How To Waste Time Like Steve Jobs

Lennie loved to take naps.

He built himself a small building from a kit, behind his house in Connecticut.  He filled it with the tools of his trade and added a sofa.

Lennie’s wife would look in from time to time and catch him lying on the sofa, daydreaming or napping.

“I thought you were working,” she would say.

“I am,” was his reply.

For three decades, composer Leonard Bernstein crafted some of his most famous works from his tiny studio.  He could usually be found composing, orchestrating a work, or flat on his back staring at the ceiling.  Lennie understood the necessity of “making time to waste time” in order to generate great ideas.

Unfortunately, today’s culture of American business is steeped in the philosophy of hard work and focus for productivity, rather than taking time for creativity; to relax the mind so that all of those problems that have been working themselves out in the back of your brain have an opportunity to bubble up to the top.

The most common thread among great thinkers?

Taking time to waste time.

Bernstein did it.  So did Albert Einstein, with his long hikes through the mountains.  And Steve Jobs, who was known for his dedication to long, long walks.  They removed themselves from the moment so that answers could push through.  And yes, they were working.

3M invented the philosophy of “creative time” more than 50 years ago, giving each employee 15% of their time to work on a project of their own.  Google copied 3M and credits “creative time” for most of the apps and features that have made Google far more than just a search engine.

Wouldn’t it be great to take 15% of your daily work time to devote to letting your mind relax?

Let’s say you have a 7-hour day (which, if you’re a Main Street business owner is laughable).

That’s 420 minutes a day.

Fifteen percent of that is 63 minutes.

One hour a day to clear the mind and let solutions bubble to the top.

And yes, it’s WORKING time.  Don’t let traditional, old-fashioned ways tell you otherwise.

Give it a try, even if it’s for just fifteen minutes a day (some of you gotta break into this slowly, I know).  Shut the door and lay on the sofa or the floor.  Sit in your chair with your feet on the desk.  Head out the door (without your phone!) and take a walk in the neighborhood.  Try not to think about anything…. Just daydream.  If you fall asleep, that’s okay.  Your mind never stops working, even when it’s asleep.

Trust the process.  Lennie did.  So did Albert and Steven.

For more on creativity, problem-solving, and the imagination, be sure to pick up a copy of Jonah Lehrer’s latest book, Imagine.  It’s a fascinating and entertaining look at the power of “wasting time” for utmost creativity.


I’ll leave you with a short video from Jonah, as well as one of Lennie’s greatest contributions to musical theater. Be sure to comment below and let us know how you waste time for creativity – we’d love to hear your stories.

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5 Responses to “How To Waste Time Like Steve Jobs”

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  1. Mary Schmidt says:

    Yep. I do some of my best work on my power walks or while digging in the garden. When I worked in Corporate America, I’d – gasp – go OUTSIDE and walk around the building, or climb up and down stairs for 15 minutes or so. (and, shhh, when I got a “hard wall office” I’d occasionally shut the door and take a nap.) All comes back to: Are you being busy or are you being productive?

  2. Grimey says:

    MM … How Serendipty-ish … here is the note I jotted in my pocket paper brain just a couple of hours ago.

    “Everyone is in such a damn HURRY!
    Rule – Never Hurry, ok, if the house is on fire move quickly, but don’t hurry.”

    It was my reaction to a young business associate who was 45 minutes from our office but was in such a hurry he had to “get on down the road” that he skipped the opportunity to drop in a spend an hour. In his mind he was burning daylight. The sad part is I’m his client. He had a chance to get face to face with not just one of his customers, but one of his fans, and he dropped the ball cause he is under the illusion that he had to hurry so he could get things done.

    And I just finished Lehrer’s book … I love this guy. He’s such a gifted writer and yet he cares about the science being solid. The book is going to be a gift to several friends. And by the way, I had a copy of Lehrers book IMAGINE on my desk, a gift for the “KId in a Hurry”.


  3. Tom Wanek says:

    Mary, I used to go for a 20-minute jog … now, like Michele, I CrossFit. There’s no better way for me to escape and waste time.

    Tom, your story is a good lesson on the importance of setting priorities. Life is not just about checking off items on your “to do” list. “Kid in a Hurry” missed a golden opportunity to deepen his relationship with you likely because he was too concerned about check marks.

    BTW, couldn’t agree more. Love that Lehrer cares so much about science. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Michele says:

    Working from home does have its advantages. Earlier this morning, I was struggling with which topic to pick for Thursday’s post. Couldn’t figure it out. So, I set the alarm for 30 minutes and laid down to percolate. The topic and content came to me about 20 minutes in and now I can’t wait to write it.

    Mary, you were definitely ahead of the curve in corporate America!

    And Grimesy… why am I not surprised that you’re already on to the latest from Jonah Lehrer? He’s got quite a mind (with a scientific background) and passion to boot. And he’s only 31 years old (little bastard). You’re so right about burning daylight. If there’s one lesson I wish we could instill in younger business folks, it is to SLOW DOWN.

  5. Apparently scientists refer to it as

    “Bedtime, Breakfast and Bath”

    Those times when creativity and inspiration is most likely to hit them.

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