Using your free time to work? Find ways to honor yourself with some healthy downtime.
One evening earlier this week, I found myself with a bit of downtime. I’d just come home from a long but pleasant and uneventful workday. Typically, I’d use the time between coming home and starting dinner to catch up on grading papers and organizing class material, but I was all caught up. To my jubilation, there was a big tub of leftovers in the fridge—I didn’t even have to do any real cooking! Certainly, this meant I could relax. Sort of.
With almost religious faith, I believe in downtime. I know—from experience and reading—that downtime is essential for creativity (insights often find us when we’re not consciously working on a project). Downtime is part of the “life” in that elusive “work-life balance.” Downtime is healthy.
While I embrace the importance of downtime on theoretical level, it’s hard for me to put into practice. What we understand intellectually does not always translate to our emotional center, of course. Without thinking much about it, I find ways to make my downtime immediately useful above all else. For example, I might choose to spend my free time researching career-related topics (even if I’ve been tied up in that same field for the past nine hours) rather than curling up on the couch with a Donna Tartt novel.
Although I know that the latter would actually be more productive for the long term, I have trouble allowing myself such an activity. When I do, the moment is tinged with guilt. I feel as if I am stealing—or doing something that I shouldn’t tell anyone about. My fiancé teases me that I’m plagued with the ol’ protestant work ethic—that I feel that taking time for myself is inherently wrong—even when I know better.
I know I’m not alone in this feeling. Many of us go on vacation only to sweat our email inbox. We usually don’t feel guilty getting our paychecks (we earned that!), yet we don’t believe we deserve a little R & R—or perhaps we know we deserve it, but we just can’t right now.
The following are a few ways I plan to try to protect myself from myself and put a leash on my overzealous work ethic.
1. Create a sacred downtime space. Your sacred downtime space may or may not have anything to do with your spirituality. Rather, it’s a place where work is off-limits. This could be the pool by your apartment, the corner café, or even your bedroom. Don’t even bring work materials there! Go to this place often.
2. Set boundaries. When you recognize that you’re trying to do too much outside of work, commit to practicing downtime. At first, you may have to schedule it for yourself. As silly as that may sound, getting into a routine can help make downtime feel more natural. Figure out a time of day that will be your time. Work not allowed!
3. Be mindful. When you hear your inner critic giving you the guilt trip about not being more productive right that second, silence her with a gentle, rational mantra: I am caring for myself by taking time for myself.
4. Check in each week. At the start of each week, check in with yourself. How you are feeling about work? Chances are, if you’ve been following your mindful downtime routine, you will be feeling more productive at work. (It’s a win-win!) Assess your stress levels and how you’ve been handling your stress. What worked? And what would you change? Remember that introducing more balance to our lives is a process, and like most things, it takes practice.
5. Set a daily intention. Although I like the idea of setting a unique intention everyday, I often find myself returning to the same idea: work hard, but with gentleness and courage. It takes courage to be kind of ourselves and take downtime—but we do deserve it.
Do you guys ever have trouble finding / convincing yourself to take downtime? And what’s your favorite downtime activity? 🙂
Related: Are You In Danger of Burnout?
Photos: Lidyanne Aquino via Flickr, Peaceful Dumpling