10 Reasons to Do Nothing


I had 2000 words written for a post this morning and my computer crashed and like the most base, worst, amateur, I didn’t have the file saved and I didn’t have any auto-save.

I was up at 3am today, I finished my reading (Miranda July, Charles Bukowski, Haruki Murakami, Jonathan Ames, ) and coffee by about 4am and then I began writing the infamous 2000 words. I listened to Scala’s “Don’t Break My Heart” the entire time I was writing (oh, one break to listen to “The Saturdays” singing “I Just Can’t Get Enough”. I’m a sucker for covers and I listen to stuff over and over.)

(the Saturdays. Click on image for "Just Can't Get Enough")

Then… hard crash. 2000 words is a lot of work.  It was about the various times I’ve been very “Busy” when it would’ve been better to just do “Nothing”. How life in general is better when there are more moments of Constructive Nothing. (There was a rant in there about Weddings also. How its mostly rude to invite someone to a wedding.)

It needed a bit of work. When something needs too much work its usually best to throw it away. Writing rule #34.

I could be angry about losing the work. Like I have been every other time this has happened to me since 1986 (Macintosh 512k then, my girlfriend then asking me “how much longer!” Macbook Air now, Claudia doing yoga upstairs). But why repeat the same old patterns? It won’t make me feel any better to be angry about losing a lousy 2000 word post. And it gives me a good chance to exercise those emotional muscles. To breathe deep. To let things happen without judging them, either good or bad. To not blame anyone but myself.

The post was going to be called “10 Reasons to Do Nothing”.

So I got what I deserved.


So now it was 5:30am. I shook Mollie awake and had her put on a sweater over her pajamas. We walked out to the river.


So that’s something.



Postscript. mini-post: 2 Things That Inspire Me:

Beautiful interview with a woman who studied piano under Bartok. Interesting to see how his creativity mingled with his technique, his politics, and his personality.

(if you'd like to see image, go to http://jamesaltucher.com)

(a Bartok concerto)



This guy leads a dream life. He quit his job, knew next to nothing about photography, and started carrying a camera around the streets of New York, taking pictures of people who he thought made fun fashion statements. Motivated only by his passion, his work became a hit, and now a career for him.
(one of his photos)
Question: So tell me: what do you do when you want to do a Constructive Nothing?

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  • UraniumC

    A)  thanks James.  much appriciated.  everything came out all right.  (pun. sorry.)   I was disappointed in the drugs.  they kept promising me great drugs I was gonna love.  Maybe.  but 30 seconds after they introduced them thru the IV I was down for the count.  didn’t wake up until they were done doing disgusting things to me. that’s something I’m grateful for.

    B)  my comment was tongue in cheek.  I love doing nothing and place a high value on it.  even when nothing is, of course, something.  anybody who has worked for a corporation knows they far prefer to see employees doing buzy work rather than nothing.  a big plus on the nothing side in my view.

    C)  get cracking.  I’ll be waiting here doing nothing.

    D)  yep sometimes you have to work to get to nothing.  Or, perhaps more commonly, to give yourself perrmission.  always worth the effort.  :)

  • DavidSchiffer

    I’ve been reading you here and there in the press.  You were that zany bull that was long BIDU at $400 (pre 10-1 split) and loving it.  I thought you were nuts.  Good call.  I happened upon your site yesterday from Barry’s and I explored a little bit.  I just wanted to commend you on your honesty and your willingness to put all of your failures and successes and other ideas (contrary or otherwise) on here for us to read.
    Speaking of reading, I just finished Murakami’s Wind-Up Bird Chronicle myself and enjoyed it thoroughly and if you are a fan of Miranda July’s please be sure to see her Me and You and Everyone We Know—one of the most quirky and heartfelt movie you will ever see.  I was also pleased to see that she is releasing her follow up this summer:
    David S.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

       Loved “Me and You..” by July.  I didn’t even realize she had done that until I looked her up after thoroughly enjoying her beautiful collection of short stories. In the beginning of Wind-Up Bird Chronicle now, trying to decide if I’m going to go full force into it.

  • Kevin M

     Lead character was Peter, right? Terrific line, thanks for jogging my memory.

    • UraniumC

      Yep.  Peter.  that’s it exactly.  thanks.  it was starting to bug me! 

  • Kevin M

    Nothing time is rare now that I have 2 kids (almost 4 and almost 1). If the wife takes them and I find myself with time, I usually just grab my iPod (and a beer if we have one) sit on the front porch with my dog and sing along in my head.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

       Kevin, its a tough challenge with 2 kids (I have 2 daughters) but you have to make the time for yourself also (even to continually improve as a parent although I can guarantee it sounds like you are doing a better job than me).

  • http://www.736hundred.tumblr.com 736hundred

    I just spent 10 minutes trying to write a comment. 

    My brain was working over time to get my thoughts, sarcasm, and humor just right. Then I realized it was disjointed and hard to follow and could be taken the wrong way.  I deleted it. 

    Constructive downtime – yay! 
    Love your blog and ALL the comments.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

       736, the fact that you spent all that time and then just deleted it is almost the theme of this particular post. At least you had some fun thoughts.

      • http://www.736hundred.tumblr.com 736hundred

         yep, my point exactly – I saw the similarity that’s why I posted about deleting my thoughts.  I wonder if other comment makers write and delete before posting?
        The hardest thing to get across is sarcasm – it just cant be trusted in this forum.

        • PatD

          speaking of fun thoughts ..blogs…and sarcasm….if anyone here gets Seth Godin’s daily blogs…
          today was Great…”how else am I supposed to take it”….I look forward every morning w/my cup of java to his short quirky words of wisdom… 

  • http://www.benthewriter.com Ben

    I used to feel bad for spending as much time as I do staring off into space, thinking about random stuff, but honestly that’s when I’ve had some of the best moments of my life.

    What’s your favorite Bukowski book? I can’t decide between “Burning In Water Drowning In Flame” and “Love is a Dog From Hell”.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

       One of the best novels written in the English language: his novel Ham on Rye. I don’t really know why The Great Gatsby over that book is taught in schools. Or worse yet, the Bronte Sisters. No offense to them (they are great writers) but just not as interesting to high school or college students as “Ham on Rye”, “Post Office”, etc are. I do like his full collection of poems also but I forget the name of the collected edition.

      • http://www.benthewriter.com Ben

         Honestly, I’ve re-read his poetry probably dozens of times but hadn’t yet read his novels. I’m buying a couple right now–thanks for the recommendation.

        • UraniumC

          clearly I’m going to have to step up my reading to hang with you guys.  :-)

          Just finished Lee Child’s Reacher series. great stuff but a little fluffier than what you’re into.

      • Seedling

        What about “Women?”  That’s some good writing!  But yes, Ham on Rye is awesome and “Post Office,” as well.  Thank God some one else reads this stuff.  I thought I was alone.


        • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

           “Women” and “Factotum” good as well. “Ham on Rye” though: I just don’t know why they don’t teach that in school. Raw emotion and a great voice. “Pulp” is a horrible novel by him. Its a shame he couldn’t dive into his usual honesty when he recognized his dying days were near. Instead, he embarasses himself with “Pulp”. “Hot Water Music” (collection of stories) good also.

  • http://www.736hundred.tumblr.com 736hundred

    yep, my point exactly – I saw the similarity that’s why I posted about deleting my thoughts.  I wonder if other comenters write and delete before posting?
    The hardest thing to get across is sarcasm – it just cant be trusted in this forum.

    • http://www.736hundred.tumblr.com 736hundred

      ^ delete this in the wrong place

  • C Pennybrown

     There’s active & passive nothing.   Passive nothing:  lie in bed with pillow under my knees, sleep mask on while listening to a book – currently, “Pale King” by David Foster Wallace.  (It’s incredible- parts sound like poetry, other parts like his most inspired journalism.)

    Active nothing:  run down to the boat basin at 72nd and feed the ducks.  Or sketch the sky.  Or look for 4 leaf clovers. I found over 119 one summer which might say something about a person who has serious time consciousness problem.

    How can we enjoy time if we don’t know how to waste it?

  • Mr Schafner

    “You also risked me deleting your post.”

    I believe taking risks is also a strategy you suggest incorporating in your writing.

    Now I’m “on your radar” with only one post.  Not too shabby in my estimation. 

  • http://twitter.com/IndependentTrdr Ken

    Nah, that’s the trader’s dream! 

  • Bootdaddy

    2types of people…those who have lost data and those who will!
    Love the “let things happen without judging” bit – key to my peace
    For nothing I watch old movies on turner network, think of each of my 4 children specifically and how I can improve our bond and their life experience, take dogs for walks and throw tennis balls, sometimes I just sit and focus on what in want in my life and the law of attraction…friends ask how I do it and I can’t explain it other than visualizing it as already believing it has happened. Freaky powerful positive stuff comes from this exercise of doing nothing but putting positive energy into the universe.
    Love this blog Jimmer!

  • Nicky

    So… you like Depeche Mode or just lightely clothed women singing a Depeche Mode song, or both? Me? Long time Depeche fan, but I also like the Saturdays. I guess that means both.

  • PatD

    Agree !!!…for me…walking is meditating….I do it daily…w/pets and solitary….but I also walk w/friends for soul searching conversation…all-in-all….walking works for me on many levels…and its not bad for your health also..!! 

  • Sooz

     submerged in a tub full of  scented warm water in a room lit by candles with soft music and no one to interupt the peacefulness of it all.
    **Why do people aspire to have big fancy baths with sunken tubs and yet they never use them? Think about it..
    When was the last time any of you soaked your tired body in a tub of water? Everyone is always too busy, too tired, too this, too that.

     I probably watch 4hrs of t.v. a week(generous guess) . U~Verse has 5,000 channels and not one of them  is any good(with exception to PBS..total sucker for frontline..etc) 

    Yesterday I took my dogs for a walk in the woods. I love watching the pure happiness as they navigated through pathless ways with their tails wagging most of the way. The crunching sound of the forest floor beneath my feet and their paws. Just us pretending(allowing ourselves)to be lost for an hour or longer if we’re lucky. Finding treasures along the way in the form of Morels. Total bonus!!

    Also, I agree with Bryan with the exception that my canvas is my yard/gardens. Once I’ve planted, creating all sorts of mixtures and colors, I love to sit and stare while letting my mind rest and my thoughts escape to a dreamy place.

    • Sooz

      Making people smile or laugh or sometimes cry with kind gestures or simple words(verbal or blogged). Not even realizing the seemingly effortless impact that you might have. This applies to  so many of ‘you’ here.

      (my must read blog list is growing because of you, J.A.)

      • Sooz

         one last thought, oh geesh!

        I have sat with my children separetly and on many different time frames and tryed to explain to them how important it is to ‘LEARN’ how to do ‘NOTHING’. It’s a skill, I tell them, just like learning a sport or an art of some sort. Of course, their energy abounds and every waking minute of their lives have to be filled with non~stop action of some sort until they calapse into their beds so that they can grow another inch in their sleep and start all over again the next day. They are 16,15, and 14yrs respectfully and my oldest is most guilty! When there is a lull in her schedule she gets right into my space/face and says, ” Let’s go do something, Mom. How about if we do this, Mom? What should we do , Mom? ”
        My response..”How about ‘NOTHING?”..:)))

  • Sooz

     I think you deserve a raise, DT..:))

    (a must read ..tell ‘J to the B’ I said so)

    • http://www.dinosaurtrader.com dinosaurtrader


      You’re always very nice to me. Admit you’re my sister.


      • Sooz

         Why..,OHhhhhh why, did you have to blow my cover???
        Good luck from here on out, my brother!!

  • http://twitter.com/OgFOMK Alexander B. Nuttall

     I my religion will now be called: Constructive Nothing  I try to do this as much as possible.

  • http://twitter.com/IndependentTrdr Ken

     Smoking a nice cigar outside on the patio and just letting my mind wander is a great way to spend an hour doing a Constructive Nothing.

  • Bodan77

    You could watch College Conspiracy new documentary :)


  • Dave

     My “constructive nothing” is to read about someone that has decided to disregard all “conventional wisdom” got rid of the ridiculous and unneeded BS from their life… and found a way to just be happy.

  • Stew

    I’ve been doing nothing for six years, I wish i was doing something

  • Hassan

    Great article. The sweet irony of losing 2000 words on nothing has definitely contributed to starting my day on a hilarious note, and in my experience every time I laugh within an hour of waking up its almost bound to be a good day : )

  • Micah

    Sit out side and commune with nature. Just listen to the wind and the world around me. Let my hair down and not put on any make up. Let it all just drift away. I bring whatever book I’m reading at the time with me because its nice to get caught up in a make-believe world distant from our own.

  • Chris C

    Thanks James!  I really enjoy reading your articles and have come to the conclusion that the surest sign of a quality writer is that the comments section of their articles rarely devolves into partisan sniping and nonsensical rhetoric.  It’s incredible how hard it is to find any online writings these days that have interesting, well thought out and seemingly heartfelt comments in the comments section!….in other words, you seem to be read by interesting people.  Well done!

  • Artiecab

    So true