An alternative title for this post could well be “how to do nothing and do it well.” Do not believe anyone who insists that you must always produce something, make something happen. What about downtime – how best to cope with that? Here are seven ways to have the best downtime ever. Shout out if you have more!
Make sure you left all work at work
Tie up loose ends. Return all phone calls. Answer every urgent email. Tick the last bit off your list. Clean up, check everything twice, then go.
Downtime with two little bits of business on your mind is like dancing barefoot with two tiny push-pins on the dance floor somewhere. Sooner or later, you come across that painful bit – and the good feeling is gone.
Leave all work at work and don’t let it mess up your time.
Get lots of good sleep
Listen to the Freakonomics guys: sleep is important. Sleep costs you money, and makes you money. Sleep is the 1/3 of your life that you normally don’t have much time to pay attention to.
Don’t let silly sleep patterns sabotage your downtime. And use the relaxed time to figure out how you can tweak sleep to help the busy times, too. How much sleep do you need? When do you naturally wake up – when there’s no alarm clock around? When do you normally get sleepy?
Choose your input
Sting got it right: sometimes you just have to be “on input,” let things happen to you, take things in, without worrying about what to make and how to deliver. Does this mean you have to re-watch all Spongebob episodes and chase it down with a Big Bang Theory marathon? Not necessarily.
If this is what you’ve been missing, go for it. And equally, if there’s something you’ve always wanted to experience, now is the time. Plan this in advance if you’re so inclined: there’s a brilliant concert venue in one of our favourite holiday cities, and everytime we book a spot there, we always check who’s playing.
Your “doing nothing” needs more…nothing.
Blaise Pascal said it first: a lot of your miserable moments could be avoided if we were only able to sit in an empty room, alone. Downtime may be a good moment to move towards that. I’m not calling for some total withdrawal from civilization (although these things appear to have their fans) – but I will ask this: if you don’t switch off now, then when?
Announce a Facebook sabbatical. Set up an auto-reply, even on your personal accounts. Switch on airplane mode, even if you’re not flying. If there’s another person doing the downtime with you, just swap smartphones for a day.
It’ll feel weird. Then it’ll be inadequate. Then – irritating. If you do it long enough, you’ll stop being bothered.
Find something new (but don’t pay for it)
Here’s a challenge for you: look through an in-flight magazine the next time you get the chance. Most places advertised there will conform to the same standard description: where to go, where to stay, where to eat, what to see, where to shop. On to the next place.
Yup, these breaks can be lots of fun. Nope, you can’t really escape money in most situations. But hey – you know there’s more to downtime than just spending sprees, right?
This could be your chance to get all the books and DVDs you want from a library. It could be the day you finally cook that thing you wanted to try for ages. There are dozens of ways you can do something new without breaking the bank (here’s something for my current city, London).
There are some things that I carry on doing, even during my downtime. I still cook sometimes, and try to meditate, and I still write or learn something new every day.
But every now and then, I stumble upon something online – and it’s connected to my work, and reminds me of an article I read – and look, there’s a link to a study, perhaps if I could, yes, there’s a PDF – it’s only 35 pages, so I can print it off and —
These things happen “naturally,” because you’re used to this. Reading work essays on a Sunday (of course they’re “interesting,” you get paid to read those!), or driving around like mad, doing chores (don’t you drive for a living? how’s that a holiday?).
Ask an ex-smoker, and they’ll tell you: familiar patterns are the worst traps. Look out for them. Protect your zen.
Notice what feels good – you’ll need it for your next break.
Nobody ever has perfect holidays. Nobody ever has perfect weekends. A perfect day happens, but mostly in songs.
The trick, I think, is to learn about one or two perfect bits every time you’re relaxing. So this downtime, I can find a great way to make ice coffee drinks – next time, discover how great a local cinema is.
We usually get this, but we don’t always come back to it. After 50 weekends in a year, you’d think you’d get pretty good at them, right? And yet there are still at least five, every year, when nothing good happens – and everything is just the same old, no-fun mistakes.
So when something hits the spot, feels amazing, brings you to tears of joy – remember it. Share it, blog it, post that damn selfie. You’ll need these things to remember to come back to it. And don’t be ashamed to do so: it’s your downtime, and you’ll spend all weekends in the same park with the same cute espresso-serving guy if you want to.
What else can you recommend, guys? Any downtime-saving tips? Share them on my Facebook or Twitter.
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