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Just Saying

Take time to 'waste' time on weekends

Luxuriating in doing nothing can be just as, if not more, satisfying than ticking off items on to-do lists

"Nothing" is a dirty word in a Singapore busy making every moment count in offices, schools and even during holidays.

"No pictures or videos" is a dirty phrase in a social media world busy baiting clicks and eyeballs.

Well, sometimes, I like it dirty.

"Hey, what do you plan to do this weekend?"

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"Nothing."

Cricket sounds. (That's my ringtone going off.)

The cricket sounds get more crotchety and concerned when that's my reply to questions on how I plan to spend my hard-earned leave. No, no, you've got to travel while you still have your teeth, and so on.

I find it kind of refreshing when I hardly have any pictures to show for the weekend or a trip.

I get a buzz off imbibing bubbly social media posts from people having a beautiful time. However, in my crankier moments, I wonder if it has become something of a status symbol to show how productive we are even during our days off. Are people competitively happy? Has it turned into an extreme sport to stampede to the latest photogenic places, or to order only pretty food, spending more time taking pictures of them than enjoying them in other ways, so we can feed the social media beast to show how wonderful our lives are at that very second? Some of us, as author Francois de La Rochefoucauld put it, "are more interested in making others believe we are happy than in trying to be happy ourselves".


The writer's doodles while in Paris. She finds it satisfying to be absorbed in creating rough drawings about little moments in life. PHOTOS: DENISE CHONG

I sometimes plan down to the smallest detail all the fun things I want to do, get dressed for it, then lie down and snooze the day away. Not there, don't care.

"Wasting time is about recharging your battery and decluttering," psychologist Michael Guttridge says in an article entitled "The psychological importance of wasting time".

Of course, it's a privilege to be able to decide to do nothing. Busy families may not have the choice. But Ms Katrina Onstad, who wrote the book, The Weekend Effect: The Life-Changing Benefits Of Taking Two Days Off, argues in The Guardian that "reclaiming unoccupied time at the weekend may be the most successful parenting strategy of all".

"In boredom and spontaneity, our kids figure out who they are."


The writer's doodles while in Paris. She finds it satisfying to be absorbed in creating rough drawings about little moments in life. PHOTOS: DENISE CHONG

So here I am with my privilege on holiday: I have chosen to "waste" time even while visiting cities with lots to explore - waking up at noon in London, snoozing till the afternoon in Tokyo, leaving the hotel only in the evening in Bangkok. No Fomo (fear of missing out). No fear of appearing boring.

I have been to Paris several times and, each time, I would head to the lovely Louvre Museum to flirt with going inside. I would end up sitting in the elegant courtyard instead of queueing to see the backs of visitors' heads and a forest of arms with enormous camera phones blocking Mona Lisa's petite smile.

Spending all day admiring art would have been great, but "wasting" time was just wonderful.

Time yawned and slowed down as I contemplated the palatial Louvre building under the hot, azure summer sky.

Time leapt and sped up as laughter rippled over water when a group of friends jumped into a fountain there and danced until security saw them off. Then a dog joyfully splashed into the fountain too, playing with a squeaky toy thrown by delighted strangers.


The writer's doodles while in Paris. She finds it satisfying to be absorbed in creating rough drawings about little moments in life. PHOTOS: DENISE CHONG

I planned to maybe do nothing, and ended up doing something silly and satisfying by doodling a picture of the pooch on a random notepad. As a Facebook comment later put it: "A lively, smiley dog beats a dead smiley woman on a canvas."

So here I am with my privilege on holiday; I have chosen to "waste" time even while visiting cities with lots to explore - waking up at noon in London, snoozing till the afternoon in Tokyo, leaving the hotel only in the evening in Bangkok.

Am I being competitively happy? Well, I am a lousy contestant, often posting photos years after the fact.

Am I doing my days off wrong? Well, Ms Onstad would probably recommend that I take my doodling to a more hardcore level.

You are doing your weekend wrong, she writes in Quartz, if you "shift into indulgent me-time mode, collapsing on the couch for a marathon of sports watching or Netflix", shopping and Facebooking.

Ms Onstad says "psychologists advise that the path towards fulfilment lies in leisure of a different, and higher, order". Casual leisure pursuits are immediately gratifying and often passive, whereas serious leisure activities provide deeper fulfilment. "You pursue serious leisure with the earnest tenor of a professional, even if the pursuit is amateur."

I'm not about to attempt sketching full-blown nudes at the feet of grand marble statues in museums, but it's satisfying to be absorbed in creating rough drawings about little moments in life.

Ms Onstad writes: "Deep engagement unleashes the much-desired 'flow' state, which arises from immersion and mastery so intense that time seems to drop away."

On my next day off, on my next holiday, I'll still take my social media snaps and sudden naps, but I'll also go with the doodling flow.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 02, 2017, with the headline 'Take time to 'waste' time on weekends JustSaying'. Print Edition | Subscribe