Embracing the lull: The art of healthy procrastination
In a world that can make you feel like your productivity is a measure of your self-worth, lulls — a period of pause — can be hard to accept. Learn how to embrace the lull and become a pro at healthy procrastination.

We’ve all experienced a time when we were caught in-between. A moment where we drifted, took a pause or felt stuck. Let’s call it a lull.

Lulls create quiet in our lives and compel us to step outside our usual habits and routines. But as with all of life’s ups and downs, the suddenness of a lull can be difficult to adjust to. Especially when we are used to filling our days with activity after activity.

Changing perceptions

In the midst of lockdown and COVID-19 restrictions, we faced dramatic changes to our lives. For some this meant less work or periods of unemployment. It also meant our experience of time changed. And more than ever, we found ourselves losing track of what day it was or even feeling as if time had stopped.

This change in daily life has led many of us to develop new routines and coping mechanisms to help break up our days. But it also means we are experiencing a longer sense of time as it passes by — and potentially more lulls.

Create space to daydream

Because of our need to keep busy, we often misunderstand the lull and all the beautiful things it can offer us. Sometimes a lull is where the work actually happens, says artist and cartoonist Sarah Nagorcka, better known as Gorkie. And while we might move quickly to fill a lull, it can actually be useful to cultivate them in our creative lives.

“The overarching thing for me is it’s so innocuous, I don’t even see [lulls] anymore. But if somebody followed me around for a day they’d be like, ‘What are you doing?’,” Sarah laughs.

She creates space around her creative work to allow time for reflection and observation, which later becomes a wellspring of creative ideas.

“My entire practice is about lulls. It’s about creating space so that I can essentially daydream and have no outside pressures to interrupt the pattern-finding that I try to do to create my work,” she shares. “I’m actively trying to introduce lulls on a daily, hourly basis. It’s almost invisible to me, but it’s certainly a big part of my work.”

Make peace with the lull

We’ve all heard the phrase, “How you spend your days is how you spend your life”. But perhaps that warning is why we have a tendency to fear periods of inactivity. It can trigger feelings of failure or inadequacy because we anticipate the busyness of daily life. In a world that can make us feel like our productivity is a measure of our self-worth, lulls can be hard to accept. But these less-productive times are neither good nor bad.

Madeleine Dore, the writer behind the popular interview series Extraordinary Routines, often speaks with creatives and entrepreneurs about their daily lives.

“What I’ve come to realise through my conversations with people about their routines is that [lulls] are a natural part of any working life, any creative life, any relationship, any structure of any day. We will inevitably have an ebb and a flow,” she shares.

New beginnings

This ebb and flow of life is like the seasons changing, says Madeleine. It allows people to have a break between periods of activity and to recharge before the next project. “I’ve come to expect it as part of the process before something new begins,” she continues. “There is always going to be a point where we reach a bit of stagnation or a bit of stillness, a bit of quiet, a bit of reflection or a lull. It’s necessary to sustain the following action or the following season.”

It’s now been eight months since Madeleine launched her new podcast, Routines and Ruts. The podcast was first a fledgling idea years ago, but instead of jumping into the project quickly, Madeleine continued to put off. Now she looks back at the time in-between — between deciding to make a podcast and launching it into the world — as an important period of learning.

“I was in a lull, feeling stagnant, feeling like there was no action or movement or momentum. But actually, that whole period of the lull, which went for months or maybe even more accurately years, was me thinking about how to do the podcast and preparing for it,” she explains.

Side-tracks and feeling stuck

Neuroscience teaches us that periods of distraction and stillness can help us discover unanticipated solutions to difficult problems. It’s why Einstein often had breakthroughs in the shower and why people often choose to take a break when they hit a mental roadblock.

“Most of the work happens when you’re not working,” says Sarah. “If you have something you’re trying to solve, definitely walking away from it, going to do gardening, side-tracking in some other way, allows your brain to do what it does. So if you just trust your brain to side-track and go wherever it wants, it actually will do the work for you.”

Activate your mind

Physical activity can be the perfect outlet for those experiencing a quiet period or feeling stuck. Sarah says she embraces lulls by creating padding around everything in her schedule, including time for daily walks and physical movement. “I also do a lot of dancing, basically to make my mind sit down,” she says.

Don’t take lulls too far

While we can embrace the lull and accept it for what it is, there is one caveat to keep in mind. Don’t fall into the trap of complacency, warns Madeleine. “There’s a very fine line between honouring the lull and complacency,” she points out. “Knowing the difference is quite an art. Sometimes we get to a point where we have done the learning, we are ready, and now we actually have to do the thing. Patience with ourselves and the process only takes us so far. There is a point where we need to know when to pull ourselves out of a lull.”

Brooke Boland is a freelance writer based on the South Coast of NSW.