Freedom from the to-do list: ‘The Art of the Wasted Day’ by Patricia Hampl

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The pace at which we move is extraordinary. Look out the window. Stare at the seagulls. Nobody has time for that!

Obsessed with productivity or the pursuit of distraction, we’re never not doing something. Even when we’re bored, we’re making lists or planning them out in images on a Pinterest board.

As Umberto Eco once said, “We like lists because we don’t want to die.”

But Patricia Hampl’s new book The Art of the Wasted Day wants us to reconsider time management by removing the burden of the to-do list and daydream instead. She encourages us, especially in our old age — what she calls the third stage after youth and middle age — to let go of the over-scheduled life.

The to-do list that runs most lives through middle age turns out, in this latter stage of existence, to have only one task: to waste life in order to find it. Who said that? Or something like that. Jesus? Buddha? Bob Dylan? Somebody who knew what’s what

Wonder, rather than pursue

Why keep adding to the list tasks like meditation and yoga? The urge to scratch the itch or check the boxes means more doing rather enjoying the freedom of idleness.

Patricia Hampl encourages us to be ok with making unscheduled time and doing nothing at all. She wants to remind us that it’s ok to pause and dance with pure nothingness. We can always get going again.

Loafing is not a prudent business plan, not even a life plan, not a recognizably American project. But it begins to look a little like happiness, the kind that claims you, unbidden. Stay put and let the world show up? Or get out there and be a flâneur? Which is it? Well, it’s both.

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