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From ABC, this is the 10 percent happier podcast. I'm Dan Harris. Hey, guys, for an audience of meditators or aspiring meditators, I assume everybody on the show fits into one of those categories, but maybe I'm wrong anyway, for this kind of audience, the idea of doing nothing should not be entirely foreign. But speaking from personal experience here, it is very possible, especially for Type A people to approach meditation with some sort of an agenda, in which case sitting on the cushion can be very far from truly doing nothing.


Enter Jenny Odel, who makes a very compelling case for truly doing nothing in her work.


She's really challenging what for many of us, myself included here is a deep seated and sometimes subconscious reflex to constantly optimize to constantly be productive. Jenny is a lecturer in the Stanford Department of Art and Art History, and she's the author of the best selling book How to Do Nothing, which just came out in paperback. She comes to the subject of time from a very different perspective than our guest on Monday, Ashleigh Willins. If you haven't listened to that episode, go back and do it.


These to make a fascinating pairing in this conversation with Jenny, we talk about letting go of our constant demand for productivity and learning to simply look around the thrilling phenomenon of observing something so deeply that you actually cease to understand it.


Why moments of disgust or even existential despair can actually be quite instructive and how to divest from what she calls the attention economy. Here we go, Jenny Yodle.


Jimmy, thank you so much for doing this. Nice to meet you. Nice to meet you, too. And thanks for having me. So you have this great line. I think it may be the opening line or one of the opening lines of your book. Nothing is harder to do than nothing. Can you unpack that?


I totally agree. I just want to hear your point of view on that.


Yeah, I think that doing nothing or maybe more properly, like feeling like you're doing nothing is hard for several reasons. And one is just habit. I think like there's a habitual way of thinking in which you always need to be working toward something or having something to show for your time. Otherwise it was somehow worthless. I've been thinking about this a lot lately because I'm writing this new book about time. There's kind of like orientation toward time in general.


I think that's almost like a leaning forward. There's some desired outcome that's different from the present and you're sort of leaning forward in the space between those two. And to do nothing in relationship to that would be to simply just sit back and just sit in that moment as it is, which is very difficult to do because of that. I think you get into that posture and it's something you get used to the posture of leaning forward.


The great writer and former Buddhist monk, Stephen Batchelor. I believe I hope for him. Stephen, if you're listening, we're friends, so you might be listening. I apologize if I'm going to mangle this line, but I believe in his book, Buddhism Without Beliefs, he says something about how our default state is wanting to be elsewhere or otherwise.


Yeah, that's exactly that's such a good way of putting it. It's this kind of underlying dissatisfaction or feeling that something or you are inadequate. Therefore, you need to be sort of working working against that. I think that actually that line makes me think of Pauline Oliveros, who I talk about in the book, who is a sound artist and composer, and she similarly says that the reason for needing to cultivate deep listening, which is her name for sitting in an environment and listening actively, is that our culture privileges snap judgment basically, and like needing to grasp and react to things and that the opposite of that, which would just be kind of empty listening is something that I think you would already need to train yourself to do.


But you specially have to train yourself to do now because everything is kind of arrayed against that.


How have we gotten ourselves into this situation? Because I fully agree. I feel haunted by what we're both of us quoting a lot of other people here. But I'll quote again, there's a great podcast or Jocelyn K Gly, who has a podcast called Hari Slowly.


She's been on the show and she talks about something called Productivity Shame, which really describes my mindset, maybe twenty two and a half hours per day of just feeling haunted, always behind.


Every moment needs to be maximized, optimized, utilised. Where does this mindset come from?


Well, I mean, first of all, just say I've been on her podcast and she's great. I love that podcast. But in terms of where this mindset comes from, just speaking from my own experience, I think that it probably starts pretty early on. I mean, I have I have journals going back to when I was just like old enough to write and have really detailed journals through high school and college. And I went back through them about a year and a half ago.


And I was kind of horrified to find myself saying the same exact things that I say now. Like, I never have any time. You can just see it kind of like always running after something, like always trying to catch up. And there's like some passages where I'm like staring towards the Santa Cruz Mountains and sort of wishing like I can just go over there and drop all of this. And it's kind of very familiar refrain. And so I was reflecting when I was reading those about how even then and that was pre social media kind of over scheduled.


I was. And I think that that's kind of a combination of school could be your parents. It could just be kind of like the ether of expectation like that, something that I think about a lot with my students who are at Stanford. It could be that no one in particular is telling them that they need to do that many things. It's just an expectation that exists around them. So it's really like a culture of busyness or a culture of productivity where, yes, like technically you are free to not participate in that, but you will feel the pressure of not falling in line with that culture.


I believe your book you've described the book as I'm now referring to how to do nothing, not your forthcoming book about time, which I.


Also, be curious to talk a little bit about, but I believe you described it as a critique of capitalism, would you pin some of the blame for this?


This kind of productivity, same mindset we have, the struggle we have with doing nothing on capitalism.


Yeah, I certainly think that it lines up with capitalist ways of valuing time where a certain picture of productivity, which is pretty specific, it's like the production of visible, tangible, commodified value over X amount of time versus the quote unquote productivity that I kind of try to put forth in the book, which is much more connected to a less linear, more cyclical kind of way of thinking about things like maintenance care, where you may have nothing to show for your time within one frame of reference.


But actually it was hugely productive of meaning or or care or something like that in this other frame of reference. So I kind of ask early on, when we say productivity, it's like productive of what, for whom and why. And these are kind of like questions that exist outside of that one version of productivity. Like, you know, I've been sort of critically reading a lot of commercial time management books lately. And there are good tips in there for me personally.


And I've been thinking a lot about how there's a difference between getting more comfortable in the situation that you're in. So getting more streamlined so that he'd be more comfortable in a capitalist situation versus questioning some of the premises that are underlying that, which is not something that's going to happen inside that time management advice. But that advice is really addressed to kind of like treading water, in my opinion.


What does it look like to question the underlying premises of capitalism? And, you know, if you follow it to its.


Northpoint, are you living off the grid? What how do we change our relationship to this structure that it's like so seeped into our like the marrow of our culture?


I think the first step is just that acknowledgement, right? Like how hard that is. I think like simply taking stock of how. Completely that may have colonized your ways of thinking is is a really great place to start. So that gets into really deep questions of like self worth. What is your life for? What does value mean to you? What does meaning mean to you? Those are really difficult questions that you kind of spend your entire life answering.


And so just simply having respect for the difficulty of those questions I think is is really important, or at least it's been important for me. And then I think with awareness of that difficulty, then there's the kind of accompanying recognition that it's going to be a difficult, ongoing process. So I'm really suspicious of this kind of quick fix approaches to things like the attention economy, because I don't I don't think there is a quick fix. And I think the reality is that you live in a world with other people where things are happening.


You are beholden to those people as people are beholden to you and this kind of fantasy of dropping out entirely and yet, like throwing your phone in the ocean and moving to the woods, completely understandable impulse that has also come up many other times in history. And it's a helpful pointer in a direction, I think. But ultimately, I think what I'm interested in in the book is how can you live in this kind of difficult and complicated space in between where you are able to direct your attention with some agency and make these kind of more intentional decisions about, for example, the way they use social media, but also just how you value your time and the extent to which you're aware of your surroundings and human and non-human community.


You have the agency to do those things, but you also are not this kind of like isolated unit in a dead world where everything is just sort of there to be controlled by you. So it's a version of that old complicated question between an individual agency and and living in a community.


So where have you come down for yourself on how to navigate your relationship to. The capitalist society in which we find ourselves, I'm almost a bad example because I have a really unusual. Life situation, I mean, on top of teaching art, which because that's the university job, I have pretty self directed schedule now I'm teaching online, so it's even more so. And then I'm a writer. So my work is writing. So in a way, I'm obviously fortunate, but it also is a little bit complicated because you could argue if I'm walking in the park and I'm like contemplating and thinking like that's work according to my job.


So it actually gets complicated and fuzzy in interesting ways. But for me, it's kind of like ongoing effort to strike a balance between obviously I need to make a living and I need some amount of stability. And I'm incredibly, incredibly fortunate and privileged to have those things. And then over and above that or sort of beyond the realm of that, there's this other space which I could be putting through the sort of machine of productivity and trying to wring value out of it.


And I have chosen not to or I'm trying to choose not to do day after day.


And I think thinking about it in terms of like protection can be really helpful, like I'm protecting this time or I'm protecting this part of myself from these outside forces. In a way, it sort of reminds me of the Rose Garden, which I talk about a lot in the book in Oakland. The Rose Garden is sort of like utopian little park that is really close to the main drag in this neighborhood. And you can hear the traffic actually going on around this kind of bowl of a park that's sitting down into the hill.


And you know that you're going to leave the park at some point. But the park itself sort of represents this little bubble that's existing in the middle of all of that. I know that notwithstanding the title, which has a how to in it, you know how to do nothing. It's not a how to book. But I would be curious to hear more about how you do nothing and maybe let's start with the Rose Garden.


But I would be you know, I think it would be instructive for people to hear about your process of, you know, doing nothing as a radical act.


Yeah, I would say that my acts of doing nothing are pretty uncomplicated. They're just it's really any time planned or unplanned where I am not trying to do anything. And that's not to say I'm totally getting away from the guilt of feeling like I should be doing something. But the fact of the matter in that time is that I'm not trying to do anything.


So the Rose Garden is a really lovely example because it's just so beautiful there and so kind of the fact that it's maintained by volunteers, some of whom I know now, and it's full of bird species that are now familiar to me when I go there, it feels like going to meet up with some friends, even if they're not like human friends.


Right. Just a place of familiarity and enjoyment.


And so it doesn't really make sense for me to go there to do something going there is the point. If I'm there, I have achieved my goal. And really the only thing that I'm doing there is observing, observing, appreciating, being surprised, letting my mind get unbound from these very small cycles of anxiety, despair or whatever else is going on. Doom scrolling on my phone. And so that's really just like sitting and observing in any place. But for me, particularly like green spaces, like I'm a big fan of Percolates.


Oakland has a lot of nice little. Sometimes it just unnamed percolates where there's like one bench and it's near a creek where it happens to be above ground and so that, yeah, pretty much any version of that for me is doing nothing.


I mean, just yesterday I was sitting in a different park and watching a bee for a long time.


I didn't plan to I didn't know there was going to be a bee there, but it was a really huge one of those really, really big bumblebees that's like fuzzy. And the bench was right next to a plant that's like right up in your face when you're sitting there and it was just like. Be time double entendre intended, I assume? Yeah, yeah, the Leslie Nobbs of the World must be saluted.


Parks are amazing. What else do you do?


I mean, I, I saw this great slogan in a Peroni beer ad, which I know is perverse. Bring up ads in this context. But it's not actually a slogan persay. It's apparently an Italian expression, which I will now mangle with apologies to my wife who speaks Italian dolce part the I believe the sweetness of doing nothing. Hmm. So sometimes for me that's like, you know, lying and putting my face into one of my cat's bellies or just my son and is playing in a room and I just lie on the ground and heckle him gently or whatever.


So those are some examples from my own life.


I don't know if that how that fits with what else you do when you're sort of intentionally, quote unquote, doing nothing.


Yeah, I love those examples.


I mean, right now sort of an odd time because there isn't really much to do other than to go for a walk for me anyway. Like, that's just I've just been here or a grocery store or a one on one of a handful of the same walks that I've been going on since March. I mean, I guess in terms of like intentionally setting out to do something, really, it's just going for a walk, like a slow walk and just kind of observing, particularly right now.


I really love seeing the changes in bird populations throughout the year. So seeing like the birds that have arrived for the winter and kind of watching them arrive. But I think maybe more generally or more abstractly, I think which I think you're sort of getting at and the examples that you just listed is I think you can take. A view of it, you could become self aware. I mean, people would describe this as mindfulness, right? But it's almost like you could imagine if you were suddenly dropped into your body and now you're like here in your life on Earth the way you would feel, kind of just like looking around at stuff.


There's so many, like you think, you know your home, you think you know your apartment, you don't. There's so many things that you haven't noticed. And I keep having that experience like in here in my apartment, but also walking around. It's like I think I'm getting tired of these walks. And then one day something will just kind of get knocked loose somehow in my mind. And then I realized that there's something very obvious that I just have not noticed on my hundreds of times going on this walk.


So for me, it's almost like the do nothing state of mind is just to be a very subtle shift and perspective on the same thing that you might have been looking at or not noticing a moment before, because you are in this more kind of purposeful, forward leaning stance.


I love this. Thinking about doing nothing is like a slothful act of rebellion.


My off base there, no one in my mind.


It reminds me of like if someone had been grasping on to a bar or something, like trying to hold on to something for their entire life. And then you're asking that person to just uncurl their fingers. And that person has been told that if they let go of this thing, they will cease to exist. Then on the one hand, that is you are relaxing. On the other hand, it's incredibly challenging. And I think that that kind of like.


The fact that something can look like relaxing, but also be challenging, and I guess that's part of what I meant by that sentence, you know, nothing is harder than doing nothing. Yes. And that's what I was probably mal adroitly trying to point to with slothful rebellion. It's consequential. It's difficult. And also sort of like. Beautifully, sloppily indulgent. Yeah, I thought about it, and I think there's also some humor in that as well, like I mean, one of the reasons I love that story so much.


There's often a sense of humor in them of like almost like you realize that you've been running around in these tiny circles and then suddenly you zoomed out. And the punch line is that there was all the space around you. That's funny. It's funny that something could be hard and easy.


At the same time, there's a really groovy meditation teacher who's a great friend of mine and just an awesome member of homosapiens, Geoff Warren, and he talks about meditation and or practice.


He uses the word practice and a really broad sense. So it doesn't have to be it and in some cases really shouldn't be fold yourself up into a pretzel and do the traditional meditation. Everything we do trains the mind so you can train the mind in lots of ways. And Jeff tries to be very democratic, small d democratic in his approach. He's Canadian, so he's definitely not a member of either a US party.


And he did this thing where he collected from his various followers online. He's got a quite a robust following online and he collected people's practices and one of them is coming to mind. I just want to I wish I could quote this woman's practice verbatim, but I'm going to try to reproduce it to the best of my ability. But just to see if it fits with you, she says, I deliberately try to waste time. I will sit at my desk when the workday is over with nothing to do.


I will actively watch old Taylor Swift music videos instead of something good for me on Netflix or whatever.


And that idea of deliberately wasting time, it feels quote unquote, wasting time feels like it fits into what you and I are discussing here of this interesting rebellion, this interesting letting go. Does it land for you?


Yes. I love the idea of sitting at my desk any longer than I have to.


It's the same to me. All right. I did have that response to it. Yeah.


I mean, and I guess that that is an example of the fact that for me, simply not working or sort of not optimizing the time that's left over from that in and of itself, there's something more specific than that that I'm usually looking for.


And that is some sense of like getting outside of myself. So like dissolving the ego a little bit. Like one of the reasons I keep mentioning going outside, it's like if I don't have to be here at my desk, I want usually to be outside because it sounds cheesy, but like if I leave, for example, I go on vacation, I come back, I feel like I need to walk around to see all of the bird species that live in my neighborhood as if you just got home to your neighborhood and you're saying hi to everyone like I'm back.


There's some sense of, yeah, just sort of connection and embeddedness, I guess, with something larger than myself. I think that that is often. What I am seeking in those kinds of moments, and so it's because everything else, like working or participating in social media, feels like the opposite of that to me, it feels very isolating. It feels very concentrated on me as a sort of like bounded identity. And that for me, it goes really hand in hand with that kind of forward leaning quality of needing to accumulate things to that bounded identity like add value.


And so I am always trying to find ways to get out of that, to sort of counterbalance that because you could spend your whole life in that mode. And that, to me, would be a real tragedy because it would be almost like you tunneled through your life and you never looked around.


I think many people do that. I spent a huge chunk of my life doing that. I believe you made a really important distinction there because I was off on my whole, like, slothful rebellion thing.


And the tweak that you added, at least what I heard was that for you at least, it's not just. Hurling yourself on the ground and just lying there, maybe sometimes, but what I heard as an add on there is that there is an intention there. It's not an intention that would fit or slot nicely into capitalism, but it is to kind of dissolve the small self, connect with the world around you, whether it's birds or humans or whatever.


There is something more there than just sloth. Am I in the neighborhood there? Yeah, yeah, I think so.


It's funny because it's like basically two very different forms of desire. It's like there's the grasping desire of getting more bang for your buck with your time and having results to show for it versus the desire that I feel. For example, looking at that be, you know, it's like strange to call it desire, but it's like when you're really fascinated with something, it's almost like you're falling into it. It feels almost like this vertigo. And somehow, like the more and more you look, the more and more that happens.


I wrote this piece for The Atlantic earlier this year. That was the review of two bird behavior books. They're both the recent and there's kind of interesting phenomenon in both of them where the more we learn about bird behavior, it's like the more we know.


That we don't know, like there are things that we've learned that birds know how to do and no one knows why, there's a species of bird that can predict hurricanes like two months in advance and change their flight path. And no one knows why, but we know they do. And to me, that's kind of like an analog to this feeling of like you can look more and more at something and not only not grasp it, it's the opposite. It's like you, the person that would be grasping it is gone.


It's just your awareness of this bird or plant or bee or whatever. And that's like an incredibly intoxicating feeling. So and I I think part of what I was trying to do in the book is like that is it has its own addictiveness to me and it really stands up to these other more nefarious forms of addictiveness on social media or just social media informed way of being.


Yeah, let me see if I could reach data to just so I make sure that I understand it, because it sounds very interesting.


There are phenomena that one can observe where the more you observe it in some ways, the less you get it.


Yeah. Yeah. And you don't want to get it either. It's not the same feeling of dissatisfaction. I mean, I talk in the book about these crows that I've befriended on my street. Crows are supposedly they're very common birds. I think a lot of people wouldn't look twice at a crow. And my starting to pay attention to them was in part because I had learned in twenty sixteen that they recognise human faces and all of these other interesting things about their intelligence.


Of course that's the human model of intelligence, but that was twenty sixteen. I all these crows still come by every morning. It's the same family of crows and they land right on the balcony so I can see them pretty close up. And it's the opposite of the feeling of really like having a hold on something like as a point. Instead it's sort of like expands. And so I just feel more and more sort of curious about them. And they seem more and more mysterious to me.


And that'll probably just go on forever. But that's a very pleasurable feeling. I would never want to feel like one day you can close the book on these growth.


This phenomenon can show up in my experience and romantic love and friendship.


Oh, yeah, definitely. Yeah, I think. That in both cases, it's a matter of. How generous you are in your looking and how open minded, like especially in long term relationships, like you might replace someone's actual living being with your image of them.


And that image might have been frozen a long time ago. And so there's like an active effort that you have to make. It's like the Pauline Oliveros deep listening type of thing. But you do it with a person. I think the same thing can happen with a place. As I was saying earlier, when you go on these walks that you think you're familiar with and you get bored with, there's nothing actually boring about that walk. It's like that's something that's happened to the way that you're thinking about it.


And so I think that knowing that and being aware of that, you can sort of try to. Cultivate this practice of asking different questions of that place or that person or taking a slightly different angle or just even more generally, just kind of relaxing backward and letting whatever's there just be there.


I know it's not a how to book, but do you have suggestions on how we can engage in this act of looking again and looking again and looking again at things in people and animals? We thought we knew to get this vertiginous feeling that you've described as addictive?


Yeah. Um, there's kind of a rather arbitrary way of doing this was just to pick different things to focus on.


Rob Walker wrote a book called The Art of Noticing a while back. And I think this is one of the things he suggests. And the example that he gives is security cameras. He says, like spend a whole day looking at security. I actually did that. It's fascinating. There are way more security cameras than you realize, but also because of where security cameras are placed, they'll make you notice architectural details that you would not have noticed or even the building.


Maybe you didn't even notice that also the different kinds of security cameras. And then you can go and think about all the infrastructure on those security cameras and go on and on. And so it's really just there is a practice of selecting something out of this chaos to pay attention to. And then something I've noticed also, although this is a bit more difficult right now, but going to a familiar place with someone else who has a different perspective, I am always surprised by things that my boyfriend notices that I don't when we're walking.


So he'll say like, oh, look at that weird thing on that roof. And I was never going to notice that thing on the roof. I could have gone on that walk one hundred more times than I would not have seen it. And different people have different reasons for noticing the things that they do. But I think combining them together can be really interesting. And I know, like some of my friends have started noticing birds more because of just being around me.


And I won't stop talking about birds.


So I ask you for a friend here.


Actually not. I love birds.


So I actually what how does one and I like crows a lot. How does one befriend a family of crows. Do you feed them. Yeah.


So they really like peanuts. I'm a little hesitant to recommend it because I'm like worried that everyone everywhere will start putting peanuts everywhere and then it'll be like ecological chaos. But yeah, I think once in a while you leave a peanut out for a crow.


I mean, the thing is, I think that they notice, you know, if you're the same person in the same place at the same time, and they are, too, I think they notice that. So if you if there's always crows in some area that you pass and then maybe you, like, leave them like one peanut, I'm sure after a while they would notice that.


Um, but yeah, we have a bird feeder now on our balcony.


So we've also we can eat some chickadees and titmice and that's been really lovely just to know that our little balcony is like a part of their universe. Much more of my conversation with Jenny Odel right after this. Staying informed has never been more important. The information is coming in us faster than ever. So how do you make sense of it all? Start here. Hey, I'm Brad Milkie from ABC News. And every weekday we will break down the latest headlines in just 20 minutes.


Straightforward reporting, dynamic interviews and analysis from experts. You can trust always credible, always solid. Start here from ABC News 20 minutes every weekday on your smart speaker or your favourite podcast app. There's so much overlap and I've waited to ask this question, but there's so much overlap in what you're pointing to or what you're pointing at and in the language you use right down to the letting go.


Like you said, you're you're grasping on to a pole your whole life or a bar your whole life, and then you let go.


There's so much overlap with Buddhism and meditation.


How familiar are you with those worlds? Are you informed by those practices and worldviews, or is your worldview completely independent of that?


I definitely am aware. I've read and listened to things in the realm of Buddhism. I also really love Krishnamurti so much. I was just rereading Freedom from the Known couple weeks ago, so I'm aware of this kind of there's this like a long tradition of that act of letting go. I sort of like came to it almost from like an oblique angle where you realize that you're saying the same things as something this incredibly rich tradition. But you sort of came to it from an odd path.


And I don't have a sort of like traditional meditation practice, but I think that the things that I do that fall into the meditative category are informed by those same ideas.


There are a few phrases that come up in your work that I would love to get you to talk about. Bio regionalism. Yeah, fire regionalism.


It would definitely depend on who you ask of what that means. There's all kinds of different versions of it. But for me, that's just an awareness of one's sort of ecological neighborhood. So, for example, being aware of the name of the watershed that you live in and maybe some familiarity with that mountain and those waterways and where they're going, the native plants that grow there, the natural geological history. I would also include indigenous history of that place.


And then that's the sort of detached version. Right. But I would also add the kind of a sense of responsibility. So these things are not the sort of cold, detached objects of inquiry, but they're agents who live in a community, you know, the waterways and the animals and the plants that are living in the waterway are also actors. And so you are all together in this community and you have some responsibility and you have effects on that community simply by being there.


So it's like a different way of thinking about your address. You have your street address, but then you also have your your bioregional isn't my address.


And Peter Berg, who was a big proponent of bio regionalism, I quoted him in the book, his address that he would give people with basically a long string of, you know, so-and-so watershed and so and so, you know, mountain range on planet Earth. So it's like it's kind of a way of like locating yourself in physical ecological space manifest, dismantling that one's mine.


I made that one up.


Manifest dismantling is a term that I opposed to Manifest Destiny and specifically to the painting that is often associated with Manifest Destiny, which is a painting by John Ghast of white robed woman who's kind of like floating over the US and she's got like trains and she's actually stringing up power lines. And then all of the sort of indigenous people and animals and everything is running away from her. And it's kind of shrouded in darkness. And so if Manifest Destiny is just kind of like techno determinists, triumphalists, very specific, culturally specific notion of progress that involves a lot of destruction of the existing communities and knowledge then manifests dismantling would be the opposite of that.


It would be cleaning up all of the damage that Manifest Destiny brought about, which starts first with acknowledging the systems and the knowledge that was and is here already and then working to repair those connections and to repair waterways and to just think about repair as a form of productivity, basically. And the example that I give is the amount of effort that went into rerouting a river around dam in Carmel Valley here in California, that that took a significant amount of science, engineering, political innovation, multiple groups working together to get rid of something to get rid of something that should not have been there and to allow the steelhead trout population to again flourish.


So that's just one example.


You've, I believe, said that one of the things that kind of looking back at your book that you might have wanted to have included in.


More on was stuff around privilege, am I right about that? Yeah, yeah, I think it's pretty significant that the book came from a talk that I gave in twenty seventeen that I wrote in part in reaction to the 2016 election. And that conference was for people who are sort of working in art and technology, which is the background that I come from. And so in a way, from the beginning, it was written by someone in a very specific life situation with lots of privileges and stability and address to other people in similar situation.


And I think that that definitely comes out in the book. And I think that as much as I tried not to make it self help, it risks having the same problem as other self-help, which is that it only is helpful to certain people. Right. Like it's only helpful to someone who has enough time. I think it's the really big one in my case, someone who has time or temporal autonomy to make those choices about how they value their time, whereas it's not useful to someone who does not have time or does not have control over their time.


And it's simply just trying to make it. So I think that that's I sort of tried to make that clear in the book, but I feel like I probably should have emphasized it more and actually is sort of the impetus for this book that I'm writing now. It's kind of a a useful thorn in my side in terms of thinking about that question of time.


How would you plan to address that in the new book mean? What can you say to folks about thinking creatively about a.. Productivity and not trying to optimize every moment if they feel like you will?


Look, I have to in order to pay the bills.




I mean, I think what I would say to that person is that that nothing about that is their fault. So there's a really big difference between someone who just has no time and is completely stuck in that situation. Versus like I look back at especially the last four or five years and I was always too busy, but that's a lot more my fault than it is for someone in the first situation. Right. So a big part of this research that I've been doing for this book is like.


You know, there's been a lot of really interesting writing about the difference between those two situations and the role of choice and agency in someone's experience of time scarcity. And I think with that is the acknowledgement that the realm of individual agency and choice in directing one's attention can only go so far. Ultimately, if you want to talk about making more time for more people, then you're going to have to talk about things like organizing, like workplace organizing, unions, structural things like universal child care.


You kind of can only go so far without having to then talk about those things. And so part of my motivation in this upcoming book is not just addressing that kind of missing part of the last book, but also I feel sort of compelled to point out that like that time management in a certain kind of bootstrap mentality, which I feel is very American, where it's like just manage your time better, that that's like it's incredibly cruel to sort of say that to someone who isn't in the situation that they're in because they didn't know how to manage their time.


But that's often how it's framed. It's like just by this book and it'll solve all your problems. But then it turns out that all of the suggestions are like, well, just outsource all of your work. Just pay someone else to do it. It's like, well, OK, that's going to work for a certain subset of people, but not a lot.


Do you have a sense that change is afoot, that among the privileged who can, quote unquote, manage their time and maybe shift out of a constant preoccupation with productivity, that there is a shift happening at that level and or a shift happening at the policy level so that we don't have so many people who through no choice of their own.


Need to have their hair on fire every waking hour. I don't know, my sense is that within maybe very specific and privileged realms, maybe. Yes, especially with the pandemic rate, it's like, oh, turns out you could work from home. Oh, it turns out like you can have an entire company pivot so that people can work from home. I feel like I've heard about more places trying out different experiments with time, like giving certain days off or giving people more flexibility.


I think there's also had to be more of kind of reckoning with child care and work and the flexibility that that requires. And maybe more people are just sort of thinking about work time versus non-work time because the distinction feels so arbitrary. You know, if it's just all look at your computer. But at the same time, it's like I just think about Amazon, right? What is going to stop Amazon from completely exploiting every single second of their workers time?


I don't know. I don't see a shift in that. I only see that accelerating. And so, again, I think if there's that kind of divide between the two, where there is the latitude to think about those kinds of things, yes, there's probably some movement in that direction.


But there's just this whole other swath, like this whole other supporting layer where people, I think are actually probably being squeezed more. I mean, I feel like I've read about, like skeleton crews doing the same work that, like, many more people were doing before and getting paid the same or even less. So that does not seem promising to me.


This next question, I think, maybe goes to the layer of the privileged, but I believe in the book you talk about.


Another book called The Burnout Society, in which the author says existential tiredness can be a positive thing, that, you know, maybe we're heading toward a tipping point, that we're just so fed up with this, always on, always connected, always comparing ourselves to other people, doing scrolling, disconnected from what matters like other people in nature, that we may reach a point of sort of creative desperation. Do you believe that?


Yeah. It's not one moment, though. It's not like you have an aha moment and you just totally walk away and and that's it for me. There's multiple moments right, where I get like super embroiled in stuff like I had that happen to me this year. There was just so much going on in the news, so much to be worried about. Yeah, I did find at one point in the year that I just kind of reached like a mini breaking point.


And I think I spent like two weeks off of social media or something like that and just like changed some of my habits. And things were very different after that. But I'm sure that in the future like this will have to happen again and it'll just be once in a while. You yeah, you reach this point of disgust. That is actually quite instructive. I mean, I think that's kind of like where that's what happened to me in late twenty sixteen.


I think that's where how to do nothing came from was like a moment of being just totally flattened. And then in that state of kind of like forced receptivity, the world kind of comes back into view. And if I'm hearing you correctly, it's happened even after having written a book called How to Do Nothing, and you expect it to continue to happen, that it's that this is a natural cycle of. Dysregulation and then reregulation, yeah, I think so, and I even if it's not, I think that it's thinking about it that way kind of puts less pressure on you.


Right? Look, I know this is talked about in Buddhism, right. Like you can make being sort of gollust into its own goal. Right. Like you could you could try to optimize your doing nothing. And so I think, like being realistic and just saying, like, this is just a lifelong commitment to re-examine over and over again. And it's never going to be total perfect control. It can't be that I'm just like committing to asking myself these questions over and over again.


I have personally fallen into the trap of making my meditation into a box to be checked. And it's like someone's like semi athletic.


It's like showing off to myself and others and not actually taking much of what I'm training on the cushion out into the rest of my life.


So, yeah, and then having to recalibrate, I feel like I get much more out of less meditation now because I'm less sweaty about it, I'm not trying to fit in X amount per day per say. And as a consequence, I'm showing up with a right mindset for the practice and for many other things.


Yeah, I mean, it's amazing how we can turn anything into a really goal directed practice. I mean, I for a while I was getting that way about my number of miles walked the day and then I was like, silly, like, you know, when did this start? But something I have been thinking about a lot during the pandemic is that in some ways it's very understandable. This impulse to want to control something about your life or about yourself, it's like you're surrounded by a situation in which everything is out of control, especially right now.


And I think it's very natural to react to that by wanting to sort of keep things in almost like neurotic order as your kind of space where you control things. And I think that that can very quickly spill over into kind of like obsession with order and control, especially controlling oneself. It's like, well, I can't control anything around me, so I'm going to control myself. And so I think the things that most successfully knock me out of that are these like reminders like the kind of good version of the reminders of how little control you have, where it's like for me, it's like thinking about geological time.


Like I've been getting really into rocks lately. So I'm learning all about the Bay Area geology. And it's like we go to this park that I go to all the time, but now I'm looking at the rocks and I'm like.


I don't know what I thought before, I like the rocks are just there. I just didn't think about like, what does it mean that Iraq is here and where did it come from and how did it form? And that's not a replica of Iraq. That's a real rock that came out of the ground, you know, and you think about that and then you just realize that you're this tiny speck and it's very humbling and it's makes it a little bit.


It's, again, that sort of zooming out punch line where it's like, OK, I was controlling my little thing, but it's like from any other perspective, it's completely absurd. Is there a way in which all of the physical and intellectual peregrinations, you know, your walks and your various interests, from birds to rocks to whatever? Well, for sure are really healing in the sense that they can kind of jar you out of one out of a.


Sort of obsessive optimization, but in some ways, didn't you kind of do a meta optimizing by turning it all into a book?


Maybe, but that was not my intention and I actually never intended to write a book. I gave that talk. And the reason I gave that talk, I should add, is because the conference organizers asked me to give a talk in late twenty sixteen and they said it could be about anything I wanted. And and they asked me that at the time that I was going and sitting in this Rose Garden and doing nothing. So I just submitted the title How to Do Nothing, and it actually didn't have a talk yet.


And so that was its own accident. And then I gave the talk and an author that I really love, Adam Greenfield, just emailed me out of the blue and said, Oh, I think you should consider making this into a book which that would not have occurred to me. And honestly, I just really love reading and I love writing. And I was kind of blissfully naïve of the whole world of what it means to publish a book.


And I just for me at the time, was almost like another art project because I was making a lot more visual art at the time, although my my visual work has always had a lot of writing in it. So I just enjoyed it. And it's very different this time around. But when I was writing it, it was really just an act of like it's like that feeling when you're a kid and you and you collected a bunch of like cool rocks and someone comes over and you have to show them all your rocks and it's almost a little bit obnoxious, like like look at all of my rocks.


But you're like you're not it's like you're sort of showing off, but it's more about the rocks and having someone be Assamese with these rocks as you are. How has the success of the book gone down with you, because as somebody who's suspicious of capitalism, to have a really successful book to kind of I think I heard you say something to the effect of, you know, to be kind of the to have a.. Capitalism and anti productivity sort of wrapped up and sold as there have been some cognitive dissonance there.


Oh, yeah, definitely. By the way, I say this as with no judgment, because I'm like a ridiculously ambitious, constantly push, push, pushing and selling, selling, selling. So I this is not I just want to be Kazaks from a friendly, curious place. Yeah, right. Well, like anyone who who's put a book into the world has experienced some version of this, I feel like I was definitely surprised. I mean, maybe I shouldn't have been, but I think I was just so wrapped up in the excitement again of like sharing the cool rocks that I guess I just I wasn't even thinking about the things that I was going to have to do after the book because I was just thinking about getting it written.


And it was definitely painful. You know, I write at the beginning. About the story of the useless tree that doesn't get chopped down because it's a weird shape being a weird shaped tree as a way of resisting the saw mill. And then I'm writing that, that I'm watching the book go into the sawmill and it's like, you know, it's definitely a nail biter for me.


But I think I kind of made my peace with it where I recognize that some of it is just necessary. It's like if you want people to read your book, you know, they have to find out about it somehow. And this is this is the world that we live in and this is how people find out about things. And then I think if you're lucky, like you have, you have some decisions you can make, right?


Like, OK, you have to do a certain amount of publicity, but you don't have to become like, I don't need to become a guru.


Like, I don't need to become like like how to do nothing.


Tim and my Instagram account is very boring. I don't do Instagram stories. I don't do it's like once in a while, it's like a picture of a bird. And I could see like a social media manager coming along and being like, oh, this is a really unexploited resource. Like you have all these followers and you could be. And it's like, well, you know, that may be true, but I'm going to draw the line there.


So it's kind of like this acknowledgment of like I will do the required amount.


And then beyond that, I will exercise my my judgment about how much I want to participate in that. Because for me, it's like really I'm very again, to come back to the idea of protecting. I'm very protective of the part of my identity that isn't that can't be commodified or shouldn't be commodified.


It seems like a delicate dance because so you do do some Instagram, you do write books and put your name on them and then do interviews to get the word out, all of which again, I do all of those things that way more. But you also want to make sure, as you said, that you're protecting the part of you that cannot be commodified. Yeah, it is very delicate.


And that's another one of those things where it's like, you know, the needle goes back and forth. It's like, oh, I am doing too much or I have sort of lost sight of myself and then or like, I need to do more or, you know, it's just it's kind of like constant adjustment, but something that's been really important for me to do. I started doing this when I was writing the book, and then I've done it ever since I was once in a long while.


I will go to, you know, on a very short trip, somewhere fairly close by. I'm very fortunate to live in the Bay Area, surrounded by mountains, by myself for about three days. I mean, speaking of privilege, that's a very privileged thing to do. But I find that those trips are really important for me to just realign in some ways or just an experience. It sounds strange, but like experience fellow feeling with myself, because I think that that's part of what gets lost or what I worry about losing in the process of having to be a public persona or something like that is that you become very one dimensional or I should say two dimensional.


And the only relationship you're aware of is between that image and the audience versus a more three dimensional kind of experience where you can have a conversation with yourself for yourselves. And so those kind of little moments have been really only more and more important for me.


I wish I had had this conversation before I wrote 10 percent happier or would have been quite useful.


It's been a sheer pleasure to sit and talk to you.


Are there areas where I should have directed the conversation but failed to I would maybe just add one thing because it's been so helpful to me during the pandemic, which is towards the end of the book, I asked this question basically, if you're talking about the attention economy, like what if you divested some attention from the attention economy and you reinvested it elsewhere? And part of what I'm suggesting and reinvesting in it is your ecological surroundings, but it's also just other people.


And I have found it very helpful during the pandemic to notice when I am being driven toward social media by feelings of isolation and loneliness and to kind of recognize that and kind of stop there and then think, what is this really about? Is it that I need to talk to my parents? Do I need to call my friend the thing that I'm seeking? Where is it actually? Because it's not here. It's never there. So I have found it really, really helpful to kind of redirect those efforts or that attention toward specific people for specific groups of people.


Then I've been getting a lot of really yesterday I got two letters in the mail from friends and I sat down. I just think about how different this is the social media. I sat down, I opened them and I read them. And then I just kind of sat with that. And it was like, that is to me worth like a million times more than anything I am going to experience on social media, even from friends. And so I think that those connections have always been really important.


But I think as the pandemic wears on, I think that that's a really important strategy. I don't want to call it a strategy. It's just something to try.


Instead of your usual engagement with what appears to be the social world, I like it because it's I like it a lot because it's really fun, at least the way I hear it. It's kind of building a new habit, a new muscle. You can notice what kind of self medication am I doing as I reach with a zombie arm toward the phone to update my replies on Twitter or whatever it is like say I've got an Instagram. What need what am I trying to scratch here?


It sounds like you create a new neural pathway that's like, OK, I don't actually need to do that.


This is a cue to call mom. This is a cue to write a letter. This is a cute or whatever.


Right? I mean, it could be a cue to just cry like I mean, like speaking of habitual ways of thinking, it's like it's been so long that you can really lose sight at the same time that you're like wrapped up in the details of whatever current tragedy is going on.


You can also lose sight of the fact that although you may be safe in your apartment, sort of living the same day over and over again, there is this like it's a pandemic. So it's like I think that there's also this risk of not registering these feelings about that and feelings about loss and mortality that maybe sometimes when you're reaching for the phone, it's to not deal with that or to not look at that.


Excellent point. I'm glad you brought that up and I'm glad I asked whether I missed something. It's really great to connect with you. Thank you for doing this. Thanks for taking the time to do it. Thank you. It was a pleasure. It was both productive and a.. Productive at the same time. The best, that company. Thanks again to Jenny, really enjoyed that conversation. Also want to thank everybody who worked so hard to make this show a reality, Samuel Johns, our fearless leader, our senior producer, D.J. Kashmir is our producer.


Jules Dodson is our A.P. Our sound designer is Matt Boynton from Ultraviolet Audio. Maria Wartell is our production coordinator. We get an enormous amount of really helpful input from colleagues such as Jen Point, Liz Levin, Ben and Toby. As always, a big, hearty salute to my ABC News colleagues Ryan Kessler and Josh Cohen. We'll see you all on Friday for a bonus.