office boredom office boredom Doing nothing doesn't have to be a bad thing. (Photo: wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock)

Why 'wasting your time' is actually a good thing

Stop what you're not doing and learn about a novel approach to doing nothing.

There is value in being lazy. No, really. Don't believe us? Ask Itai Keshet, who made an entire career out of it.

"Next time you find yourself doing nothing when everyone else appears so busy, just remember that it's not necessarily you who is wasting your time," Keshet advised in Episode 2 of "Sluggish," a new independent web series that explores the art, science and history of doing nothing.

Keshet is not alone in his quest for meaning behind inaction. In developing his series, the Israeli-born filmmaker found four people who, like him, have turned this thing called nothing into a lifelong passion. Michael Bar-Eli, a professor at Israel's Ben Gurion University, studied the benefits of doing nothing in the context of a soccer game. British cloud enthusiast Gavin Pretor-Pinney became the accidental founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society, whose members spend their time analyzing clouds and anthropomorphizing their formations. German artist Ignacio Uriarte turned the mundanity and monotony of the office into a successful art exhibit. British cultural critic Steven Poole wrote a book about the evolution of work and how we associate it with value.

"I was on a Tube train, and there was a guy sitting opposite me wearing jogging pants and a Nike T-shirt, and the Nike T-shirt said, 'I'm doing work,'" Poole recalled in the first episode of the series. "And I thought, that's weird, isn't? Because he isn't really doing work; he's sitting on a train, and he was obviously going to go jogging or do some sports or just lounge around."

That deep-seated need to be "doing something" was also the basis for Bar-Eli's work, as he began to study the behavior of soccer players during the pivotal penalty kick. He turned those observations into a long-range research project that centered on a concept called "action bias."

What would happen, for instance, if a goalkeeper stood still during the penalty kick, rather than diving to deflect the ball? Bar-Eli combed through hours of footage and came up with a fascinating conclusion: Doing nothing, in many cases, can save the day.

Simply put, goalies "jump too much," Bar-Eli said. About 1/3 of balls shot during a penalty kick go into the center of the goal, and a large majority of goalies are standing in the center already. So there is no need to jump, dive or really do anything. But they still do.

"There is a gap between where the balls are shot and the behavior of the goalkeepers," Bar-Eli said. And that, he added, is the personification of action bias. Look around, and you'll find applications of this phenomenon virtually everywhere.

"According to science, when you're stuck in traffic, aggressively switching lanes doesn't get you any faster to where you are going than just sitting in a single lane," Keshet said. "But it does slow down traffic as a whole."

So now that we know we've become overly obsessed with "doing something," what's the solution? The obvious answer would be "do nothing." But Pretor-Pinney, the self-professed cloud enthusiast, has a better idea.

"Remember to look up," he said. "Remember to pay attention to the sky."


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Why 'wasting your time' is actually a good thing
Stop what you're not doing and learn about a novel approach to doing nothing.