6 Ways To Do Nothing And Be More Productive

I got an email at 5 in the morning that made me angry. It pressed every button. It accused. It threatened. It CC-ed people.

It started, “JAMES! YOU ARE….” and never stopped.

I started to type a response . “I AM GOING TO EXPLAIN REALITY TO YOU…”

They were WRONG and I was going to prove it!

But I stopped.

I did nothing. I practiced doing nothing. I really hate doing things. I love to do nothing.

I know that person is going to be dead soon. That’s good enough for me. Even if it takes 60 years. Thanks to the laws of biology I don’t need to think of that person again.

Many productivity books tell you what you can do MORE of in order to achieve goals purpose success money blah.

Like…make a to-do list. Or do 100 pushups. Or go to conferences. Or return all emails.

But MORE is hard to do. I’m already busy. Now you tell me I have to do a to-list with six things that make me feel grateful on top of it?

And then respond to all the people who hate and spew filth? I can’t do it all.

I need to eliminate first. The best way to be a success is to have nothing to do. Not the reverse.

Here’s a checklist I use for when I do nothing. This is my personal list. Maybe your list is different.


Some people think anger can focus emotions. But it doesn’t. It’s like focusing on a kaleidoscope. You’ll walk straight off a cliff.

Anger is a roadmap off that cliff. You have to wait until it settles down and you get perspective.

Time is the morphine drip that soothes the anger. Then you can act.

Anger is a winter coat on top of fear. Take off the wintercoat. What is the original fear?


Sometimes I wake up at 3am with hypnotic images of despair. I get obsessed.

I imagine a chaotic future filled with misery and hate and homelessness and loneliness.

My best bet here is to sit down and picture a more realistic future, one based on the fact that almost 99% of what I’ve been paranoid about in the past never comes true.


Why did they call at 5pm on a Friday night and say “We HAVE to talk. Well, I guess you’re not there. Talk Monday.”


Why 5pm on a Friday? What did they have to say? I should call her home. I should write. I should drive up and visit (“hey, just stopping by! So, uhh, what was up with that phone call?”).

But if I ever feel that way I know there is something wrong WITH ME, not the other person. I PUT MYSELF in the situation that was causing me to be afraid of a 5pm phone call.

It’s an opportunity to say, what about my life can be rearranged so that this one thing doesn’t throw me off so much? What things can I change? And then have fun changing them.

4. LOVE!

Like after a first date. Or a tenth date. Or after she/he betrayed me.

If only… If she only did THIS then all would be perfect. I need to tell her this. I need to show up at six AM and tell her this.

Maybe spy on her computer until she REALIZES. RESPECT!

See, sometimes my version of HER is different from the reality version of HER. So I need to connect the versions. It has to happen! OR ELSE!

How many hours has this stolen from my productivity? Maybe it’s just me. But at least 5000 hours. That’s 1/2 of what Malcolm Gladwell tells me I need to do to become the best in the world at something.

I’m probably close to being the best in the world at love addiction. Like the Beatles. Only not with music.


I was trying to figure out something on the computer the other day. It was something both very technical and related to money.

First it was 1pm. Then it was 6pm. Then, against all my rules for a “daily practice” it was midnight.

And I was no closer to figuring it out. I was tired. My eyes were blurry. I was taking ten second naps on my computer.

A week later I still haven’t figured out what I needed to figure out. But right then… because I had invested this time into my “learning” and I was tired, I wanted to keep going.

Claudia peeled me off the keyboard and marched me upstairs. Sleep hygiene is the best way to improve productivity in your life.

Not beating your head against a computer. Because the screen will crack and you’ll get more stupid.


How many meetings have I gone to? Trips abroad? Made stupid investments. Written articles?

Done did doing does didn’t?

Just so someone would like me. A mother a father a friend a reader an investor a customer a stranger.

Answer: a lot of times. Too many times. And it works.

I put in the input (flattery, attention, false love) and get out the output (false love back). I hope they like me! What did they think?

Do I make any money this way. In my 25 years of business: zero.

I have never made a dime while trying to get someone to like me. Better to be hated for who I am than loved for someone I’m not.

That’s my checklist. What do I do when I stop? I do nothing. I read a book. I write. I watercolor. I take a walk. I sit and do absolutely nothing. I float in the water and try to think of nothing.

But when you are doing nothing you’ll get nothing done? THEN YOU DIE!?

Praise be to god I get NOTHING done during those times. It’s saved me millions of dollars and probably saved my life.

Think about when you’ve been happiest with your life (and if that’s not a reasonable goal then what is?).

Is it during those moments when your thoughts have been frenetic and all over the place? Did she? Is he? Will they? AHH!

Or has it been those moments when your thoughts have been calm – like when you sit and watch a sunset or a bird. How do they fly anyway?


It’s when we are in touch with the magic of our silence that we find our inner creators and can change the universe. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

image – michitux

James Altucher is the author of the bestselling book Choose Yourself, editor at The Altucher Report and host of the popular podcast, The James Altucher Show, which takes you beyond business and entrepreneurship by exploring what it means to be human and achieve well-being in a world that is increasingly complicated.

Keep up with James on Twitter and jamesaltucher.com

More From Thought Catalog