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What to do — when there’s nothing to do

It’s parallel to asking, is there really something in a vacuum? I think there is. Science will argue that molecules abound in a vacuum. So, we can’t say that there is nothing in a vacuum. In similar sense – we cannot claim that in any span of time, there is “nothing to do”. Now, I’m really pinning myself down on a circular argument – but I ask it anyway – what do you do when there’s nothing to do?

I’ve had weekends or days when I think there’s nothing to do, despite the fact that I am fully aware that lots of things in the house are waiting to be done. Instead, I choose to ignore them, shut the nagging voice off, and decide just to do nothing and chill. In simple terms, rest and relax. Work can wait at another time. And once settled in a very placid, unhurried mode, the feeling is “nice” – and that feeling can stretch too long until the mind is fooled by a strange whisper – there really is nothing to do.

When this happens to me, I itch to find something that isn’t work. Remember the list of chores waiting to be done? That’s work. So no, there must be something else. Funny, am I speaking like I’m in a vacuum? But there’s always something in a vacuum. So what do I do? I turn on the TV, flick through channels looking for a concert or a Disney musical animation movie. I find none, so I turn to a talk show. Hmmm … same discussion as yesterday, only with different pundits; so I switch to PBS for a cooking show. Not really interested in making cheesecake. If I crave for it, I can buy it. So now, what?

I turn on my favorite pop station on the radio, listen a while to Air Supply, then a Neil Diamond hit, and a Bee Gees song – then I think, enough of that. At other days, I keep that station on for hours, and even prance around with the beat of the music as I do my chores. This time, I look for something else, when “there’s nothing to do”. I saunter to the kitchen and decide, I’d like a pancake or two. I reach for flour, an egg, a bit of milk and a splash of sugar, and start stirring the mixture in a bowl. Just how many I can eat determines the amount of flour poured into the bowl. I got too many spoonfuls and cooked 10. Actually, I only wanted two, so what do I do with the rest? That can wait, too.

I flip through a small pile of unopened mail on the table, check the return addresses, and place back the envelopes on the pile. No urgency there. As usual, I don’t bother poring over the ads.

Then what? I sit in front of my laptop and start scanning my Facebook. Nothing catches my attention, but for a posting of pictures from my niece’s garden wedding. Lovely and exciting. My niece looks like a nymph hanging on to her man, I post. That is something to do – posting my cheerful response and heartfelt congratulations. Nothing else on FB seems interesting. I position myself comfortably and start a new blog (about time; hadn’t blogged in almost two weeks, I tell myself). Focus is shaping and almost before I know it – something is being produced. This blog is the end result of first thinking there is nothing to do – but this article was something to do.

What I find remarkable about “nothing to do” moments is that you end up with what you really meant to accomplish in the first place. The mind takes a strange and deliberate way of procrastinating. A parade of delaying tactics pours out and presents you with a myriad alternatives. You’re not lazy but you want to be lazy about that one thing you really intended to do. Until you run out or tire of alternatives. And you finally find yourself working on that one thing.

Has this happened to you? My two bits of advice – just do it – or, enjoy the alternatives in the process, and then get to it. And believe it; there’s always something to do. (Am I talking to myself here?)

Linda P. Jacob

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