Prose by Ben Callahan |||

What To Do When There’s Nothing To Do

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been busy with the work of Sparkbox. I started this place with a few friends, and back then we wrote the code and the contracts. In the six years since we started, I can’t remember a time when I was bored, when there wasn’t something urgent begging to be addressed.

Recently, I had a day where I had nothing to do. No estimates to send, to email to follow up on, no Google Calendar dinging me out of one meeting and into another. It was…pleasant. I also spent the entire day feeling like I was missing something big. You see, though I’d been working toward it for years, I wasn’t prepared to escape the tyranny of the urgent.

So that got me thinking…what should I do when there’s nothing to do?

What follows is my list of stuff to do when there’s nothing urgent dictating my schedule, when there’s nothing on fire.


I want to be someone with a broad and deep understanding. Deep in areas where I want to become an expert, broad in areas where I’m curious or where I know nothing. One thing I’ve learned is that there are inspiring understandings everywhere. If all I do is read more about what I already know, I’m limiting myself. So, I’m creating a reading list—books that have changed others lives, articles that have made an impact—so that when I have a bit of time available I can jump right into the next piece.

If you’re curious, right now I’m reading On the Run: Fugitive Live in an American City by Alice Goffman. I know nothing about what it’s like to live in an economically depressed inner-city. This book is eye-opening—read it now.


For me, writing is not just an exercise in sharing. Each time I sit down to write I find it incredibly clarifying—it helps me to understand what I truly believe about something. My partners and I also write a fairly detailed explanation about what’s happening to our team each month. I find this helps me to internalize what’s happened over the past few weeks and to be intentional about how to adjust.

Lately, I’ve joined forces with a friend in a writing challenge which requires me to write and publish something every week. In addition to this, I’m writing monthly for The Pastry Box Project and I write periodically for other publications.

Look Backward

I never enjoyed history in school, I didn’t understand the value. Now, as a business owner, I spend a lot of time considering how we’ve gotten to where we are. I want to understand the momentum that’s carried us. This can come in many forms—I could look at the numbers, I could look at the clients, I could look at our team structure. There is insight to be gleaned from trying to see how these and other areas of my business have grown or changed. If you want to know where you’re headed, you should start with understanding where you’ve been. Which leads me to…

Look Forward

As a leader, one of my main responsibilities is to set the direction of our organization. Unfortunately, I don’t have a crystal ball. Instead, I need to spend time pausing to consider our current trajectory and adjust our direction if it doesn’t feel right. As a small company, we are flexible enough to change fairly quickly. The trick really is knowing how to change.

Looking forward also means clarifying why we do what we do. I really believe if we know that and communicate it well, we’ll attract the right clients and the right employees.

So, that’s what I’ve got so far. Hopefully, I have a few more unscheduled days in my future. As they happen, I’ll let you know how it goes.

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