Walking in the shadows of tall apartment buildings two days after the solstice, the sun surprisingly low in the sky for the mid-afternoon. This is the second half of my lunch break, and I’m spending it walking on the narrow street behind my school. To my left runs a long row of houses. To my right is a chain-link fence, woven and fringed with weeds. Beyond it, a profusion of railroad tracks.
This is the only quiet time that I have between when I go to work and when I leave, and it is essential. After today, I have just three days more of work this year, Monday through Wednesday next week, after which I will have five days off. In those five days, I intend to do strikingly little.
In contemporary work culture, especially somewhere like Japan, it’s hard to take time off. And even if we can manage, it’s hard to put sufficient distance between ourselves and our work to actually relax, enough mental separation to truly rest and recover from the constant onslaught of stress and busyness. We feel guilty for not being productive. We feel like we should be doing something, mistakenly believing that resting itself is not a fruitful activity.
Often, we aren’t comfortable sitting back and doing nothing for a few days, even if it’s what we need more than anything else. We struggle to let go enough to genuinely disconnect. And maybe it feels like wasted time, but it isn’t. When we allow ourselves to take off the time that we need, and use that time to be quiet, be bored, be relaxed, and be kind to ourselves, we come back from it ready to be more productive, focused, and effective. Any theoretically lost productivity is more than made up for.
And so, between now and the five days off I have around New Year’s, I’m going to do my best to prepare, do my best stack the deck in the favor of rest, do my best to make it so that’s when I get to those days off, there is nothing left that I am actually required to do. I will do whatever I want, including doing specifically nothing at all.