Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Intelligent Ways of Doing Nothing

A version of this piece will appear in Lifestyle 55+

The holidays, which is how we must now refer to Christmas, is one of those key dates in the retirement calendar – a great many people will retire at the end of the year. Linda Hughes, publisher of the Edmonton Journal, for example, has chosen this time to retire. In fact, 40% of retirees effectively choose this date.

The issue for them is how to “detox” themselves from the world of work. Think about it. For some thirty five to forty years, for some 50 weeks a year (a minimum of 10,500 days or 84,000 hours and up to 100,000 hours) these individuals “worked”. In other area of life, this would be an addiction. (I once formed a branch of Workaholics Anonymous, but no one showed up - they had work appointments).

So the key is to spend sometime doing nothing, but doing it in such a way that your mind adjusts to the fact of retirement. No more schedules, “must see” or “key tasks and outcomes” lists. No more strategic plans, business cases, budget processes, “cease and desist” conversations with recalcitrant staff. Just you and the world at your feet.

There are ten activities you can engage in which will lead to your mind understanding that your world has changed. They range from the very active to completely purposeful ways of doing nothing. Here they are:

  • Extreme Ironing - On 17th August 2006, 39 year old Londoner Louise Trewavas, aka "Dive Girl", claimed a new world record by ironing at a depth of 137m (452 feet) in the Blue Hole, at the Red Sea resort of Dahab. (The extreme ironing underwater record was first set by "Dive Girl" in 2003 with an impressive display of linen-pressing at 100m). Her latest feat was a response to Teignmouth-based diver John Rudolph hitting a new low and ironing a T-shirt on a 129m dive in July 2006. Extreme ironing has been undertaken at the top of Mount Rushmore, while sky diving from a light aircraft, while walking a tightrope across a major gorge in South Africa. Not only do you get the ironing done, but you get fit as well. The downside is that most people think you are completely nuts. There are books, films and web sites dedicated to extreme ironing.

  • Googlewhacking – you Goolge two words with the aim of getting Google to return just one web site. It only counts if it is a real website – not a list or a dictionary – and if both words on your search are in the online Dave Gorman went further: when he found a Google whack, he emailed the web site owner and then went to visit them. His book is a best seller. Go figure.

  • Newshounding – this may appeal to former journalists and publishers. Take an offbeat story – like the fact that MacDonald’se trying to patent the process of sandwich making – and see how this is reported elsewhere in the world. Look at the Daily Telegraph, Washington Post, Al Jazeera, Jerusalem Times and see what the coverage looks like. You can waste hours doing this.

  • Find Your Namesakes – when I had a bout of the flu, I managed to intelligently do nothing by finding other Stephen Murgatroyd’s on line and finding out what they do. Several were dentists (in fact five our of the twenty seven I found were – may suggest some genetic defect). Dave Gorman (notice how this name keeps cropping up) traveled the world to meet other Dave Gormans and got a TV show, book and a reputation for doing things that were a complete waste of time and very profitable.

  • File a Successful Patent – if MacDonald’s can patent the process of making a sandwich (I doubt that they will be able to do this, by the way), then why can’t you patent putting your socks on, walking backwards, singing barbershop in the shower, or – well, use your imagaination.

  • What Ever Happened To? – Aren’t you curious about some people that we all connected with, who are no longer around? Whatever happened to Danny de Vito (he was drunk on am TV last time I saw him) or Christopher Darden (prosecutor in the O J case – now a defense lawyer in his own firm), Newt Gingrich or Tommy Hunter? Research the people you are curious about.

  • Become a Wikist – the wikipedia is the worlds largest, fastest growing and most used encyclopedia – anyone can contribute or edit existing contributions. Use the wikipedia to look at topics you are interested in (Googlewhack for example) and improve what is on there. Danger – its addictive.

  • Become a Hunter – I don’t mean go out and shoot a Moose, but adopt a year (say, 1987) and look up the movies produced in that year (1987 movies include - 84 Charing Cross Road, Broadcast News, Lethal Weapon, Moonstruck, The Princess Bride, Raising Arizona, Roxanne, Bagdad CafĂ©, Prick up Your Ears and many more..), rent them and watch them.

  • Use the Library – one of the greatest inventions of mankind is the public library. Use it. Adopt an author – I am currently working on the novels of Kingsley Amis (I finished all of the Graeme Greene novels as well as the three volume biography earlier this year) – and read everything.

  • Travel – literally hundred of hours can be wasted intelligently by traveling to India, China, Nepal, Red Deer – pick up a thriller, work on your macramĂ©, take up Suduki for the journey and use your library to get travel tips for what to do when you arrive. Eat the local food but drink bottled water.

  • There are other things you can do too – try to find something worth watching on television (hours can be wasted doing this), looking for all the ingredients for an Anthony Bourdain recipe in a single store; trying to get a straight answer from a politician; wondering why on earth CBC hasn’t canned The Royal Canadian Air Farce (no longer funny or cutting edge) or The Red Green Show; learning Welsh; going to the courthouse and sitting through a trial; buying a baton and conducting a performance of the Messiah in front of a mirror at home; losing weight – these are all things that take time, can be enjoyable, but are generally harmless and really don’t add up to much. Just what the brain needs to get the message: your world has changed - obviously, it has also improved!

    Helpful Resources

      • Workaholics Anymous does exist - look at
      • Extreme Ironing is a real (and deeply meaningful) sport - see
      • Googlewhacking is also a serious business, just ask Dave Gorman - see
      • Newshounding is made easier by using Google to set up alerts - so that Google will automatically search the web for materials relevant to your interests. You can also use Attensa to automate "feeds" from RSS enabled web sites directly into your email.
      • Namesake Finding - another Google task.
      • File a Patent - anyone can file, so dont fall for the idea that you need a lawyer. There are firms which will helo you file a provisional patent for $99US - see
      • Whatever Happened to? - it depends what or who you are looking for. I spent time looking up actors I hadnt seen for a while and the best site for this is IMBd -
      • Becoming a Wikist - just look up anything in the Wikipedia - and now there is also wikispecies, wikibooks
      • Becoming a hunter - there are lots of lists avaiable online, my favourite being
      • Use the library - depends where you are, but you'd be surprised how many services they now offer. Great place to borrow CD;s and DVD's from.
      • Travel - book a self managed vacation via

    No comments: