In Praise of Doing Nothing

At the gym, I tend to listen to podcasts of radio shows I don’t listen to when I’m in the car. It’s my dose of politics and popular culture. Though sometimes, truth be told, I don’t actually listen to anything. I just have my earbuds in and…silence. And I tend not to really think but, rather, just to count. Steps. Repetitions. For someone like me—not good at meditation—it’s a good way to well, meditate.

We are all so busy filling in the spaces with things to do and the quiet with noise. We are always doing and deliberating. And with all that doing and deliberation too often lose sight of the bigger picture.
When I first started fundraising, I found myself giving advice to clients and thinking to myself, “Ummm….that’s something I really should have done,” when I was in their situation. But when I was in their situation I was too busy doing and etc that I didn’t actually take the time to figure out what would be best.

One of the great values I think I bring as a consultant is that ability to sit back and ponder. To look at the larger picture. To take the long view.

You can do this for yourself, of course. But you can’t do it while you are doing all the day-to-day stuff. You do need to pull back and make sure that you have perspective.

I’m a big fan of calendaring everything. Well—at work, anyway.

So block out a chunk of time—3 or 4 hours—every few weeks to just stop. Think idle thoughts. Forget out what you should be doing and consider what would make sense to be doing.

Use this time to think outside of that proverbial box. Try looking at your organization with an outsider’s eye. What are you doing that doesn’t look like it is working? What have you stopped doing? Not yet started?

Or, just as critically, do none of the above. By just stopping being on the treadmill, you will gain new insight to your job and to what really needs to be done. Because my office is in my home, it is tempting to work 24/7. But working 24/7 does not mean that I get more work done. Indeed, it often means that I get less—less creative, less effective, less efficient. So regularly, my husband and I agree that this is a “no work” day, evening, weekend. He does not look at his email. I’m more obsessive, but then my work and my personal life are far more intertwined than his. So I only open emails from non-work friends, and only respond if it is a non-work issue.

What never ceases to amaze is how much more productive I am after those no-work times. It makes sense, of course. I’ve given myself a breather—space to let my thoughts wander and expand.

So the next time you are feeling overwhelmed, when there are too many looming deadlines, when it all feels that it will crumble under the weight of everything you have to do, try being radical and do absolutely nothing at all.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase fundraising capacity and build stronger, more committed board.  Learn how she can help you and your organization at or email her directly at  


About janetlevineconsulting

For over 20 years, Janet Levine has worked for and with nonprofit and educational organizations, helping to grow their advancement programs. Her consulting company, Janet Levine Consulting, serves a wide range of organizations from small, all-volunteer agencies to major national organizations. She regularly teaches courses in non-profit management, fundraising and grant development, both face-to-face and online at In addition to her nonprofit work, Janet brings years of experience as a business and sales manager in the for-profit sector. She has an MBA from the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University.
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