The power of downtime

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.   

Disconnected from the world wide web

Every once in a while when I feel like my smart-ass phone is taking over my life (like when I can’t go more than 15 minutes without checking email), or when Facebook is sucking too much of my time, I voluntarily disconnect from the world wide web and take a breather from being distracted from living in the moment. I turn my phone off and don’t get on my computer.

Yesterday I disconnected from the internet and phone and although I was hoping I’d be inspired to clean my home, instead I found myself inspired to read this book:

I think I finally picked it off my bookshelf because I saw Blink! at the Denver Art Museum  on Friday night and was feeling inspired to learn more about moving images. This particular lesson struck a chord in me, which I see as good life advice:

Reading made me remember that I had a book to pick up from Tattered Cover, so I headed over there, purchased Materials Matter and ended up with several design periodicals as well. As my eyes feasted on CMYK, Communication Arts, Design Practices Now and Print, my mind began churning ideas and my skin began to do that little “I feel inspired” dance that it likes to do sometimes. My favorite part of reading the magazines (besides learning about the amazing things individuals are doing with their lives) was that there were no links to click on in the middle of the articles. I prefer turning pages to scrolling down.

When I tried beginning Materials Matter, I got through five pages and fell asleep. It struck me as a book that may affect me like Cradle to Cradle did; I don’t necessarily feel like being depressed by the environmental state of our world right now, so after my little nap, instead of reading more about materials, I watched the documentary Young at Heart.

I find old people pretty cute, so watching a choir of them sing Sonic Youth and Cold Play songs was awesome—and yes, I was brought to tears. I highly recommend watching that film.

From here on out I turned into a couch potato. I watched three more episodes of Twin Peaks and couldn’t bring myself to get off my couch. I’m not going to beat myself up too much about feeling like I “got nothing done.” At least I wasted my hours the good ol’ fashion way and wasn’t surfing the ‘net. Or something like that.

Meetings with myself

An old co-worker of mine recently told me about how she was thinking about having weekly meetings with herself, in order to stay on track. This is brilliant.

As a contract worker, I appreciate the need to frame time with designated check-in meetings; these are usually with others, but why not schedule weekly meetings with myself? As a matter of fact, I just added a recurring meeting to my ical for Wednesday mornings at my neighborhood coffee shop.

Now, I have never been a fan of meetings with no purpose. I hate sitting through them and I’ll be damned if I begin planning them—for me to have with myself. So, here are the initial objectives I have come up with for my weekly meetings:

  1. Visit progress of current contract work projects—tie loose ends
  2. Visit progress of Bean Again—assign next steps
  3. Search for grants/sponsors related to curriculum and community events that BA wants to create

I’ve been doing a lot of remote these days, yet have been avoiding the coffeeshops because they cost me money and I have plenty of delicious coffee at home.  However, there is something about getting out of the house that does a brain good.

It’s become more difficult to shift into professional mode when I’m at home. Even though I have an office and desk, there is just something so tempting about dirty dishes that pulls me away from the task at hand. So, from here on out, or at least for the next several weeks, I’m going to give weekly meetings at the neighborhood coffeeshop with myself a try.




The fifth rule of the Power Year

And so we come to the fifth and final rule I gave myself during my Power Year:

Pay attention and learn from the lives of others. Yours isn’t long enough to make all your own mistakes.

This rule reflects my belief that you really can learn something new (and useful) every single day. Learning from the lives of others (from watching documentaries and reading about inspiring individuals) led me to adopt these practices into my life on an ongoing basis:

  • Make the invisible visible and experienceable
  • Record memories
  • Find beauty in odd places
  • Be intimate with everything that you can
  • Explore the in-between space
  • Build bridges of communication
  • Open your thinking to the “know how” of others

Life is fleeting. I feel fortunate to be alive and strive to honor those who have come before me.



Positivity is a key ingredient

I’m grateful for my friends; they’re creative, optimistic doers; they’re honest communicators; they’re innovative thinkers; they’re supportive; they’re inspiring and encouraging; and they know life is too short to create unnecessary drama.

Your Power Year will be more productive if you surround yourself and spend time with people who are positive doers. It is not your job to hold the hands of naysayers and try to convince them that they should be more positive or try new things. The best thing you can do for those Debbie downers in your life is live by example—do something extraordinary and hope that a small spark lights under their arse.

Be able to brush it off

People will misjudge you. They’ll gossip, they’ll hate. They’ll make assumptions and not understand or ask about your intentions.

It’s important to be able to brush off the feelings that come along with these situations, because the alternative is the weight of resentment—and that’s quite a load to carry.

If you have thought out what you are doing and believe it is right, that is what matters most.



Music moves

I listen to my Kanye West station on Pandora when I want to motivate to build up momentum on beginning a project; I play my “Brain time with Bach” mix when I am writing on deadline; and I crank up the Wu-Tang Clan when I’m exercising.

Music moves me—thank the powers that be, it doesn’t move me ugly (or, at least not that I’m aware of). There’re studies that show the benefits of listening to music that include lessening chronic pain and increased productivity.

Music is the very reason why I answer, “blind” when people ask whether I’d want to be deaf or blind. Music lifts me out of a ruts and motivates me to DO.

I love how I can put on my big ol’ headphones and listen to musical masterpieces from any era or genre I want. I’ve got lots of respect for the musicians who create compositions that inspire me to shake my shoulders and take action to cross things off my list of Things to Do.

What music gets you going/creating/thinking/dancing?






It’s not just a night, it’s DATE NIGHT

That which we call a “date,” by any other name, would be as special—right? Wrong.

Although I’m not a huge fan of when individuals are defined only by a name or title, I see “date nights” as being different—especially when you are in a long-term relationship. It takes creativity to keep love feeling fresh. Stale bread is gross, stale relationships are even worse.

Instead of a trip to Third Tuesday at Buntport Theater being just another night, when you say, “Hey! It’s date night,” everything changes (if you are mindful about it). When you call it “date night,” it’s more likely that feelings of giddy beginnings can be conjured up. When you call it, “date night,” there’s an unspoken understanding that both parties involved will be on their best behavior, maybe even get a little fancied up. Think about business attire and why you don’t wear pajamas to the office. For the record, much of my work is remote and although I could wear sweats all day, I dress the part for productivity when I’m doing work. I’ve heard of those people who can work in their pj’s and have to say, I’m not one of them. I digress.

Date night. It’s something that a number of Power Year pledges have noted as a focus for them. It’s important. Get gussied up, be creative with your relationship, have fun, make love happen.

Tight budget? Date night doesn’t have to be expensive. Remember how fun it can be to actually walk through a record or book store and browse (as opposed to surfing the web)? Go on a thrift store hunt together on the weekend, estate sale hopping. Free day at the museum, zoo, or if you live in Denver, ride the 15 down Colfax for a mile and you and your date will have plenty to talk about.



Take time to let your mind marinate in the meaning of it all

It’s easy to rush through life; go places and do things, just to have a story to tell. It takes a little extra time to make the most out of opportunities and let your mind marinate in their meaning. That is, let ‘em soak in, but don’t overanalyze.

Whether it’s a positive or negative experience, there’s a lesson that can be learned, so that you can spend the rest of your life doing more things you enjoy and less that you don’t. Here’s the mind exercise I try to practice after any experience in life:

  1. What the hell just happened? I replay it once in my mind.
  2. So what? I dig for the lesson to be learned.
  3. Now what? I imagine applying the lesson to future points in my life and “note to self” my way forward through a more enlightened life.