How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell

How To Do Nothing

How to Do Nothing is a book that explores the problems with our current 24/7 work culture and how pausing to reflect helps us overcome it.

The author, Jenny Odell, argues that our focus on being productive all the time is making us less effective because of how little rest we get. She identifies the consequences of overworking ourselves and the benefits of taking time off, making a compelling argument that we should spend more time doing nothing.

One of the main themes explored in the book is humans and technology, as Odell examines healthier ways to harness technology and make it work for us, sans profit incentive.

Another theme is humans and nature, with the author advocating greater engagement with local spaces, particularly bioregions. The book also shines a light on the ways in which our identities have become entangled with our occupations and advocates modes of reclaiming the power of our own curiosity.

Useful takeaways from the book include:

  • Stepping away from productivity can actually make us more effective.
  • Taking time to reflect and engage with nature can lead to a more meaningful existence.
  • Refusing productivity in favor of active listening and observation can help us reclaim our attention and resist the attention economy.

Overall, How to Do Nothing is an important book for anyone feeling overwhelmed by the demands of modern life and seeking a way to find peace and meaning in a world obsessed with productivity.

What I Liked

I loved the concept and broad argument. It’s like a Walden but in 2023. It’s a smart read with lots of connections that I think everyone “feels” but doesn’t know how to articulate.

What I Did Not Like

The book left me with a very conflicted feeling. In some ways, it felt like (very ironically) yet another thing to add to my task list…”ok, if I wake up early on Saturday morning, I can do nothing for a bit.” In other ways, it felt too-freeing, in a super-privileged, First World, human in 2023 kind of way that I wanted to reject out of hand. Now, the book covered both of these feelings. They are part of the structure of our modern world and the history of our culture…but it also did not really address it. Ironically, I actually think that Walden by Thoreau is more relevant for this topic in 2023 than this book.

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