You might be reading this for one of two reasons: you’re looking for a reason to take a break, or maybe it’s because you want to get more done in a day and think that breaks could help.
Check in for a minute – is what you’re really after finding a balance where you can enjoy your work and be productive, but also have time for extracurricular activities that you enjoy?
If you’re looking for more balance, you’re in the right place. Downtime is often underrated but it just might be the secret to optimizing your productivity and increasing your happiness.
Mind-rest is as important as a good night’s sleep. Although your mind is at rest (somewhat) when you’re sleeping, it’s also important to take mental breaks during the day.
Knowing that you need to take more breaks and actually getting yourself to oblige are two different things. For some of us, it might take planning ahead or laying firm ground rules around time to “do” and time to “be.”
Here are some tips for helping you successfully do less:
Set Aside Down Time
Scheduling in down time works well because many of us are regimented in our days and live our lives according to a calendar. If it’s on the calendar, it’s bound to happen, or at least it has a greater likelihood because you planned in advance.
This might seem counterintuitive because downtime sounds like the kind of thing that should be free flowing. Yet, it’s just as important as the other things on your to-do list, so it deserves it’s own spot on your calendar.
The amount of downtime you schedule will be very individual. Ask yourself these questions: How much time does it take you to mentally unwind between tasks? Do you find it easy to step away from work or other responsibilities and turn off?
Think about an amount of time that would allow you to comfortably turn off and take a break between tasks. The key here is to give yourself enough time to unwind, but not so much that you get into procrastination. This will take some self discipline.
Once you block off your downtime, consider it set in stone. No last minute meetings or phone calls can change this, your time is marked off for something just as important.
Use alarms and reminders. Especially in the beginning, you’ll likely forget that you have the time blocked off. Use your phone reminders to signal the start and end of your down time. Set your alarms the night before according to your schedule for the next day. This way you won’t feel stressed about trying to keep track of time while you’re sinking into your tasks.
Actually Put Things Down
Your downtime fuels you mentally, emotionally and physically. That makes it just as important as anything else you spend your time on. Treat it that way by being strict about the rules for your breaks.
The goal here is to relax and recover from your workday so that you can function at your peak again tomorrow. It’s so tempting to end up checking your email on your phone, or scrolling through social media. These can be slippery slopes to finding yourself thinking about work, or trying to squeeze in productive time after hours.
This is why it’s important to set boundaries within your downtime. Do you need to be on a computer? Would you like to put your phone away (or on silent)? Set yourself up with a break from tech if that’s what you need.
Maybe there are certain non-work things you’d like to do with your downtime, like move your body or spend time in nature. Reading can be a great downtime activity as well. Spending time with your family and friends offers a great way to be present and get your mind off your work life. Make these things requirements in your off-time and plan activities with others.
Think of these time blocks as opportunities to engage in the things that make you a well-rounded human being. It’s not wasting time. These activities are truly important to your productivity and happiness.
Optimizing Your Downtime
One way to optimize your time is by reflecting on your actions in a weekly review. The same goes for your downtime. Review how you spend your downtime over the past week. What did you enjoy? Did anything positive come out of it? Were you successful in taking the breaks you planned?
This review will allow you to plan better as time goes on. As you learn more about your requirements for downtime you’ll be able to optimize this part of your schedule. If you’re having trouble sticking to your breaks, it could be a sign that you need to delegate or reorganize your work time so it’s more efficient and allows you space to unwind.
Did you get carried away and take too much down time? How was your productivity afterwards? These are all things to fine-tune as you go. Each week will be different as you adjust to the different seasons within your life.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that downtime is important. First you need to overcome any ideas about relaxing needing to be earned, or being a waste of time. It’s healthy for you to step away from responsibility for a few hours each week and give yourself a chance to refresh and live in the moment.