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What’s your idle?

No, not your Idol – although it may be that, too. But what’s your idle? Each day naturally gives us idle moments. How do you spend them? What activities do you thoughtlessly gravitate toward doing when an idle moment hits? What’s your idle?

Just like driving in stop-n-go traffic, we can easily spend a good portion of the course of our day idling. How we spend those moments not only has a huge impact on the person we become, but they have a sneaky way of impacting how productive the rest of our day is, too.

And instead of carefully embracing my idle moments with purpose, in the past I would too often unwittingly surrender these precious, potentially pivotal moments of my day to the whim of careless habit. Quiet addictions disguised as words like “multi-tasking,” “decompression,” “connectivity” and “efficiency”…slowly sucking away my life.

For instance, when I was at work, my idle was checking email. My day idled around my email inbox. It’s the first thing I’d check when I started work. It’s the last thing I’d check before I shut down. It’s what got a quick (and often longer) glance while slow internet pages were loading or during a slow part of a meeting. I checked it in between every task. I was constantly reacting to it. My pace and schedule was often dictated by it. My email was my idle. I was constantly present in my inbox, just not necessarily with the person or task in front of me.

At home, it was the TV. Anytime I was at home and hit an idle moment my brain felt this urge to grab the remote control and see what’s on. At the end of the work day when I was all sputtered out, TV was my idle. While waiting for dinner to finish cooking, relaxing for a moment, eating a snack or simply deciding what we wanted to do that night – the TV came on (and usually stayed on). And when I hit a commercial break (one where I couldn’t fast forward through it), I’d even flip to the channel guide and find something else to watch to fill that idle moment. TV was my idle.

Everywhere else, my smartphone was my idle. If I was standing in line at the grocery store, waiting in the doctor’s office, waiting at a traffic light, walking to a meeting or even waiting for a commercial break to finish – basically, anytime I had an idle moment – I reached for my front right pocket. I don’t know how many times each day I found myself in the middle of opening my phone and not even really knowing why. I’d flip through endless pages of interesting apps, fun games, social networks and email…just because. My cell phone was my idle, too.

Were these idle habits really helping me decompress, accomplish more tasks or be more efficient? Actually, they were doing the opposite. They were also doing a great job of making me feel much busier than I actually was.

Did I need these idle habits for entertainment? A much needed distraction from the grind of the day?

No. Actually, what I really needed was rest – not distraction. I needed silence – not stimulation. I needed a moment to take a deep breathe and contemplate my existence — what I’m doing and where I’m going. But such fragile moments are easy prey for ravenously bad, idle habits.

Do you ever get the feeling that instead of you living your life, it feels more like life is just happening to you? I’ll let you in on a little secret: It’s not because you have too much on your plate or not enough vacation days. It’s because of bad, idle habits.

These brief, idle moments – more often than we realize – turn into divergent distractions. They keep our head firmly in a million places at once. They steal our focus from the task at hand – not just from being productive at it, but from truly enjoying it. I was endlessly reacting or getting unexpectedly pulled into something via email, TV or smart phone that wasn’t nearly as important as what I had hoped to accomplish that day.  5 minutes here. 10 minutes there. Instead of using the natural idle moments in life to rest for a moment, find inspiration and reorient myself to the goals of the day, I packed them with unimportant to-dos and spontaneous distractions.

I decided to change my idles — and I changed my life. Two of the things I did that helped me do this was 1) quit Facebook and 2) change how I was consuming information. In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing a few more key things that made a big difference for me. I hope they help you, too.

Published in Popular Essays