You probably read this blog because you want to get more done each day. But do you want to become more productive so that you can maintain a better work-life balance, or so that you can fill up your newly freed hours with more work? Sometimes the importance of downtime gets relegated to the sidelines, and we forget that optimal productivity cannot occur without it.

You need to rest mind for it to work well on a long-term basis. Believe it or not, some of us need to schedule these rest periods and even lay down rules for what can and cannot be done during those times. I’m a classic case – if I didn’t follow my own advice, I’d work almost every minute I’m awake.

Making the Time

If you’re not naturally inclined to slowing down and taking a break, the best thing you can do is schedule downtime. I know, downtime just sounds like something that shouldn’t be scheduled, like it ruins the whole idea of relaxing. But if you’re the type who is always tempted to keep working until it’s late at night, it may be the only way.

How much downtime you need to schedule is a personal matter that depends on a several factors, such as how much time you need on a physical and mental level to unwind so that you’re optimally productive the next day. It’s tempting to schedule less time than you need (for some, it might be tempting to allocate yourself more time than you should, but self-discipline is another topic altogether!). Don’t succumb to that temptation – think about how much you need as opposed to how much you can get by with, and mark that time as downtime in black and white.

Use alarms and reminders. People who forget to take downtime usually do so because they get carried away with work, often not noticing the passage of time for hours. In that case, there’s little chance you’ll look at the clock and remember that it’s time to go; you’ll need to be prodded. If you’re using a computer program like iCal to make your downtime appointments, make use of the reminder and reminder alarm features.

Keep It Strictly Downtime

Set rules for your downtime. You have a goal: to relax and recover from your workday so that you can hit optimum productivity the next day. Since it is so tempting for people like us to ditch the downtime and meander off onto other things, it’s important to set rules that keep us within certain boundaries.

Do you need a computer during your downtime? So surfing or gaming is a hobby of yours when you’re not working, so you shouldn’t rule out the use of computers, but you should restrict what you can and cannot use a computer for.

Are there certain things you should do with your downtime? Perhaps you feel as though you don’t get outside enough, so require that one scheduled downtime session per week involve exercise or, at the least, sitting in the backyard. Maybe you need to spend more time with your kids, so give yourself the requirement that you spend a certain amount of time each week playing with them (if you’re not already doing this, this article is even more important for you).

I know, it can be hard to follow rules that you set for yourself. Self-discipline plays a big part here, and you need to remember that downtime isn’t wasting time. It’s truly important to your continued productivity and happiness.

Optimizing Your Downtime

Proponents of GTD and various other productivity systems have a great tool for optimizing your actions based on observation of the past week and planning for the coming week in the weekly review. If you don’t already use the weekly review I highly recommend that you take the time to check it out and implement it, since it is the wheel that keeps many productivity systems turning.

The weekly review should adopt a new component – the weekly downtime review. It’s a good chance to review your past week’s downtime, and to schedule downtime for the next week.

Why would you review your downtime? Measuring your effectiveness at tackling your task list makes sense, but perhaps this seems too clinical. It’s important, though, to gauge how effective your downtime is and how successful you’ve been at making your downtime appointments.

How much downtime did you take in the last week? How does that compare to the amount you scheduled? Did you get carried away and take a little too much downtime, affecting your productivity levels, or did you fail to take enough? Adjust your plans accordingly. If your plans were fine but your follow-through wasn’t, it’s time to crack open a book on self-discipline.

Downtime is important. The first hurdle one must overcome is often to realize that relaxing isn’t a total waste of time, even if the lack of action makes it feel that way.

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