Bright: Add nothing to your to-do list

Zach Bright, Opinion Editor

Being back at Northwestern as the second week of the quarter begins to ramp up, I can best sum up how I feel with one word: busy.

I get up, head to class, study, have more class, and then run desk at The Daily. I’ve found myself wishing that each day had an extra hour just so I could catch up and actually take the time to decompress — and by no means am I alone.

Nevertheless, just over a week ago, I was on break and still found myself itching to go back to school.

After just a couple days of recovering from fall, I was without work to do or assignments to complete, nothing I found that meaningful to accomplish. I felt unproductive and bad about it. My experience is certainly not unique. Plenty of other students have found themselves feeling like they should be working toward an end goal at all times. When there is none, they might consider it a sign of failure.

The idea that productivity is king has been instilled in many of us both as we’ve grown up and especially here at college. In essence, productivity is the amount of output you get for a certain input. But we shouldn’t value ourselves, our success, and our feelings with this metric.

One of our school’s most common slogans touts the importance of getting involved in multiple studies and activities, with an implicit claim that success stems from productivity. I don’t need to go into the problematic underpinnings that “AND is in our DNA” carries. It’s just the product of a culture that values productivity too highly. While productivity clearly has its merits, a lack of it — doing nothing — can be just as valuable.

In much the same way that white space is crucial to effective design, doing nothing can actually be quite beneficial. Sure, you could pull all-nighters left and right in pursuit of productivity, but you will burn out. Actively doing nothing provides you with a clear head and the right mindset to relax. Only then can you actually concentrate on what is important to you.

Building this skill isn’t easy. It’s not that simple to just go sit on a bench outside, stare across the lake and tune out. Not everybody has the ability to just separate themselves from what’s happening around them; I certainly don’t. Commitments to the classes you take, the organizations you are part of and the people around you are certainly important and can be hard to see beyond. Regardless, this doesn’t mean you need to feel overstimulated and overworked at all times.

Finding a balance is key, and it can be very simple. You don’t always have to listen to music when you’re walking. You don’t always have to be in conversation with people, in-person, on the phone or over text. The very act of doing nothing requires the occasional embrace of solitude and the absence of things.

Doing nothing is obviously not a cure-all. If it’s all you do, you won’t accomplish much in the long run. But at the same time, why is it that something new always has to be produced? Instead of making and doing more and more, draw observations, create connections and piece together what already exists out there; it is equally, if not more, fruitful.

Giving nothing a shot won’t cost you anything. After all, it’s just nothing.

Zach Bright is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.