I love solitude, which is no surprise since I’m an INFJ. I spend the majority of my day alone but not lonely. Downtime comes easy to me, free of feeling guilty or restless; this wasn’t always the case.
My 20’s were about go, go, going. Ovaries to the wall. “Yes to life!” all over the place. It was exciting. It was exhilarating. It was exhausting, which I didn’t realize until I joined the 30+ club and paused to take a breather. I would not do my 20’s in any other way if given the chance, but it would be nice to travel back and sprinkle wisdom dust onto my 20something self. Insight bestowed upon me, I’d carve out downtime for myself.
There’s plenty of research that explains why our brains need more downtime. But knowing what’s good for us and making decisions that follow through with that knowledge can be at odds. When it comes to scheduling downtime for ourselves, the obstacles could be an extroverted nature that craves constant connection with others; we could be conditioned to constantly check-in with work via email; we could straight up be addicted to our smartphones; or we could simply be caught up in the habit of constantly having something to ‘do.’
Harvard Business Review offers these tips on how to do downtime:
Clearly schedule your time: Just as you would schedule a work meeting and stick to it, schedule evenings off, one to two days a week free of work, and weeklong chunks of vacation every year. Unplug, and stick to it.
Allow for ad hoc downtime when you need it: Google’s headquarters have a game room and on-site massage. One of John’s former employers had arcade games, an on-site coffee house, and scenic hiking trails. If you’re feeling stuck on a problem, frustrated, or simply tired of sitting down, take 10 minutes to walk, read for fun, or grab coffee with a friend to clear your mind.
Shut off your smartphone: Constant interconnectedness (like smartphone use) is a stressor. Leave your laptop at the office when you’re able. Carry two phones — one for work and one for personal use — and leave the work phone in your bag when you come home or in the safe at your hotel when you’re on vacation. If work requires you to be on call, mentally “shut off” the phone until it rings. Find ways to create clear boundaries between work and life.
Free up your RAM: In Getting Things Done, author David Allen states that having tasks on our mind is like using up RAM on our personal computers because there is limited capacity in our short-term memory. Instead of going through the day on mental overload, distracted by those fleeting to-dos, it helps to keep an organized list and physical folders containing all of the tasks that take up mental space. Feeling organized enables worry-free downtime.
Create rituals and routines: Scientists have long recommended developing routines for sounder sleep, and many professionals, like Stephen King, have routines that get them ready for work. Create rituals and routines that signal to your mind that it’s time to start work, leave work, meditate, or engage with family.
Technically I can’t go back and make the downtime request of my 20something self. I can stay tuned in to my needs these days, we all can. Even though it feels counterintuitive to request solitude to strengthen relationships with coworkers, friends, and signifs in our lives, doing so can help us realign and refuel.