JERRY: “What did you do last night?”
ELAINE: “Nothing.”
JERRY: “I know nothing, but what did you actually do?”
ELAINE: “Literally nothing. I sat in a chair and I stared.”
JERRY: “Wow. That really is nothing.”
Seinfeld, “The Maestro”

Can you remember the last time you did nothing? I’m not talking about the “I’ll just wash the dishes” or “Let’s binge watch that new show” sort of nothing, but the kind the “Seinfeld” character Elaine is talking about in this exchange – literally nothing. This kind of nothing means devices off, activities stopped and nothing but free time devoted to being alone with one’s thoughts.

In our ultra-connected world filled with updates and alerts, our free time is increasingly being devoted to mindless activities, like scrolling through social media. In an effort to feel productive, appear more active to others and combat FOMO (fear of missing out), individuals are avoiding doing truly nothing and filling the void with busywork – and it comes with consequences.

By never taking the time to truly switch off, people are at a higher risk of burnout. Focusing on distractions instead of embracing empty hours can also dampen the brain’s subconscious functions, killing creativity (which, by the way, has been noted by employers as the most important skill for the workplace of the future.)

According to recent research, employed people’s ratings of their satisfaction with life were highest when they had around two and a half hours of free time to enjoy a day. (For those not working, the optimal amount was closer to about four hours and 45 minutes.) Suffice it to say, free time is limited, so it’s important to make the best of it.

If you’re interested in improving your do nothing skills, consider these guidelines for putting the “free” back in free time:

Schedule Time Each Day

Just like any successful self-improvement project, a commitment to making time for nothing requires planning ahead. Experts contributing to the Sydney Morning Herald recommend setting aside the same time every day in order to get the body used the routine. It doesn’t matter if it’s morning, afternoon or night, or if the time set aside is five minutes, fifteen minutes or even an hour; the important thing is to maintain a regular, repeating schedule of nothing that works for you

Please note: the repetition here is important, because the first few times may feel a bit unnatural before the practice becomes routine. In fact, the same article references the following shocking story to illustrate how uncomfortable human beings really are with doing nothing:

“In a 2014 study, researchers asked people to either sit alone and do nothing for up to 15 minutes, or give themselves a painful electric shock. Two-thirds of men and a quarter of women pressed the shock button.”

Turn Off the Phone

It should go without saying that nothing time requires the individual to be completely disconnected from distractions, especially electronic devices. While smartphones and social media can be endlessly entertaining, there’s a time and place for these activities, and it’s not now or here! Go one step further than silent mode; instead, turn off your devices and put them somewhere that’s not visible during this time. When it comes to setting aside moments of nothing during free time, “out of sight, out of mind” is the best policy.

There Are No Rules

Once you’ve set aside the free time and separated yourself from potential distractions, it’s finally time for literally nothing – no work, no stress and, most importantly, no rules! This is an opportunity to be alone with your thoughts. Embrace the unpredictable directions your subconscious may take you! As noted previously, most people have been trained to be uncomfortable with this sort of unstructured free time, so it may take a few tries before you find yourself excelling at doing nothing.

“Seinfeld” may have been a show about nothing, but its enduring popularity hasn’t really inspired people to embrace scheduled nothingness. Whether you’re working or on the hunt for something new, consider infusing your free time with a little bit of nothing to expand creativity and curtail burnout!