In honor of Labor Day, I’m posting a rerun and am taking a quick break from writing. This post was first written on December 3, 2008, and I thought it was a good topic for today. Enjoy the holiday!
While I was waiting for a prescription to be filled at my local pharmacy today, I read this quote on a greeting card from Lin Yutang: “If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live.”
I love this. I write about productivity and about the importance of making the most of your time, but the idea of quality “nothing” time is just as crucial as productive time. In fact, I think the two go together. When you work hard, relaxing is all the more enjoyable.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to appreciate truly quality down time. I don’t do this perfectly, but I’ve learned it really is so important to STOP. To just relax. To just be. To not always produce.
Moms especially have a hard time with this, because the to-do list never ends. As soon as you fold the last bit of laundry, another t-shirt gets thrown into the hamper. After breakfast, it’s only a few hours until lunch. If you sit down for a few minute’s rest, your preschooler comes to you crying with a new owie.
But of all people, we need to go out of our way for some quality down time. If we don’t, we burn out, plain and simple. And if we burn out, anything from the trivial to the serious could happen — the house could really go by the wayside, making it that much harder to clean in the end. Or much worse, we could end up risking our health. At the very least, our home stops being a haven, both for us and for everyone who lives with us.
The key is, our downtime needs to be quality – and by that, I mean unproductive. I mean, it needs to be truly downtime. Sure, you can happen to get something done when you’re resting. But the goal of your downtime shouldn’t be productivity, because your wheels will continue to spin when they should be getting serviced.
It takes effort to make your down time worth the time it takes. Here are a few ways to make it more purposeful.
How to Have Quality “Nothing” Time
Photo by Jon in Knoxville
1. Schedule it in.
Sounds counterintuitive, I know, but if you’re like me, you’ll work-work-work right through any well-intentioned down time. Before you know it, your down time was “catch up” time instead.
2. Work hard when it is work time.
Like in college, you’ll enjoy your down time more when you’ve truly had a good day of quality work. I don’t mean you need to cross off your to-do list completely before you rest — that almost never happens. But make sure you focus on work during work time, instead of intermingling work and play. In other words, when you’re on the computer to work on your family budget and balance your accounts, don’t read blogs at the same time. Finish your work, then sit down later to read blogs exclusively. It’ll be more fun. Overall, I prefer single-tasking to multi-tasking.
3. Turn off your distractions.
There are so many blogs out there I want to read, but sometimes, they’ll just need to go unread because I’d rather enjoy my downtime offline. I work online, so when I’ve had a full day in front of the screen, I just need to close the laptop. The beauty of the internet is that most things will stick around for awhile. There’s no blog-reading emergency.
4. Know yourself.
If you’re an introvert, do what you can to get some alone time to refuel. If you’re an extrovert, see what you can do to grab coffee with a group of girlfriends. I don’t like to put myself in a box, but forms of the DISC test and the Myers-Briggs/Jung test can be insightful (I’m an “idealist” and a borderline “INTJ” and “ENTJ,” in case you were wondering).
5. Nurture your essential relationships.
Go on a relaxing date with your spouse. Business meetings are great when you need to discuss important family issues, but those usually don’t count as quality down time. Bowling with your husband can be just as important as a sit-down meeting where you discuss your life goals.
6. Turn off that voice that says “you MUST be productive.”
One thing I’ve learned from the culture in which I live is that relationships are more important than efficiency. I didn’t realize how much I rely on my being productive until I moved overseas. Even in our downtime, we work so hard that we simply forget what it means to “just be.” Sure, you may enjoy sewing. But if you decide to sew in order to finish that project, not because it relaxes and refuels you, then that’s simply not down time. That’s productive time. Don’t worry about wasting time. Just be.
A Few Ways to Have “Nothing” Time
Photo by Daniel Lobo
• Take a nap
• Call an old friend, and just catch up – and don’t do anything else while you’re on the phone
• Read an enjoyable book you’ve been meaning to read
• Take a bubble bath after the kids are in bed
• Watch a movie with your spouse, and don’t work on anything else (this is a tough one for me… I hate just sitting there)
• Grab coffee with a girlfriend
• Read some blogs
• Head to a bookstore-with-coffee-shop and browse just for fun
• Cultivate a new craft – learn how to knit or dance for the heck of it
• Snuggle on the couch with your spouse and reminisce about when you were dating
• Make a cup of tea, sit out on your porch, and just… sit
• Go on a leisurely walk, either alone or with your family — and go nowhere in particular
When you have really good nothing time, your something time is all the better. You’ll feel recharged, you’ll appreciate your kids, and you’ll remember why you love your life in the first place. Sometimes, you just need a break from work to help you be a better worker at home. Or anywhere, really.
What’s your favorite way to have down time? What’s the hardest part about finding down time in your life?