Filling the Hours While Filling Up the Tank—the Art of Beneficial Downtime
How do you fill your hours and days? For many, it just happens; they don’t need to really think about what they’re going to do because they have so much to do. People who have had jobs and other pursuits for many years often look forward to times when they can pull back on the throttle a little, when the demands on their time recede and they have some breathing space. However, time off is really “time on” something else. As the hours go by, you have to fill them with something—because there’s no such thing as doing nothing. You continue to exist. You think, you breathe, and time goes by. You can make your time “mindless” and force feed inane TV (of which I’m a fan on occasion), but ultimately your mind will rebel and desire something more substantial.
I love the idea of downtime and days off. A mental reset is a necessary part of a fulfilling life. But there are as many models for time off as there are kinds of people. There are engage-in-recreational-activities people, and there are lay-on-the-beach people. There are get-things-done-around-the-house people, and there are binge-watch-movies people. There are go-to-a-museum people, and there are sit-at-a-bar people. What you do with your time off says a lot about who you are.
I recently had cervical disc replacement surgery, and during my recovery I was limited in what I could do. I wasn’t allowed to engage in my usual exercise regime for a month and had to find other ways to use my time and keep myself healthy. For me, that transformed from an initial frustration to an assessment of myself. My mental and physical fitness were necessarily changed, but not in a bad way, just in a different way. I was able to walk—short distances at first, but then longer explorations—which gave me time to see places I wouldn’t have necessarily visited and time to reflect and think deeply.
As a general rule, I also force myself to “do nothing” on Sundays for an intentional reboot. I struggle with this because I tend to feel guilty when I’m not productive and actively engaged. But this is also good since it forces me to rethink the benefits of mental and physical breaks and redefine them in my mind as being key to my productivity. My days of “nothing” usually involve lingering morning coffee while reading the news, reading novels, and long afternoons watching baseball. I love Sundays.
How to refill your tank
One way to think about downtime is how well it rejuvenates you. I love the idea of adventure travel and engaging in fun recreational activities. I love to spend whole days outside doing something active and then sleep the kind of sleep that only physical exhaustion gives. For some, even though it is exhausting, it is also rejuvenating. Others need more sedate and reflective time to refill their tanks; they need the space to take a deep breath and regroup. But regardless of where you get your energy, you must be intentional about seeking out those kinds of activities that rejuvenate you and spend significant time engaged in them. It can be all too easy to think of downtime in terms of what is fun and exciting or what your family wants to do or what’s on your bucket list. But ultimately you must devote the time it takes to reset yourself and replenish your energy.
Vacations aren’t the only time you should be intentional about filling the hours. In your everyday life, it may seem that every moment is spoken for, but it’s a red flag if they are. It’s important to make time for activities that rejuvenate you in your normal day-to-day existence. Everyone, even the most extreme type A personality, needs to make time to do things that replenish their energy. For extroverts, those activities may coincide with some of the demands on their time (e.g., family, social time, or volunteer activities), but they should still be intentional about how much time they devote to those activities and develop an awareness of how they make them feel. For the rest of us, we need to carve out time for self-care and make sure we get enough so that the rest of our lives are productive, fulfilling, and meaningful.
How you fill your hours is how you live your life. Make sure you’re filling them with something good!