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The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

The Importance of Scheduling Downtime
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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

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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 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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