That Time I Discovered “Idle Time” Doesn’t Really Exist

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A well-known academic who researches retirement policy recently referred to me as “the indefatigable Chris Carosa” in an article she wrote for Forbes. In case you were wondering, the dictionary defines “indefatigable” as “incapable of being tired out; not yielding to fatigue; untiring.” If she only knew the half of it.

I got one of those stomach bugs a couple of weeks ago. You know the kind I mean. They come from nowhere and lay you flat for a good twenty-four hours or so. In the interim, you don’t want to eat anything, you don’t want to drink anything – plain and simple you don’t want to do anything.

Except sleep.

And sleep I did. Pang in my gut notwithstanding.

Well, I didn’t quite sleep. It was more like floating in and out of consciousness. (C’mon, we’ve all been there, so you know what I mean.)

Funny thing when I fall under the weather like this. Physically, I’m beat. Can’t move. Don’t want to move. Just want to lay there in a quasi-vegetative state.

Only not really. Because as weak as my body feels, my mind is buzzing like a busy bee. A busy bee trapped in a hive that it finds quite confining.

As my body lay idle, my mind began exploring strange new mental states. It suddenly dawned on me. All this idleness took me away from my routine.

But what exactly was that routine. Sure, there was the routine of work. Yes, work wasn’t getting done, but would prove to be no big deal. (By some miracle, I had entered this particular illness having gotten ahead of my usual work duties, so missing a day or two of work wouldn’t set me back.)

It was the other routine that had me thinking.

Every day, at a certain specified times, like clockwork I would induce a regimen of “idle time.” This purposely took me away from my various chores. It forced me to mentally zig away from the zag of labor. I don’t remember when I started this, although I have a suspicion as to why.

If you recall an earlier Commentary (“The Secret Power of Multitasking No One Ever Talks About,” Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, January 26, 2017), my parents once expressed concern I was involved in too many activities as an undergraduate. (Recall further that I explained I was “like a shark in water – constantly needing to swim to stay alive,” only because I had just watched a TV special on sharks and that was the lesson I had learned from the program.) My guess is their complaint stuck in my craw (as did that spot on shark metaphor).

Things get stuck in your head for a variety of reasons, guilt being among the most prevalent. So, I probably continue to feel guilty for spouting that snarky (sharky?) comeback how ever many years ago. As a result, I’ve felt this need to create “idle time” to take me away from my various endeavors.

Now, you can’t just have “idle time” without doing anything. If you did that, you may as well just go to sleep. No, you’ve got to do something to fill that void. In the past, I watched movies. Many movies. So many movies my kids know all the classics (yes, they were often present when I watched).

But movies take time. Too much time.

I required an activity that could consume twenty-minute chunks at a time (that I would often link three of those chunks together is beside the point – that’s still less time than it takes to watch a typical movie).

What activity could meet this twenty-minute requirement? Video games. Specifically, free games you can download on your phone.

And so I played. And played and played.

I made sure I took regular breaks, usually in the early morning and early evening, to practice “idle time” on my phone. It became a habit, but never an obsession (as you’ll see in a moment). As one game died off, I went to another. Anything to maintain my healthy habit of “idle time.”

In fact, I cheated a little. I started analyzing the games as a conduit to analyzing the video gaming industry. Which companies produced popular games and why? Would those companies be a good investment? (Don’t laugh, this actually worked quite well the one time I actually made the decision to buy the stock.)

Then I cheated more. I stuck with a dying game just to see what happens to the community when a game dies. Call it an experiment in human behavior. It was instructive. All these players with buyer’s remorse when they realize all that money they spent on the game meant absolutely nothing in the end. I had to smile because I’m one of those free riding gamers the gaming companies hate. I don’t spend a penny and play the game within those parameters.

All was going honky dory.

Then my stomach decided, “Hey, I haven’t been sick for a while. Let’s give it a whirl.”

As I lay on the couch contemplating the true value of “idle time,” I realized something.

“Idle time” is a crock. It doesn’t really exist. And, if you’re a multi-tasker like I am (again, see that article referenced earlier), the merry-go-round of activities achieves the same purpose as “idle time.”

With that, I gave up those games. Cold turkey. Without a hint of regret (thereby proving there was no obsession).

What did I do instead?

Well, the first thing I did was watch a movie. Because I was sick and had no desire to leave the couch.

But the next thing I did was even better.

I still had those twenty-minute chunks to use. So I went to my bookshelf and picked up a book that was patiently waiting for me. And I read.

And I read and I read and I read.

And I learned and I learned and I learned.

And I feel so much more satisfied knowing I’m not wasting my “idle time” with idle pursuits.

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