Scanning various social media outlets recently, I read several posts from people saying things like, “I’m so tired!” or “What a LONG day!” Fairly universal feelings, right? Comments underneath these posts were mainly suggestions on what kind of alcohol to go drink. None of the suggestions told people how to get refueled by investing in meaningful downtime.
Not All Downtime Offers the Same Results
I’ve never heard someone say, “I came up with this great idea when I was watching reruns of Friends on Netflix last night!” I suppose that could happen, but our best thinking often comes in moments of downtime, when we’re in the shower or brushing our teeth, when our minds function without us having to consciously think about what we are doing.
Downtime is taking intentional, mindful time to rejuvenate both body and mind. But it’s not passive in the effort it requires or the benefits it offers. Done right, downtime enriches our souls, revitalizes creative energy, lowers stress, promotes health, and allows us to reconnect in our most meaningful relationships.
Getting the Downtime You Need
Here are 5 best practices to creating meaningful downtime:
1. Power Nap
Taking a nap might sound like a waste of time, but it isn’t. Sleep revitalizes us, and it’s critical to healing, mood stability, weight maintenance, and extended periods of high performance. Researchers gave volunteers four visual memory tests throughout the day. In each case, results dropped sharply as the day progressed. However, when test subjects were given a 60-90-minute nap, their brain power maintained consistently high results throughout the day.
If you’re not a napper, try getting more sleep each night to reap more downtime benefits. In another test, Stanford researchers required their basketball players to get 10 hours of sleep each night for six weeks. What did such a cruel and fiendish study result in? The players improved their accuracy of shots, speed, and moods.
Google began mindfulness and meditation training via Google University in 2007. Why? It isn’t because they love wasting money. It’s because they want to keep their edge and competitive advantage. Research suggests that meditation creates more gray matter in parts of the brain, produces stronger connections between brain regions, and shows less age-related brain atrophy. What that means is that meditation makes your brain bigger, faster, and younger.
Meditation doesn’t have to be led by a monk or yogi. You can do it right now (um, or maybe after you finish reading this). Close your eyes. Pick a “happy place picture” as your mental screen saver. Think about that image. Breathe. Start with inhaling through your nose for 5 seconds, holding it, and then exhaling for 6 seconds. After a few repetitions, breathe in for a 6 count and out through an 8 count. Do this for 5-10 minutes.
Poof! You’ve just started meditating.
Just like with date night, if you don’t schedule downtime, it won’t happen. It’s not easy to balance work and rest, but it’s critical. Author Tony Schwartz says it this way: “Human beings perform best and are most productive when they alternate between periods of intense focus and intermittent renewal.”
If you need a reminder during the workday, use an app that will let you know when it’s time to walk around, change what’s in your view, and re-energize your mind.
I kid you not, once at the airport, I heard a man biting into an apple from behind a closed bathroom stall. Yeah. Food! In the crapper! Talk about multitasking…
Instead of trying to do two things at once, try doing nothing at once. It’s not easy. You won’t find downtime if you’re not willing to close the book, turn off the TV, shut down your phone, and remove your headphones. And for goodness sake, eat in the kitchen, not the can.
Nothing allows our minds to wander and wonder like going for a walk or hike. There’s no agenda. You are not trying to solve world hunger with each step. Just get outside and walk, taking in the sights and sounds all around you. Getting outside is the blank canvas for renewal.
How do you downtime?