Just because we are away from our work doesn’t mean we aren’t still thinking about it. In this week’s episode, we consider how to relax and recharge without guilt.
Our productivity benefits when we learn to relax and make the most of our time off
As you know, I took the month of January off from publishing new episodes of the podcast–a first since this podcast launched in 2014! And as I record this episode, I’m actually a few hundred miles from home, spending two weeks at a writing retreat with 4 other women at a house near the beach in Florida.
Both of these were breaks from my usual routine, much-needed opportunities to rest, reflect, and regroup. Yet I struggled with and during both of these times. I noticed myself feeling guilty for not working and producing!
I think a lot of us in this community can relate–we want to be productive, in the sense of getting things done and making a life that matters. And that’s a good thing. But it can lead us to feel like if we’re not doing something, we’re wasting time.
I thought this was a good time to think about how we can make the most of those breaks in our routine–or even just our normal days off from work.
It requires a mindset shift about what it means to be productive
Are rest and downtime productive? There’s plenty of evidence out there for the concept that nobody can go-go-go all the time, that our bodies and minds need a break from focused work. Whether our work is for our job or career or for a side hustle or managing our homes or whatever, I truly believe that rest and time away from work is an essential component of a productive life.
On my drive to Florida for the retreat, I started listening to Chris Bailey’s book Hyperfocus. The book is about the importance of focusing deeply on what we’re doing. But interestingly he spends a lot of time talking about the opposite–how much we need unfocused time in order to process thoughts, make connections between ideas, and come up with creative thoughts and solutions.
We think of daydreaming as wasted time, but based on extensive research, including interviews with experts, Bailey notes that “daydreaming is immensely potent when our intention is to solve problems, think more creatively, brainstorm new ideas, or recharge. As far as boosting our creativity is concerned, mind wandering is in a league of its own.”
As Bailey discusses in the book, time off from focused work is essential to maintain our productivity. He reminds us: “As our mental energy steadily depletes throughout the day, so too does our ability to focus. Recharging is critical and worth the time investment. . . . The better rested we are, the more productive we become” and goes on to say, “In fact, taking a break is one of the most productive things you can do. . . . [Y]our brain has a limited pool of energy, and once that reserve is depleted, so too are your focus and productivity. Breaks not only allow you to recharge—they prevent you from hitting a wall.”
Give yourself permission to take time off
Nobody’s going to do that for you, and you don’t need anyone else’s permission anyway.
Recognizing how valuable downtime is should make this a little easier. It’s good for you! And that makes it good for the other people in your life: family, employer, clients, and more.
Leverage your productivity skills
Have a plan for your free time. I know if I don’t have a plan of some sort, I’ll end up vegging in front of the TV, and then I really feel like I’ve wasted my time!
Have an objective: restoration, rejuvenation, laughter . . . ask yourself, “What do I want to get out of this day (or hour) off?”
In an article on Self.com titled 11 Tips for Anyone Who Doesn’t Know How to Relax, one therapist is cited for the suggestion of “asking yourself what you hope to get out of your relaxation time each time you do it.” The article’s writer goes on to say, “‘To rest’ or ‘to escape’ are starting points, but it helps to get specific. Do you need to distract yourself from problems at work? Do you need to feel refreshed and ready to dive back into life? Do you need to calm your anxiety? Do you need to feel soothed and comforted? From there, you can figure out how to support your needs—both by choosing the right activity and by figuring out which boundaries to put into place (like not checking your phone or choosing the right location or time) in order to make it happen.”
Give yourself something to look forward to. Consider what you enjoy but haven’t done in a while, and make plans to do that during your time off.
- A class
- A sport-bike ride or tennis game with a friend
- Get together with friends
- Crafting or some artistic pursuit
- Simply curl up on the couch or out in the sun with a book you’ve been wanting to read
Amy Williams, a member of the TPW community, published a recent post on her Star Stunning blog (which I recommend, especially for working moms) about the idea of planning her own day-long retreat, with a small group of her friends. She offers some great ideas for structuring a retreat like this, pointing out that we don’t have to “spend large amounts of time and money to feel refreshed.”
Distracting ourselves on our days off
For those of us who think about work on our days off and feel guilty for not working, one writer suggests we distract ourselves, noting “it’s often easy to just stop working, but it’s not so easy to stop thinking about work. If making the conscious effort to detach is still difficult for you, doing something else to stay busy may be your solution. Hobbies that require concentration, like cross-stitching or woodworking, allow you to focus on finishing that specific task and can improve cognition and memory.” Even working on jigsaw puzzles can occupy our minds enough to overcome those thoughts that we should be working.
Intentionally nurture your ability to appreciate and take advantage of time off
Begin taking actual, purposeful breaks from your work—times when you don’t merely switch from your work to some other task or to non-restorative distractions. Example: instead of checking social media, go for a walk or just sit outside without your phone or other devices, and just be there in the moment.
“The best time to take a break is before you need to. Much as you’re probably already dehydrated when you feel thirsty, your focus and productivity have likely already begun to falter by the time you feel fatigued.” [Hyperfocus]
Find an activity you enjoy and can get absorbed in, and do that one evening a week instead of your usual evening tv shows.
Add meditation to your daily routine; aside from the health benefits (reduced stress and anxiety) it can help you build the skill of stillness–something most of us struggle with. As one writer puts it, “Focused-attention meditation is like weight lifting for your attention span. It helps increase the strength and endurance of your attention.”
“There is, however, one practice that has been proven in study after study to increase working memory capacity: meditation.” [from Hyperfocus]
What do you think?
Resources and Link
- TPW356 – How to Enjoy Rest
- Hyperfocus by Chris Bailey
- Amy Williams blog-Star Stunning
- How to Relax When It Feels Impossible | SELF
- 11 Tips for anyone who doesn’t know how to relax
- Rest, Relaxation and Exercise | Mental Health America
- Making The Most Of Your Vacation: How To Actually Take Time Off
- 9 Things to Do on Your Day Off to Really Recharge | TopResume
- We All Really Need a Vacation. Here’s How to Make the Most of It.
- 13 ways to get the most out of your day off – Calm Moment
- 4 ways to make the most of your time off the clock
- Benefits of Meditation: 12 Science-Based Benefits of Meditation
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