The other day I converted my downstairs fishtank into a light. All the fish had died long ago, and it was just sitting there, doing nothing. I enjoyed making the felt and I enjoyed the feeling of achievement when it was completed. It now lights up my dark hallway and makes me feel happy whenever I come home.
My eldest son, Taras, gave me the idea last year and I have wanted to do this since then—but I never “found the time.” Time is one of the hardest things to find for busy people, those who work for themselves or for others, whether that work is paid or not. But downtime, relaxation, time for yourself, time to do the things you want to do, is just as important for happiness and productivity as any other use of time.
Last year I had to be really efficient and effective. I was working up to 60 hours a week, and juggling lots of balls in the air. I tried all sorts of ways to make myself more efficient, to free up some time for myself, then found that I filled those extra hours with MORE WORK!
No wonder I felt exhausted when my contract came to an end.
This year I promised myself that I would spend more time on me—on relaxing.
Okay, so I still feel guilty when I sit around “just reading” or “just watching TV.” I have to knit or sew while watching TV. I have to take my kindle to the gym. But at least both those simultaneous activities are not work!
Many studies agree that for optimal productivity you really do need a good work/life balance. These days I write or do other work in the morning, then, if I don’t have meetings, I try to get into my studio and do some creative work in the afternoon. In the evening, it’s time for gym, relaxing and reading. I admit, I can’t always keep to that, but I try.
Putting downtime into your schedule
To some people it would seem counter-intuitive to schedule time to relax, but if you’re anything like me, it’s a necessity. If I don’t schedule my non-work time, I find myself filling it with work.
You may only need an hour or so to unwind, to refresh yourself physically, mentally and spiritually. You may need more. Everyone is different. But everyone needs SOME time to relax.
I set a reminder alarm before I start on my computer so that my body doesn’t suffer. If I don’t, then I can easily get caught up in writing, and when I finally stop for a break I can’t believe how much time has passed. I’ve missed meals and have forgotten to get up from the computer.
Downtime should be DOWN time
Some days, when I try to relax, my brain is still trying to grapple with the problems of my job. If I’m caught up with my characters in my latest writing project, or I’m solving structural problems for someone else’s book, I find it hard to switch off.
I find I have to set rules for what I can and can’t do when I’m trying to relax. Reading is okay, as long as it’s for pleasure. I’m allowed to use the computer for fun, but not for research.
I know I don’t get outside (or even out of the house) enough, so anything (except meetings) that takes me out of the house is good.
Even though my children don’t need me as much these days, family time is still important, and I set aside one evening a week for date night. Even if the “date” only lasts a couple of hours, it’s important to reconnect with those you love. If your children are still at home, family time is even more important.
Downtime isn’t wasted time
One of the most important lessons I had to teach myself is that relaxation time isn’t wasted time. Relaxation refreshes the mind so you’re ready to go again. Downtime is important for your productivity and well being.
How much downtime do you need?
For one week, keep a record of what you did each day. How many hours did you spend working? How many hours eating? How many hours with the family? How many hours relaxing?
For the next week PLAN your time. Commit it to paper (or digital record). Schedule in your work, family and downtime. Okay, so it won’t always work out the way you planned, but it’s a start.
At the end of the week, ask yourself if you felt more productive or less productive?
If you didn’t stick to your plans, ask yourself why not—and maybe read up a bit on self-discipline!
The way you use your downtime isn’t important. What is important for your own happiness, your own well-being and ultimately your productivity, is that you take some time for relaxation. It’s NOT time wasted.
How do you make sure you have enough downtime?