So you finally have a free moment, do you? A moment in which no one needs anything from you, nothing is due, and there is no expectation for you to be “on.” All that is technically required of you is to simply…exist.
While this sounds great in theory, the truth is that we often struggle to know what to do with our downtime. For some, it can even be a source of anxiety. After all, we operate in a culture that romanticizes the idea of being busy. We relish discussing our important meetings, our crushing deadlines, our need to juggle all of our various projects and social activities. On one hand, we lament the stress we feel. On the other, the stress is how we tend to gauge our success.
That being said, it’s no surprise that we aren’t always the best at knowing what to do when we have nothing to do. We frequently fill our downtime with things that resemble relaxation, but which actually have the effect of being exhausting – things like social media binges, mindless entertainment, thinking about work, and obligatory social events. While these things can be totally fine in moderation, the problem comes when they rob us of our rest. And as any kindergarten teacher will tell you after nap time, rest is crucial to productivity.
So if you are someone who struggles to actually rest when it’s time to rest, here are just a few refreshing things to do during downtime:
You schedule meetings, dinners, and workouts, but how often do you really schedule breaks? Sure, you might include a lunch break (though perhaps not), but do you actually make an intentional effort to block time out of your day for rest? When you put your downtime in your schedule, you are far more likely to honor it. Extra points if you make it a part of a daily routine.
Step off the guilt train
What if someone needs me? Is this really a good use of my time? Everyone else is working right now, so I should be working, too. If these thoughts are creeping into your rest time, shut them down. This thinking is born from a lie that says, “Good people are busy people.” Quick reminder: you are not a bad person for taking time to take care of yourself. In fact, you’re actually just healthy.
Get your eyeballs away from screens
You know that compulsion you have to reach for your phone every 30 seconds? Fight it. I hate to be the bearer of the most unsurprising news ever, but as we all know at this point, too much screen time is terrible for your rest. In fact, studies have shown that that it can actually have a damaging effect on your brain’s ability to exercise cognitive functions, make decisions, process emotions, and control impulses. If you are replacing downtime with screen time, you are likely making your job a lot harder when it comes time to get back to work.
Process your “up” time
If you are a person who worries about wasting time, processing is how you make your time intentional. It looks different for everyone, but it’s essential to know how you process best. Perhaps you are someone who enjoys meditation or prayer or journaling. Whatever it is for you, allow yourself to get into the habit of doing it regularly. Take a moment to check in with yourself and to reflect on how you are really feeling. One of my favorite ways to process is by writing “morning pages,” a concept which comes from Anne Lammott’s book Bird By Bird. Morning pages are simply three handwritten pages of stream-of-consciousness writing. It’s a simple practice, but it does wonders for providing insight into my actual thoughts and emotions.
Enrich your mind
Once you’ve allowed your brain to work through what it needs to work through, it will likely be hungry for new sources of stimulation. Instead of feeding it with a Netflix marathon, think about some healthier options. A few ideas: listen to a new podcast, visit a museum, go for a walk in your neighborhood, read that book that’s been sitting on your nightstand, work on a personal project, create something, cook a new meal. Deep down, you know what enriches your mind and what doesn’t, so do more of what does.
Personally, I’m a fan of power naps, those 5 – 15 minute mini-rests that don’t seem to sap me of all of my energy. But regardless of the length of time, get all snuggly, shut those eyes, and give yourself the freedom to actually fall asleep. You earned it. I promise.
How do you make the most of your downtime?