. It doesn’t take long for your mind to quickly find something else it should be doing. After a minute, you may even start to get nervous, thinking how much you should be doing. But remember, doing nothing is doing something. It is doing something incredibly powerful for your mind and body. It is the deep breath necessary to keep the energy flowing and life worth living.