How to be idle

Updated August 10, 2017

Being idle might seem easy. What could be simpler than doing nothing? In fact, according to psychologist Neel Burton, many people find it very difficult to stop working and planning, even during their leisure time. This is a shame, because, as Tom Hodgkinson, author of the 2005 book "How to Be Idle" argues, periods of idleness are actually great for your productivity, creativity and general sense of well-being.

Sleep late. If you are being properly idle, you won't be going to bed until late anyway, so don't deny yourself the opportunity to have a bit of a lie-in. If you're like many people, there's a good chance you never really accomplished much in the mornings anyway.

Enjoy the company of others. "If you are idle, be not solitary" was the advice of Samuel Johnson to his friend and biographer James Boswell. Many of our social contacts come from work or other planned activities. If you're truly embarking on a career of idleness, don't let friendships slip away because you no longer see people at the office.

Indulge your curiosity. One of the great benefits of idleness is that if something strikes your fancy you can follow it up immediately instead of putting it aside until later. If you've always wanted to learn calligraphy, alphabetise your library or get started raising chickens, now's your chance.

Appreciate a good hangover. Far from being a punishment for a night of excess, Tom Hodgkinson recommends treating hangovers as an opportunity for enforced idleness. If you don't try to exert yourself, you'll find they aren't so bad.

Rest between bouts of excellence. Noted dandy Lord Whimsy suggests that idleness is necessary for recuperating between bouts of being your "Heightened Self."

Endure the envy or scorn of others. Industrialised society treats hard work as if it is a worthy end in itself, regardless of what the work accomplishes. Unwillingness to devote one's life to the schedules of others may be seen as a perverse rejection of society's rules.

Work intensely when you do work. Idleness can develop the creative faculties and focus the mind. A truly dedicated idler should be able to do in a few hours' work what a typical office-bound employee accomplishes in eight. By making idleness a priority, the idler eliminates the games of solitaire, off-topic conversations, foot-dragging tea breaks and long periods of blank staring that characterise the apparently hard-working employee.

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About the Author

Dr James Holloway has been writing about games, geek culture and whisky since 1995. A former editor of "Archaeological Review from Cambridge," he has also written for Fortean Times, Fantasy Flight Games and The Unspeakable Oath. A graduate of Cambridge University, Holloway runs the blog Gonzo History Gaming.