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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 September 24, 2020

17 Ways Learn New Skills Faster and Enjoy the Process

17 Ways Learn New Skills Faster and Enjoy the Process

In the movie The Matrix, everyone was intrigued with the ability that Neo and his friends possessed to learn new skills in a matter of seconds. With the incredible rise in technology today, the rapid learning in the movie is becoming much more of a reality than you realize.

The current generation has access to more knowledge and information than any before it. Through the internet, we are able to access all sorts of knowledge to answer almost every conceivable question. To become smarter, it’s more about the ability to learn faster, rather than being a natural born genius.

Here are 17 ways to kickstart your Matrix-style learning experience in a short amount of time.

1. Deconstruct and Reverse Engineer

Break down the skill that you want to learn into little pieces and learn techniques to master an isolated portion. The small pieces will come together to make up the whole skill.

For example, when you’re learning to play the guitar, learn how to press down a chord pattern with your fingers first without even trying to strum the chord. Once you are able to change between a couple of chord patterns, then add the strumming.

2. Use the Pareto Principle

Use the Pareto Principle, which is also known as the 80 20 rule. Identify the 20% of the work that will give you 80% of the results. Find out more about the 80 20 rule here: What Is the 80 20 Rule (And How to Use It to Boost Productivity)

Take learning a new language for example. It does not take long to realize that some words pop up over and over again as you’re learning. You can do a quick search for “most commonly used French words,” for example, and begin to learn them first before adding on the rest.

3. Make Stakes

Establish some sort of punishment for not learning the skill that you are seeking. There are sites available that allow you to make a donation toward a charity you absolutely hate if you do not meet your goals. Or you can place a bet with a friend to light that fire under you.

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However, keep in mind that several studies have shown that rewards tend to be more motivating than punishment[1].

4. Record Yourself

Seeing yourself on video is a great way to learn from your mistakes and identify areas that you need to improve. This is very effective for any musicians, actors, speakers, performers, and dancers.

5. Join a Group

There are huge benefits to learning in a group. Not only are you able to learn from others but you’ll be encouraged to make progress together. Whether it’s a chess club, a mastermind group, or an online meet-up group, get connected with other like-minded individuals.

6. Time Travel

Visit the library. Although everything is moving more and more online, there are still such things called libraries.

Whether it’s a municipal library or your university library, you will be amazed at some of the books available there that are not accessible online. Specifically, look for the hidden treasures and wisdom contained in the really old books.

7. Be a Chameleon

When you want to learn new skills, imitate your biggest idol. Watch a video and learn from seeing someone else do it. Participate in mimicry and copy what you see.

Studies have shown that, apart from learning,[2]

“Mimicry is an effective tool not only to create ties and social relationships, but also for maintaining them.”

Visual learning is a great way to speed up the learning process. YouTube has thousands of videos on almost every topic available.

8. Focus

Follow one course until success! It’s easy to get distracted, to throw in the towel, or to become interested in the next great thing and ditch what you initially set out to do.

Ditch the whole idea of multitasking, as it has been shown to be detrimental and unproductive Simply focus on the one new skill at hand until you get it done.

9. Visualize

The mind has great difficulty distinguishing between what is real and what is imagined. That is why athletes practice mentally seeing their success before attempting the real thing[3].

Visualize yourself achieving your new skill and each step that you need to make to see results. This is an important skill to help when you’re learning the basics or breaking a bad habit.

Take a look at this article to learn how to do so: How to Become a Person Who Can Visualize Results

10. Find a Mentor

Success leaves clues. The best short cut to become an expert is to find an expert and not have to make the mistakes that they have made.

Finding out what NOT to do from the expert will fast-track your learning when you want to learn new skills. It is a huge win to have them personally walk you through what needs to be done. Reach out and send an email to them.

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If you need help learning how to find a mentor, check out this article.

11. Sleep on It

Practice your new skill within four hours of going to sleep.

Josh Kaufman, author of The Personal MBA, is a noted rapid learning expert. He says that any practice done within this time frame causes your brain to embed the learning more rapidly into its neural pathways. Your memory and motor-mechanics are ingrained at a quicker level.

12. Use the 20-Hour Rule

Along with that tip, Kaufman also suggests 20 as the magic number of hours to dedicate to learning the new skill.

His reasoning is that everyone will hit a wall early on in the rapid learning stage and that “pre-committing” to 20 hours is a sure-fire way to push through that wall and acquire your new skill.[4]

Check out his video to find out more:

13. Learn by Doing

It’s easy to get caught up in reading and gathering information on how to learn new skills and never actually get around to doing those skills. The best way to learn is to do.

Regardless of how unprepared you feel, make sure you are physically engaged continuously. Keep alternating between research and practice.

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14. Complete Short Sprints

Rather than to force yourself into enduring hours upon hours of dedication, work in short sprints of about 20-30 minutes, then get up and stretch or take a short walk. Your brain’s attention span works best with short breaks, so be sure to give it the little rest it needs.

One study found that, between two groups of students, the students who took two short breaks when studying actually performed better than those who didn’t take breaks[5].

15. Ditch the Distractions

Make sure the environment you are in is perfect for your rapid-learning progress. That means ditching any social media, and the temptation to check any email. As the saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Before you sit down to learn new skills, make sure that potential distractions are far from sight.

16. Use Nootropics

Otherwise known as brain enhancers, these cognitive boosters are available in natural herbal forms and in supplements.

Many students will swear by the increased focus that nootropics will provide[6], particularly as they get set for some serious cramming. Natural herbal nootropics have been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic traditions to improve the mind and learning.

Find out more about brain supplements in this article.

17. Celebrate

For every single small win that you experience during the learning process, be sure to celebrate. Your brain will release endorphins and serotonin as you raise your hands in victory and pump your fits. Have a piece of chocolate and give yourself a pat on the back. This positive reinforcement will help you keep pushing forward as you learn new skills.

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The Bottom Line

Learning a new skill should be exciting and fun. Whether you use online courses, real world experience, YouTube videos, or free online resources, take time to learn in the long term. Keep picturing the joy of reaching the end goal and being a better version of yourself as continual motivation.

More Tips on How to Learn New Skills

Featured photo credit: Elijah M. Henderson via unsplash.com

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