Exploring the Fine Art of Lollygagging

Last month, I facilitated a strategic planning retreat, and one of the participants made a comment that he didn’t like “lollygagging.” Aside from the fact I hadn’t heard that word in about, oh, a million years and we all had a good time ribbing him for using it, it stuck in my brain because it made me think more deeply about how I do or do not lollygag. Moreover – what JUDGMENT am I placing on said lollygagging? 

Now, in case anyone is reading this and still wondering what in the hell lollygagging is, it’s commonly used to describe idle time or dawdling, dilly-dallying, slowing down, and basically allowing yourself some good, old-fashioned downtime. (Ok, ok, for any of my uber-internet-searchers, there’s also some racy old past utilizations of lollygag or “lallygag” as fooling around… like THAT kind of fooling around. That’s not what I’m talking about here!) Back to the points I’m trying to make… 

In Western culture, particularly in the United States, a high value is placed on productivity and output. We measure achievements in terms of volume, we prize assignments of great complexity, we work hard, we suck it up, we put our noses to the grindstone, and we do more with the less. Lollygagging has no place in this environment because it doesn’t move us closer to those goals. Who has time for downtime when the to-do list is a mile long and getting longer? How can we possibly dawdle when we’re constantly being hammered with ways to do it all, have it all, and be it all for everyone? 

For a lot of years (ok, decades… like, multiple decades), lollygagging has been somewhat of an enemy for me. Downtime and relaxation were scheduled modules on an overly-full calendar, and when something else came up — and something always comes up — they were the first ones to get overwritten. See, I didn’t value lollygagging. And I didn’t value lollygagging mostly because I hadn’t actually experienced it! And it wasn’t that I just didn’t value relaxation or idle time, I was downright scared of it. What would people think about me if I wasn’t DOING something? What if all of a sudden I became a massively lazy person and ended up on some reality TV show because everything in my life that I’d worked hard to put together suddenly completely fell by the wayside in favor of laying on the couch all day eating Cheetos? 

Turns out I was wrong on both counts. Instead of being unproductive time, I found that a little lollygagging goes a long way towards refueling me and rejuvenating my momentum! I also wasn’t spending hours and hours on the couch – lollygagging for me often happens in microbursts integrated throughout my day. A few minutes here, half an hour there, a quick walk around the block, an extra long hot shower… allowing my brain a break and not worrying about DOING anything every second of the day has actually ended up being massively productive for my output. And my reality TV show fear? Nah. I’m finding the more I let myself lollygag, the more likely I am to be healthy about the boundaries around it. (Still working on the Cheetos, though…) 

A lot of my coaching clients recently have been expressing a desire for more downtime and a frustration with overscheduled lives held together by overlapping meetings, stolen bathroom breaks, and dry shampoo. Old ways of grinding through aren’t working anymore, and in those few stolen moments of stillness we do get, many of us are hearing a call to simply slow down. For me, exploring the fine art of lollygagging has helped me discover the joy of some of that stillness and slowness in ways that still work with my life. I’ve yet to hear anyone criticize my new approach. Instead, I’m enjoying some of the fruits of that downtime in renewed connection with myself and others and a powerful awareness of the beauty of what’s going on around me because it’s not just a blur to me. 

Give it a shot. See if you can lollygag today for a few minutes, and discover what it brings up for you! 

- Nicole

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