The Importance of Having Down Time
Life has a way of getting hectic, and it can feel like your to-do list is never ending. But the truth is, a life spent dutifully responding to emails is a dull one indeed. And having down time, or “wasted” time is, in fact, highly fulfilling and necessary.
Take it from the creator of “Inbox Zero.” As Oliver Burkeman reports in The Guardian, Merlin Mann was commissioned to write a book about his streamlined email system. Two years later, he abandoned the project and instead posted a (since deleted) blog post on how he’d spent so long focusing on how to spend time well, he’d ended up missing valuable moments with his daughter.
The problem comes when we spend so long frantically chasing productivity, we refuse to take real breaks. We put off sleeping in, or going for a long walk, or reading by the window—and, even if we do manage time away from the grind, it comes with a looming awareness of the things we should be doing, and so the experience is weighed down by guilt.
Instead, there’s a tendency to turn to the least fulfilling tendency of them all: Sitting at our desk, in front of our computer, browsing websites and contributing to neither our happiness nor our productivity.
“There’s an idea we must always be available, work all the time,” says Michael Guttridge, a psychologist who focuses on workplace behavior. “It’s hard to break out of that and go to the park.” But the downsides are obvious: We end up zoning out while at the computer—looking for distraction on social media, telling ourselves we’re “multitasking” while really spending far longer than necessary on the most basic tasks. We’re missing out on the mental and physical benefits of time spent focused on ourselves. People who eat at their desk should go for a walk, a coffee shop, or a nearby restaurant. A 30 minute to an hour lunch can do a world of good.
The truth is, work expands to fill the time it’s given. For most of us, we could spend considerably fewer hours at the office and still get the same amount done. “Wasting time is about recharging your battery and de-cluttering,” he says. Taking time to be totally, gloriously, proudly unproductive will ultimately make you better at your job, says Guttridge. But it’s also fulfilling in and of itself. All of us have the urge to slip away and flick through a magazine. Or walk around the block, or simply doing nothing. We should embrace these moments. And see them as what they are: time well spent.
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