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The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Featured photo credit: Lili Kovac via unsplash.com

More by this author

Joel Falconer

Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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Last Updated on July 13, 2020

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

Overwhelm is a pernicious state largely caused by the ever-increasing demands on our time and the distractions that exist all around us. It creeps up on us and can, in its extreme form, leave us feeling anxious, stressed and exhausted.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, here are 6 strategies you can follow that will reduce the feeling of overwhelm; leaving you calmer, in control and a lot less stressed.

1. Write Everything down to Offload Your Mind

The first thing you can do when you begin to feel overwhelmed is to write everything down that is on your mind.

Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This does help, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write down everything that’s on your mind.

For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind write it down. A good way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of the page and title one section “things to do” and the other “what’s on my mind”.

The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will begin the process of removing your feeling of overwhelm. Writing things down can really change your life.

2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos

Once you have ‘emptied your head,’ go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do.

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As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.

Do not worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. Here’s How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List.

3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law

Now here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago. Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it, and us humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take:((Odhable: Genesis of Parkinson’s Law))

    This is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad but they stick to the belief it will only take thirty minutes. It’s more wishful thinking than good judgment.

    We can use Parkinson’s Law to our advantage. If you have estimated that to write five emails that desperately need a reply to be ninety minutes, then reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.

    Reducing the time you estimate something will take gives you two advantages. The first is you get your work done quicker, obviously. The second is you put yourself under a little time pressure and in doing so you reduce the likelihood you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate.

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    When we overestimate how long something will take, subconsciously our brains know we have plenty of time and so it plays tricks on us and we end up checking reviews of the Apple Watch 4 or allow our colleagues to interrupt us with the latest office gossip.

    Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening and we get more focused and more work done.

    4. Use the Power of Your Calendar

    Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos. Go through your to-dos and schedule time on your calendar for doing those tasks. Group tasks up into similar tasks.

    For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.

    Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.

    5. Make Decisions

    For those things you wrote down that are on your mind but are not tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one. These things are on your mind because you have not made a decision about them.

    If you have an issue with a colleague, a friend or a loved one, take a little time to think about what would be the best way to resolve the problem. More often than not just talking with the person involved will clear the air and resolve the problem.

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    If it is a more serious issue, then decide how best to deal with it. Talk to your boss, a colleague and get advice.

    Whatever you do, do not allow it to fester. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. You need to make a decision to deal with it and the sooner you do so the sooner the problem will be resolved. (You can take a look at this guide on How To Make Good Decisions All The Time.)

    I remember long ago, when I was in my early twenties and had gone mad with my newly acquired credit cards. I discovered I didn’t have the money to pay my monthly bills. I worried about it for days, got stressed and really didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I told a good friend of mine of the problem. He suggested I called the credit card company to explain my problem. The next day, I plucked up the courage to call the company, explained my problem and the wonderful person the other end listened and then suggested I paid a smaller amount for a couple of months.

    This one phone call took no more than ten minutes to make, yet it solved my problem and took away a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience:

    The first, don’t go mad with newly acquired credit cards! And the second, there’s always a solution to every problem if you just talk to the right person.

    6. Take Some Form of Action

    Because overwhelm is something that creeps up on us, once we feel overwhelmed (and stressed as the two often go together), the key is to take some form of action.

    The act of writing everything down that is bothering you and causing you to feel overwhelmed is a great place to start. Being able to see what it is that is bothering you in a list form, no matter how long that list is, eases the mind. You have externalized it.

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    It also means rather than these worries floating around in a jumbled mess inside your head, they are now visible and you can make decisions easier about what to do about them. Often it could be asking a colleague for a little help, or it could be you see you need to allocate some focused time to get the work done. The important thing is you make a decision on what to do next.

    Overwhelm is not always caused by a feeling of having a lack of time or too much work, it can also be caused by avoiding a decision about what to do next.

    The Bottom Line

    Make a decision, even if it is to just talk to someone about what to do next. Making a decision about how you will resolve something on its own will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and start you down the path to a resolution one way or another.

    When you follow these strategies to can say goodbye to your overwhelm and gain much more control over your day.

    More Tips for Reducing Work Stress

    Featured photo credit: Andrei Lazarev via unsplash.com

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