Sometimes Doing Nothing Is the Best Way to Move Forward
After his infamous rant at the 2009 VMA’s, Kanye West stayed surprisingly quiet for the rest of the year. Outside of an apology special with Jay Leno, not much was heard from Mr. West, either in the press or in the studio. The radio silence was finally broken in May of 2010, more than six months after he interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech, with the release of his newest single, “POWER”.
The song would serve as the lead single for his forthcoming album, slated for a fourth quarter release date in 2010. Upon its release, the track received critical acclaim with Joe Dolan of Rolling Stone calling it West’s “best single since ‘Stronger’.”
Perhaps part of his radio silence was due to the backlash received from the Taylor Swift incident, but maybe he just wanted space and quiet to work on the album that would eventually become the heralded My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Despite my best efforts in seventh grade, I’ve never released an album. But I can imagine what a strenuous and difficult process it must be. In my day to day as the sales and strategy in Latin America for Waze, I’m forced to spend time alone to evaluate what’s going on in our region and we can address and overcome the obstacles in our way. This solitude is necessary to completing tasks, whether it’s a sales forecast or your first book.
But I think this solitude is something that our generation is averse to. We’re constantly looking for things to keep us busy, as if we’re afraid of what will happen when we have to sit by ourselves in our own company. But if we hope to get any meaningful work done, then we should listen to Tim Kreider. In a wonderful article for The New York Times, Kreider comments that “The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration -- it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done. “
This idleness isn’t just a benefit for getting work done, it’s needed to function as a human being. If you’re always busy with things then you’re never busy with life. When was the last time you went to the park or to the bench by your house and just did...nothing? This time isn't needed just to meditate and grow, but it’s needed to make sense of the world around us.
Pico Iyer talks about how stepping away now and then allows us to see the world more clearly.
I’m not saying you should become a hermit and go on a long sabbatical. Rather what I’m saying is that it’s OK to not do anything from time to time. Go to the park, play FIFA 15, catch up on a TV show, whatever. Know that this temporary repose is needed to give your mind a break and to allow you to collect and make sense of your thoughts.
Whenever we face a crisis -- professionally or personally -- is the time when we think we need to act more and stay busy. We pick up extra tasks or look for other ways to stay preoccupied. Somehow, we believe, if every single time slot is filled, then we will be closer to solving the problem or challenge. But let’s not confuse being busy with being productive. I can be busy on Reddit all day.
As James Altucher points out in his article “5 Things I Learned From Gandhi,” “only through stillness can we be creative.” In the same blog post, Altucher recounts a verbal exchange between Gandhi and his supporters. Gandhi tells his backers that he sets aside one hour a day for mediating. Surprised, his backers reply that he’s surely too busy to meditate for a whole hour. At this, Ghandi says “Well, then, I now need to set aside two hours a day to do meditation.”
Whether you’re building a sales forecast, releasing an album or toppling the British Empire, often times it’s solitude and stillness that moves you forward.
Related: The Secret to Mastering Productivity