On Downtime

Thoughts

This weekend was filled with downtime. A little play on words here, but I think of ‘downtime’ in two ways: the first is what we’d typically think of – time to just settle down and hang out; the second is somewhat more literal – a time when you’re feeling just a bit down. Interestingly enough, I’ve learned that too much of the former downtime inevitably leads to the latter for me – it’s a repeated pattern, and one that I’m not sure is ‘healthy’ (spoiler: probably not).

Those life quotes about wisdom (you know, old-school memes) often differentiate between being ‘busy’ and being ‘productive.’ Starting from my time in New York, I’ve gotten into an unfortunate habit of conflating the two. Being fresh out of college and living in one of the biggest cities in the world, I kept myself incredibly busy with a determination to make the most of my new home. I made plans with friends, I volunteered through three different organizations, I even joined a rock choir – all with the goal of staying busy. Being busy served a dual purpose: it provided a facade of seeming productive, and it also ensured that I would never feel lonely during my time in the city.

Unfortunately, neither of these purposes was a healthy way to live life. Both were distractions from tackling the underlying fears, which were rooted in an insecurity about the general direction my life was taking. I was worried that I wasn’t living New York City life to the fullest. I was worried that I wasn’t taking steps to move forward in my career. I was worried that I would drift from friends if I didn’t see them often enough. I was worried that I would be missing out. I was worried that I would be lonely. And I was worried that – God forbid – I would be sitting there with nothing to do.

So for the past few years, I’ve been in the habit of minimizing downtime. When weekends like this past one come around, where I find myself with swaths of untouched time, I make plans to do productive things: read a nonfiction book to learn something, write a meaningful blog post, work on my career goals, even organize the bookshelves in my apartment. This weekend, I had all intentions of using the time to make progress in my personal life.

Instead, I sat around and read a semi-trashy fiction book. I stalked people on Facebook. I clicked around Reddit aimlessly.

By Sunday night, I was hit by the other kind of ‘downtime’ – that is, a time when I just felt a bit down. I felt upset that I hadn’t been productive, I felt upset that I hadn’t ‘accomplished’ anything (although, in my own defense, I cooked three giant batches of meals for the week, so I guess that’s better than nothing). What surprised me was how negative I felt after the weekend: rather than feeling relaxed, I was disappointed in myself and regretful at the ‘wasted’ time.

One of my goals this year is to be intentional about my downtime. Movements like Ariana Huffington’s Thrive are modeling that it’s okay to rest, that it’s imperative to avoid burnout; I don’t disagree. However, I do think that being intentional about downtime will be helpful in making the time more meaningful and actually restful. The next time I have a weekend of untouched time, I hope to go into it with some ideas on how to spend it so that it doesn’t just disappear into the dark abyss of the internet. It seems contradictory to have ‘planned’ downtime, but I believe that by planning it out, I’ll be setting myself up for greater productivity with the rest of my hours.

Here’s to actually enjoying future downtimes – the good kind – and for continued productivity!

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