I was sitting by myself in Paresky at lunch today when I started thinking about what I do when I’m not doing anything. When I’m eating by myself in particular, I feel rather self-conscious when I’m not doing something other than eating, when I’m not doing another passive activity at the same time. Typically taking the form of listening to music, working on schoolwork/readings for class, or being on my phone in general, I think most people feel a similar impulse to be doing something at all times. It honestly felt great for me to put my phone and books away for 20 minutes and just sit there, hum a tune, watch the rest of the bustling world around me.
I’m sure technology and “those darn phones” play their roles in this constant need for stimulation and activity. I bet another factor is the fact that we live in the place where we work basically all the time at Williams. There’s not much geographic separation between our school-business and the rest of our lives. There’s also, of course, the social expectation that we’re always at least thinking about our work. We have a reputation to live up to, after all!
I certainly don’t want to shame people with this post, and I don’t even necessarily want to argue that being on your phone isn’t a valuable use of down time, but I do want to impress that I think that noticing what your default passive activities are can be a really good way to start developing better habits and figuring out how you want to spend your time.
For instance, over the summer I decided I wanted to read more books, and so I started replacing other passive activities with reading. Instead of needing to sit down for 20-page sessions at a time, I’d just read a couple pages whenever I was between doing other things. It worked really well: I got through several great books over the summer, and I remembered what was going on in these books much better, since I was spending time with them more often. Back at school, unfortunately my leisure reading has largely fallen off, but I’ve started a new habit of going to the Music Center during study breaks and playing piano, something that I’m not seeking any particular end goal with, but just doing for the fun of it. Ultimately, I think a lot of our days can be sucked up into time that we would prefer/find more fulfilling to spend in different ways, and so the first step to carpeing the heck out of your diems is to take a look at what you’re doing when you’re not doing anything.