Learning to enjoy my downtime has been one of the most difficult challenges I’ve had to face in my recent life. I have always felt a need to fill every spare minute of my time with some project, so I tend to have a lot of things going on at the same time. The problem with that is I never feel like I have the right to just sit and enjoy myself.
Even when I don’t have to be anywhere or if I don’t have work on a given day, I feel guilty staying in bed late or doing anything that doesn’t seem to produce something tangible. It has taken some convincing to get myself to just let go of my time.
Money is not a Good Standard
I quickly realized that whether an activity made money wasn’t a good criteria for value either. I spent about a week writing fitness articles for a content-creation site, and if I wrote for a mere 2 hours a day, I could make quite a bit of money. But I felt like I was wasting my own time, as well as that of my readers (the website was focused on targeting keywords for ad revenue rather than actually producing educational content). Obviously, an activity had to be productive by my standards for it to feel like a good use of my time. But I was still clinging to the idea of making good use of my time.
Spending Time with Friends Shouldn’t be Productive
This is especially problematic when I’m spending time with my friends or family. Time to connect is extremely important for one’s personal health and relationships, but it isn’t ‘productive’ in the traditional sense of the word. The result was that I always felt like I needed to be somewhere else, and I could never give my full attention to the people I was with.
People suggested I treat socializing like any other important activity, but I found that made me treat it like a workout; you show up, you perform the prescribed activities, and you go on with your day. It became just another task on my to-do list of self-improvement. I didn’t want to treat my friendships that way.
So I finally decided that if time spent with friends feels unproductive, then I need to learn that being productive is not always something to be chased after.
Being Unproductive Makes it Easier to be Productive
After that, I came to realize that my favorite times of the day were those when I wasn’t being productive. Going for a jog in the woods, with no intention of ‘working out’ helped me center myself. Going to play at the gymnastics gym, without a plan or a specific goal in mind, other than to enjoy myself, helped me enjoy exercise.
Once I started letting myself be unproductive, I was able to actually be much more productive during the times I set aside for work. I recently picked up a job requiring me to reformat an entire book, from PDF to an eBook. This is extremely tedious work (though of a type I find oddly engaging), and is the kind of thing that would allow of easy self-distraction. But, because I have recently gotten into the habit of letting my mind relax, I found it really easy to concentrate when the task called for it. Suddenly, I find myself able to work for hours on end without a hint of boredom or distractibility.
I actually didn’t even notice this new ability until I sat down to write this post. Looking back over my week, I played a lot of Starcraft II, spent a lot of time reading and just relaxing, got to play at gymnastics and in the woods, and have just generally taken things slowly. During the same time, I’ve also been almost as productive as I was at college (except for being at a complete loss for blog posts…sorry about that). When I do decide to do work, I get it done quickly and efficiently.
Remembering how to play seems to have helped me get better at doing work.
So I’m trying to come up with a more useful standard of whether an activity is worth my time, a standard based on happiness rather than production. If it makes me or someone else happy, then it is worth doing. Otherwise, I need to reconsider how I spend my time.
Thank you for reading. If you found this post inspiring or useful, please e-mail it a few friends, or share on Facebook or Twitter.
Fight on, Brave Warriors,