Why Great Leaders Take Time To Do Nothing


In modern life, we’re all constantly reminded of the need for balance.

Work. Socialise. Sleep. Exercise. Relax. Play. Grow. Give.

Yet sometimes, even with the most organised use of our calendar apps imaginable, life can still seem overwhelming. Things just don’t seem quite right.

Something still seems to be missing.

Since becoming a parent and being given responsibility to manage team, the last few years have been hectic. Although exciting at first, eventually life quickly became overwhelming and at times even confusing.

Our company has a great personal development culture, so luckily I was connected with a life coach and things immediately got a bit better. In truth, the principles reccomended were pretty basic – essentially to get more balanced in all areas of your life – but I suppose hearing it from someone paid by my employer during work hours probably helped!

However, despite these changes I still felt deep down that something was still a little astray. Although not just being glued to my iPhone or desk anymore, I still felt rushed.

At the end of the day (and often throughout it), I still felt tired.

The turning point for me came when through pure coincidence I met a well known personal development coach in the airport lounge at JFK airport. Our flight got delayed by over four hours so we ended up spending the best part of the evening in conversation. I explained to him my situation and after listening and asking me a few questions he gave me his simple remedy:

“Two hours a day sitting in a room doing nothing”.

Literally nothing.

No access to technology. Not reading. Not even sleeping.

Ideally not even thinking about what needed to be done (although he accepted this might be difficult to do initially).

You see as far as he was concerned, even though I had learned the principle that a balanced mind leads to a balanced life, throughout my day I was still “doing stuff”. My mind was still working. By taking the time to do nothing, I would literally be ensuring my mind was fully resting.

The results have been amazing. Although feeling a bit weird at first, eventually I found myself feeling far more energetic. Much more in control. And ironically, being much more productive during the time I was working.

And what I found even more surprising was the feedback I recieved when I shared my newly discovered revelation with others:

Nearly all the high performers I have worked with had a similar routine of regularly scheduling time out to fully switch off.

Here are some reasons why great leaders take time to do nothing.

It rests

The obvious reason for taking the time to do nothing is that it often brings much needed time for rest and recuperation.

Our brain is just like every other organ in the body. It needs time to rest and has an optimum capacity. Although capable of amazing things, it functions best when heavy thinking is also balanced out with proper time for rest and recovery.

In the fast paced and information rich word we live in today, our personal self-expectations have never been higher. Even during periods of “down-time” and relaxation, we are putting more and more pressure on ourselves to simply achieve more.

Whether its reading a business book on the way to work, or scouring YouTube endlessly to learn how to improve our golf swing, our minds are still working hard to process information and get things done rather than properly relaxing.

Great leaders understand the difference between simply thinking about something different and not thinking about anything at all. Rather than confusing rest with just changing direction of thinking, they make sure that they don’t reach exhaustion and take time to come back fully recharged and rested.

Great leaders rest properly.

It brings perspective

Ever had a problem that seemed so stressful and difficult that you couldn’t decide what to do? Where everything seemed complicated and overwhelming?

Ever come back the next day and all of a sudden things just “clicked”? Everything seemed just so much clearer? Perhaps….even obvious?

Most of us have. As innately emotional and sensitive beings, sometimes it takes time to digest everything properly and make the right decision. When confronted by high pressure – even emergency – situations for the first time, our bodies literally flood with stress hormones to keep us alert.

And although this “fight or flight” response is great for life threatening or basic protectionism type decision making (e.g. how do I react to that angry customer’s demand right now), its perhaps not the best state of mind to be in when making long-term or complicated decisions.

Most of us know what is more important in life. We all know exercise is more important than binging on as much coffee as possible until 6pm. We all realise our families are far more important than getting that annual promotion. It’s obvious that career fulfilment is far more satisfying than simply earning as much money a possible.

Yet during the frantic whir of the working day, things can get cloudy. During the high pressure meetings, endless emails and ever changing “to-do” lists it’s easy to lose perspective. We tend to focus most on what is in front of us, and spend far more time thinking about the next board meeting than how we can reduce our blood pressure like our doctor has advised at our last annual check-up (if indeed we’d remembered to actually do one this year).

Great leaders understand that resting fully is a great way to re-calibrate. By taking time to do nothing, what’s really most important to us usually rises to the top. The short-term noise is replaced by our long-held desires. It’s why going on vacation is such an excellent and neccessary tool to self-reflect. It often brings clarity on what is really important to us and what is the right thing to do.

Great leaders seek perspective.

It feels good

A massage always feels better after a good work out.

Nothing feels better after a hard days work than a sleep in our comfy bed.

A beer in the pub is always more satisfying after a good game of soccer.

Hard work is clearly an essential ingredient in success. In order to get ahead of the competition or achieve ground breaking results, its obvious that often one has to make sacrifices that most people aren’t willing to make. But sometimes just as important after a hard day’s work is taking the time out to sit back, do nothing, and fully appreciate everything around us for what it is. To accept things as they are. To live in the moment and not worry about things that we have done, or what might happen next.

It’s during these moments of absolute stillness that life can be most beautiful.

Great leaders understand that ultimately the goal of life is to feel complete. Whether it is earning more money, gaining more recognition or getting more Facebook likes, ultimately most of us are driven by wanting more.

And although this is great as a species in order to continuously break through new barriers of achievement, as indviduals its the fastest way to exhaustion and frustration.

And before we know it, life can quickly fly by without us appreciating how beautiful it can be.

Great leaders appreciate beauty.


Clearly, laziness will never get you anywhere.

But at the same time, cramming in more and more to our already hectic lives isn’t a good idea either.

Great leaders understand that hard work and rest are more closely related than we might think. Although pushing ourselves to the limit is essential to breaking new barriers of achievement, it can only be done so by taking the time fully recuperate and taking the time to do nothing.

Do you take time to do nothing?

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