Turn Setbacks into Setups

What’s the right amount of downtime?

November 7, 2018

Here at Hundred Life Design, we’re always talking about how to maximize productivity, hard work, and discipline. But the truth is, everything is best in moderation—and we really do need downtime to be lazy and self-indulgent every once in a while.


Unfortunately, “laziness” and “indulgence” can almost be pejorative words in today’s fast-paced world. But taking some time for ourselves is a healthy habit that can even help us maximize our productivity in the long run. Here’s why a little laziness is good for you, and how you can learn to let yourself have it.


Why We Need Downtime


It’s impossible to be “on” 24/7—and we as humans have always known it. After all, there’s a reason most cultures set aside one day for rest and relaxation. Historically, we’ve often taken time to recharge spiritually, to connect with others, or to heal and rest after a busy workweek. But in the modern world, even this type of weekly downtime has become more and more elusive. In the US, we even avoid periodic downtime, with the average American leaving 9 unused vacation days on the table in 2012.


But rest is something we desperately need. A well-rested mind thinks more clearly, and relaxation can even allow our brains to reach the eureka moments we so desperately need.


Our brain has a series of interconnected regions known as the Default Mode Network (DMN). These pathways spring to life when we’re not actively focused on a specific task. Research has shown that when we allow our minds to wander and daydream, our DMN essentially begins to organize our mind, cleaning out cognitive clutter to make way for creative breakthroughs. In other words, we may feel like we’re doing nothing when we relax, but this is the time our brain needs to keep us productive in other areas of our lives.


In addition, studies have shown that taking planned breaks can help boost our creativity in general. One study in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes tasked participants with generating a range of ideas, and it found that those who stepped away from their task were more likely to come up with varied ideas, while those who focused only on the task at hand wrote more similar ideas and had more limited progress.


How to Give Yourself Downtime Without Feeling Guilty


Sometimes, even when we know we need to relax, we feel our leisure activities are too decadent. How can you enjoy a book out on your porch or watch TV when your inbox is full? Essentially, we need to learn to reframe the way we look at downtime so we don’t feel bad when taking it.


  • Schedule time for yourself. Make sure your set aside time for yourself by blocking it out mentally and creating a space in your calendar. Just as if you were going to an important meeting (and you are!), don’t let anything distract you from taking this time.  


  • Add it to your to-do list. Treat your downtime as something to be checked off your to-do list to reframe your relaxation as work.


  • Decide what you want to do in advance. Planning the time in advance may seem counterintuitive, but if you get yourself excited about your downtime, you’ll be more likely to follow through. Maybe you want to meditate, go for a walk, sit by the pool, or visit a cafe without looking at your phone, for example.


Having a healthy dose of “laziness” to your schedule is to your advantage, both for your mental health and for your continued productivity. Don’t forget to pencil it into your schedule on a regular basis in order to reap the benefits!


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