This morning I read an article about the value of slack. No, not the chat feature. Slack is the concept of having reserved capacity, not filling every moment with busywork. The author argued that planning to have idle time allowed emerging tasks to be taken care of immediately. There was no queue; the slack in the system was there by design.

Interestingly, I have been thinking a lot about capacity, but I hadn’t made the connection to slack, or non-productive time. Generally, I try to operate under full-capacity, leaving some room for reserve capacity. Under capacity means I generally follow the rules about work-time hours and only take on what I’m confident I can complete. Having additional reserve capacity means that I have more to give when I need it, when the project is struggling, or when inspiration strikes and I want to push something through. Here, you can see I’m only thinking about the action part of the equation. The point of the argument around slack was to argue the value of not doing anything as a rebuttal to the busyness of “efficiency” — doing more for the sake of doing it.

In a related thought, I’m a huge proponent of being “bored.” Boredom is the space that stretches ahead endless there is nothing at all to do. The mind is restless, then blank, finally relaxed before kicking into an exploratory mode. No pressure to do anything, endless possibilities are suddenly available. Being bored allows the mind to wander, to roam, to make new connections both mundane and profound. Creativity comes from this space, between the activity of what we ought to be doing and the nothing that fills the rest of the time. Boredom forces you to deal with the chaos in your head — follow a thread, chase down a random thought, a memory, a new idea, a question never considered. It is an unruly self-dialogue and the birthplace of the best ideas.

For me, this happens regularly when my body is in motion, but my mind is free. I make time for a walk or a run, but I know this is time set aside for mental work, whether to encourage wandering thoughts or to wrestle out a problem. It is exactly the kind of activity that busy work and efficiencies would squeeze out, but it is precisely what makes it all work for me.

Writer, researcher, observer