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Simplify Time Management: Alan Lightman Says Wasting Time Is Good For You

In the bonus episode of Simplify, Caitlin talks to Professor Alan Lightman about procrastination's benefits and how wasting time sparks our productivity
by Natallia Darozhkina | Jun 7 2018

Are you slavishly devoted to your to-do list, rushing around to fit every vacant area of time to some task? In this day and age, most of us are. Countless workshops on time management and productivity offer us ways to use time more effectively and get even more things done in our waking hours. But scrambling to keep up with the latest trends and tech, with FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) bearing down on us, we end up feeling driven and pressured all the time, which can lead to anxiety and depression.

In this episode of Simplify, scientist and novelist Alan Lightman offers an antidote to how we live today. He underscores the importance of wasting time, revealing how unstructured time with no goal, unplugged from the wired world, can actually make you a better version of yourself.

Tune in to learn how procrastination sparks your creativity and makes you even more productive and how wasting time is essential for establishing a solid sense of self.

“One of the most important values of wasting time for me, […] it’s a time that we can consolidate our self-identity.“

“It’s very important for not only the creative mind, but just for the replenishment of the mind to have periods of time that are completely unstructured.”

Alan Lightman

By the end of this episode you’ll learn that getting stuck when you’re trying to solve a problem is actually a great sign, and how procrastination and time wasting are not the same thing.

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Who’s Alan Lightman?

Alan Lightman

Alan Lightman is a novelist, essayist, physicist, and educator. Currently, he is Professor of the Practice of the Humanities at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Lightman is one of a small number of people who combines the sciences and the humanities – his novel Einstein’s Dreams was an international bestseller and has been translated into thirty languages. His most recent publication TED Book: In Praise of Wasting Time came out in May 2018. He is also the founder of the Harpswell Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to empower a new generation of women leaders in Southeast Asia.

Alan Lightman’s recommended reads

1. The Essentials of Tibetan Buddhism by Robert Thurman

This book is an accessible introduction to the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism written by renowned scholar Robert Thurman. Here are prayer texts and various meditation techniques, the stories and lessons from ancient monks – all aiming to help the reader train his mind and find a way to enlightenment.

Comment from Alan: “…the Buddhists for thousands of years have been very good at understanding the importance of being in the moment and being present in the moment. […] And mindfulness is one word for that [state of] of being present. And it’s closely related to what we’ve been talking about.”

2. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

In this novel Virginia Woolf chronicles a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, high-society woman in post–First World War England. Using beautiful complex sentences, the author tracks the momentary thoughts of Mrs. Dalloway while she is preparing to host a party on that day in June 1923. It is a sterling example of stream of consciousness storytelling.

Comment from Alan: “She’s one of the first modern writers to write in the stream of consciousness mode, and to let us know really what thoughts are going through a character’s head as they react to events around them and remember events and just a landmark book in so many ways.”

Extra credit reading

If you would like to dig deeper into the topics discussed in the interview, check out this book list made by Emily and Caitlin!

How to Raise a Wild Child will help your family reconnect with nature. With helpful hints and clever strategies, these title shows how your kids can enjoy the scientifically proven benefits of growing up in the great outdoors.

Leisure takes you back in time to learn how leisure played a central role in society, creating a space for both divine worship and intellectual contemplation. This title reveals the oppressive paradigm of total work that emerged in the post-war world and presents a case for bringing leisure back into our lives.

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas G. Carr

The Shallows was one of the earliest books to look how the internet is changing us. It explores the history of technology, offers neuroscientific research and studies in psychology, and explains how the internet fundamentally rewires our neural circuitry.

What’s Simplify?

Simplify is a podcast for anybody who’s taken a close look at their habits, their happiness, their relationships, or their health and thought “There’s got to be a better way to do this.” We talk to bestselling writers, productivity wizards, sex geniuses, and happiness experts to find it for you.

Simplify is made with love by Blinkist. Click here to try Blinkist free for 14 days with the voucher code: relax

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Talk to us!

We want to hear from you!

Specifically, we’d love to hear how you would answer one of the questions we always ask our guests: “What have you discovered was much easier than you initially thought it was?”

You can just record your answer with a voice memo app of your choice and then email it to us at [email protected]. We are looking forward to listening to your responses, and stay tuned—you just might hear yourself on a future episode of Simplify!

If you want to say hi to Ben and Caitlin in the meantime, you can find them on Twitter: @bsto and @CaitlinSchiller.

Who made this?

Your hosts are Caitlin Schiller and Emily Phillips.

The episode was produced by Caitlin Schiller, Nat Darozhkina, Ben Jackson, and Ben Schuman-Stoler, who is developing new theories of child psychology by exposing his son to hour-long loops of Mongolian throat singing interspersed with 5 seconds of Rammstein.

Thanks to Nico Guiang for our awesome intro and outro music. Listen more on Soundcloud or check him out on Facebook.

Got links?

Alan Lightman’s Website at MIT:

Read the transcript here!

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