Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving by Celeste Headlee
Nonfiction | Self-Help | Psychology
Published by Harmony
Released March 10th, 2020
Goodreads | Amazon
If there’s one book that I’ve read this year that I would encourage everyone to read, it would be Celeste Headlee’s Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving. Even though we’re only halfway through the year, I’m confident that this book will still be my top non-fiction recommendation of the year come December.
No one can deny that Americans, and citizens of numerous other nations, are extremely overworked. Most of us rarely stop moving, even after we punch out. We’re always busy and we rarely take time to relax. I’ve talked on the blog before about job-related burnout, and I’ve experienced it for years (especially back when I was working two jobs!).
In Do Nothing, Celeste Headlee makes the case that Americans are too focused on productivity and efficiency, to the detriment of our happiness and health. Rather than working 40+ hours a week and constantly striving to be the best member of your team, she suggests that we slow down and set aside time to relax, have hobbies, and truly rest.
Before I talk about all the reasons that I love this book and its purpose, I do want to mention that the idea of voluntarily taking time off from work or just simply working less comes from a place of privilege. Obviously, if you’re struggling to put food on the table and pay bills, you’re not going to be able to do it. The reason I rated this book 4.5 stars rather than 5 is due to this book not being practical for everyone.
There are several points that Headlee discusses in her book that are important. First, the tradition of a 40-hour workweek is outdated. This isn’t anything new – there have been plenty of studies that show that workers who work fewer hours are just as productive and are happier at work. The “standard” work week, as we know it, was invented during the Industrial Revolution to maximize the profits of business owners and milk as much productivity out of their workers as they possibly could.
Second, we as a culture are constantly working to improve our productivity and efficiency, even when those things actually make more work for us. Think about it – how many of us use a plethora of apps every single day to track our food, water intake, moods, steps, to-do list, etc? All of this takes time, and while there are benefits to these things, it’s taking away from our precious leisure time. We also take our work home with us through email on our phones and having to be available whenever our bosses need us. We’re not really relaxing if we’re on call 24/7.
Third, and possibly most importantly, Headlee discusses in length the effect that social isolation has on the human psyche. More and more people prefer texting or email over real life social interactions, and that is linked to growing rates of depression and loneliness. No one talks to their neighbors or have backyard barbecues or game nights.
These, along with several other incredibly important issues, are all addressed in length by Headlee. She argues her points succinctly, with plenty of evidence to back up her claims. Everything in the book is easy to understand and is something that most of us likely already know subconsciously, but that desperately needs to be said.
The one thing that I took away from this book that I think will have a lasting impact on me is the suggestion that we can work enough to provide the lifestyle we want, rather than constantly striving for more. I’ll admit it’s not something that has ever crossed my mind consciously but make so much sense. When I picture my future, I don’t see being a manager of a huge company and having an embarrassingly large house (although it’s okay if that’s what you want!); I simply want a modest home with enough land to grow food, be able to take trips occasionally, and not worry about paying my bills or putting food on the table. I’m okay with not being at the top, I just want to be comfortable enough to enjoy life. It’s such a simple concept, but one that’s also easy to forget.
If I haven’t made it clear yet, read this book! I rarely call a book life-changing, but changing our lifestyles to become healthier, happier people is something that we should all be striving for. Work consumes our lives, and few people are actually fulfilled by their jobs – let’s work instead towards the goal of learning to enjoy our leisure time.