Think back to grade school. Remember Recess? Remember nap-time? Remember how summers were so long and you sometimes got bored? Ok, now come back. When was the last time you had regular recess, nap time or even a long, lazy summer?
I often have blocks of time with nothing to do. There are always things to be done, but most of my days include downtime. This became more obvious to me after a weekend of back to back activities at the un-conference I attended last weekend.
Every interaction I had, every speaker I listened to, and every lesson I learned was wonderful. I would not have traded the experience for anything and plan to do it all over again next year. That said, at the end of each day, I was exhausted. I couldn’t process what happened, or even make decisions about simple stuff like where to eat dinner. I didn’t write much, think much or do anything except react to what was happening all around me. Even though my heart was wide open, it was a challenge to fully engage by the end of the day.
Note: If I had just read the above paragraph while I was working a high stress job and killing myself to complete a mile long to do list everyday, I would have thought, “what a lazy, spoiled brat.” That reaction would have come from jealousy because at that time I didn’t know how to fully appreciate downtime, and wouldn’t have placed writing or being fully engaged high on my priority list. I knew things weren’t working, but I didn’t have the time, space or clarity to figure out what would be better.
Even though I have been simplifying my life for years, when I first quit my job and started doing things like going to a yoga class during the day, napping, or meeting a friend for coffee, I felt guilty. I still felt like I was supposed to wait for the flu to have some downtime. I always thought my body would tell me when to slow down by getting sick, and then I got MS. I got the message.
Finding more downtime meant reprioritizing. I had to choose:
- time over money
- people over stuff
- “want” to dos over “should” dos
- quiet over the possibility of missing out
- laughter over promotions
- a good night sleep over a mindless night of television
- measuring myself by who I am instead of measuring myself by what I get done
I also had to make some changes. They took time, but now I can completely enjoy guilt free downtime.
If you are used to being very busy, a block of time with nothing to do can actually be frightening. What will you do with nothing to do? Initially your mind will race about all the things you should be doing, all the things you are missing out on, and all the things that you have to do when you are done doing nothing. Give it a try anyway, and keep practicing. It will get easier, and then it will become fun, and then you will do whatever it takes to make it part of your daily life.
What to do with nothing to do
Gratitude. Use this time to be grateful. Think of 5 things that happened in the past hour that you are thankful for. Let gratitude open your heart to joy.
Clarity. Without constant stimulation you can actually begin to listen. You know the answers but haven’t made time to hear them.
Friendships. It’s fun to do nothing with a friend. You can really listen to each other and strengthen your relationship.
Daydreaming. Get in a hammock, take a bath, or dip your toes in a stream and let your imagination run wild. Don’t judge or edit, just dream.
Spontaneity. You have nothing to do, but if something comes up that makes your heart sing, lean into it.
If you drive by a park when you are rushing through errands and wish you were laying on a blanket, reading a book in the sunshine, bring a blanket the next time you run errands and go do nothing in the park. Remember recess? Nap time? Long summers? You still deserve those things, and only you can make it happen.