This Do Nothing by Celeste Headlee book review gives you all the details you need to know about this life-changing self-help read, along with quotes and a discussion of who Celeste Headlee is.

And because this is a book pairings blog, I have also provided some recommended pairings for more like Do Nothing by Celeste Headlee.

Who is Celeste Headlee?

Celeste Headlee is an award-winning journalist, professional speaker and best-selling author. She is also the co-host Retro Report on PBS and season three of the Scene on Radio podcast – MEN.

She is well known for her TEDx Talk sharing 10 ways to have a better conversation, which has over 30 million total views, and her corresponding book  We Need To Talk: How To Have Conversations That Matter

Book Review: Do Nothing by Celeste Headlee

Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving by Celeste Headlee is one book that truly changed my perception of work, time, and efficiency. It’s so jam-packed with historical references that I couldn’t imagine how Headlee fit so much information into her brain! I went through it slowly with a highlighter and will keep it on my shelves for years to come.

I expected a book that broadly argued, “Work less and live more!” But, Do Nothing went so far deeper than that in showing how history and culture have shaped the way that we, particularly Americans, view work, for better or for worse. At the end of the day, Headlee’s motto is to work what you are required to work, but no more than that.

But, Headlee was still fair in admitting to the weaknesses in her arguments, such as that the internet isn’t all bad, and that some people truly are in a place in life where they don’t have the option to slow down.

Our quest for efficiency began around the Industrial Revolution, when time began to equal money, and we continue today to encourage such mantras as “hustle” and “never give up.” Wasting even one minute causes guilt, and this intensifies when we are at home due to the internet. We need more balance.

Below are some of the main points throughout the Do Nothing, separated into three categories: the problem; the reality; and fixing the problem.

The Problem

We are killing ourselves with productivity. We rarely do things for their own sake, but only for improvement and productivity. And we feel guilty if we aren’t doing anything.

This may be because the American Dream has embodied toil and grit. And there’s a cultural belief that, if you aren’t successful, you aren’t working hard enough. Of course, this ignores that many poor, hard workers remain poor.

We are conditioned to believe that by sitting around we are both lazy AND wasting money. And because time equals money, the more money we make, the more we believe we don’t have time to waste.

Another problematic belief comes from the term “workaholic” being used to describe the most successful leaders. We believe a busy person is an important person, and we also have a culture that feels we have to be on call all the time to keep your job.

So, because we are told work is good, we overdose on it.

But, the rise in consumerism, and the huge disparity in income levels, made it harder to decrease working hours. Wages haven’t grown much over time, so although we are working more hours in America than those in other countries, it isn’t paying off. And we have made substantial advances in productivity without lessening working hours.

Therefore, we have lost the balance between improvement and gratitude for what we have.

The Reality

In reality, there’s a lot of research to support the notion that more time at work does not equal more efficiency. We simply aren’t built for, or good at, multitasking. When hours are cut, productivity can actually increase.

For example, right now, employees spend half their days “cyberslacking.”

And the idea that not working makes you lazy was actually enforced by corporations to motivate employees. Therefore, it is gaslighting them into working longer hours to avoid the perception of laziness.

Laziness is not the same as idleness. Taking time off boosts productivity and creativity. Idleness is necessary for reflection.

In reality, we get our work done in the time allotted for it, we don’t necessarily produce more because we are working more hours. The work can expand to fit the time allowed for it.

In other words, a worker will get the job done in whatever time he or she has, whether it be a one hour rush assignment or a full day allotted in advance to the task.

Fixing the problem

Being aware of your time can help you set aside time for leisure. Work the hours you are required to work, and no more.

Focus on the end, not the means. More hours does not necessarily mean more efficiency. Do not let corporate values determine how you spend your time.

Remember, you can’t put a monetary value on your free time because you pay for it in mental and physical health.

Celeste Headlee Quotes from Do Nothing

Below are some of the best of Celeste Headlee’s quotes from Do Nothing:

The truth is, productivity is a by-product of a functional system, not a goal in and of itself. The question is not whether you are productive but what you are producing.

We work best when we allow for flexibility in our habits. Instead of gritting your teeth and forcing your body and mind to work punishing hours and “lean in” until you reach your goals, the counterintuitive solution might be to walk away. Pushing harder isn’t helping us anymore.

Our level of happiness may change transiently in response to life events, but then almost always returns to its baseline level as we habituate to those events and their consequences over time.

The history professor Nelson Lichtenstein told me, “What you can’t measure, you can’t reward,” and that may be why executives are so focused on work hours. For decades, the corporate world has been consumed with metrics. Managers love tangible measures by which they can determine success or failure. Work hours is one of the easiest ways to measure employee performance, but total hours worked is a meaningless statistic.

I realized it was not my circumstances that caused my stress but my habits.

Idleness in this sense does not mean inactivity, but instead nonproductive activity. “Leisureliness,” says Daniel Dustin of the University of Utah, “refers to a pace of life that is not governed by the clock.


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