Underrated activity of the decade: Waiting

Posted by in Productivity

Underrated activity of the decade: Waiting

Have you, too, noticed how waiting has changed? It used to be about blissfully doing nothing – but these days, it seems to be merely a source of stress and frustration. I’m reaping the benefits from opting out, and so can you.


Waiting is such an ugly word


Colour me strange; waiting is something I rather enjoy. It wasn’t always like that, mind you; it took years of burning the candle at both ends before it dawned on me that one is better off enjoying the small pauses offered by waiting – if only one lets them. For me, it can be something as simple as not rushing the walk home after picking up the children in kindergarten to get started on dinner, or just pacing idly for a couple of minutes at work while I wait for a colleague to become available instead of frantically checking e-mail  (heresy, I know).


These, of course, are conscious decisions. My life contains as many potential actions as those of any other, which means there is always something to choose from between productivity and procrastionation. But then I wouldn’t get the benefits of waiting – or pausing, if you will.


It’s worth the wait


And what exactly are these benefits? For one, waiting offers an opportunity to look up from what David Allen refers to as the runway level – which in normal parlance is the continuous execution of tasks without much thought given to strategic thinking. Put differently, you can use your breaks to course correct in the direction of executing more important tasks as opposed to just executing more, period. Don’t forget taking notes, though, as passing thoughts are easily forgotten when the wait is over.


On a more personal level, there’s also the matter of energy: action discharges, whereas inaction recharges. Most people are able to maintain a high level of activity so long as they pause in order to recharge both physically and mentally. Consider this: how often do you see someone running for eight hours straight without a break? That’s what I thought – and still, you might be putting your brain through the mental equivalent of such an ordeal. Makes you think, doesn’t it?


What’s the point of being frustrated?


And lastly, there’s the issue of frustration, to which I ask: why, exactly, does waiting for something often frustrate us? Granted, the question is almost inane in its simplicity – but posing it in the first place reveals another fact that’s hiding in plain sight: it’s not necessarily the passage of time that gets to us – it’s waiting for something which, in our perspective, should have been delivered upon.


Perhaps the lack of delivery is causing ripples in your agenda. Perhaps someone overpromised, and then underdelivered. Perhaps we have no basis upon which to estimate delivery, but do it anyway. Perhaps our standards are too high. Perhaps communications weren’t clear enough.


There are a million reasons for this, yet only one, universal, cure: accepting that there will always be matters beyond your control, and spend energy on adapting instead of being frustrated. In fact, there’s only one thing you need to figure out while you’re waiting, and that is what your very next task will be.


And once you’ve done that? Sit down. Be silent. Close your eyes. Be still. Let your mind wander. Just wait. It’ll do you good, I guarantee it.