The importance of doing nothing

Akaka Falls State Park on the Big Island, Hawaii

Over the course of my relationship with my husband Jeremy I’ve realized how important downtime is. I’ve learned to enjoy and now look forward to resting and relaxing. However, I can honestly say I haven’t always felt this way. Sleep used to be something I had to do. I didn’t really derive any pleasure from sleep or rest. At one time in my life, I’d go to bed because it was time to sleep, and when it was time to rise, I’d do so and get on with my life. I didn’t give much attention to downtime or resting. I was a busy little bee. What I was doing with that time, I cannot recall, but I remember it feeling vital. Mind you, this was before the days of Facebook, smart phones, and 24/7 access. So really, what the heck was I doing that was SO important? *shrug*

Anyway, as our relationship progressed, I began to notice how much Jeremy relished his sleep and his resting time. To this day, his favorite time of day is that period between when we get in bed for the night and when we turn the lights off for sleep. Most days we try to get in bed about an hour before we plan to go to sleep. We lay there, cuddle, read, listen to WWOZ, talk, etc. It’s a wonderfully restful and relaxing period that we have together each day. We unwind and get our minds and bodies ready for sleep. I love spending that time transitioning from “on” to “off.” It makes it so much easier for me to fall asleep later. Truly! It’s the buffer between my day and my sleep that I really needed in life.

This principle downtime applies not only to sleep and bedtime. Downtime is vital in all parts of your day, not just the end of the day. Taking it easy and doing nothing is actually a great boost for mental health and overall well-being. I hear some people refer to it as being lazy – like “I’m having a lazy day” or “lazing around,” but personally, I don’t like to use the word “lazy.” It has negative connotations in today’s society so I prefer to use the words “rest” or “relax.” To me, being lazy means that you’re being 100% useless and that nothing you’re doing is useful. On the contrary, I believe that what most people are actually doing in this time is resting or relaxing, which to me connotes a rejuvenation and restoration period.

Sure, it might just be semantics, but to me, it’s important. Sadly, in the past I basically saw all idle time as being lazy or as being “non-productive.” It’s only in the last few years that I’ve been able to frame downtime as the necessary rest and relaxation that I need to refuel my body to keep up high performance levels. I erroneously thought in the past that I needed to keep up a high pace all the time. I thought this was the key to productivity and getting ahead. Little did I realize that I was slowly killing myself, quashing my productivity, and draining my energy reserves. I was doing myself no favors and was actually harming more than helping myself.

You see, rest, relaxation and downtime (or whatever you want to call it) are vital to leading a productive and successful life. For each yin there must be a yang. If you work hard and play hard, you’d better rest hard as well. Both mental and physical rest have multiplying positive effects on human performance. If you’re drained and exhausted and worn out, you will lack the energy to put forth your best work and excel. However, if you take time in the evenings to rest and get to bed a little early, you’ll likely find energy levels and motivation and creativity spiking the next day.

Recharging your batteries isn’t a luxury. It isn’t anything that you have to deny yourself because you’re too busy. On the contrary, the busier and more hurried you feel, that’s an even bigger sign that you need some rest and downtime in your life. Listen to your mind. Pay attention to your body. Act in accordance with what you need to achieve the things you want in life. When you’re tired, rest. When you need a fifteen minute break from a busy workday, take it! In the end, rest pays off in spades in increased energy, performance levels, productivity and yes, creativity!

In all likelihood, the best thing you could do for yourself right now is take a nap or rest your mind for a few minutes. Sound like a luxury? Change that. Make it a reality. Take the time for yourself, and you’ll be amazed at how much capacity you have for others as a result.

This post was inspired by an interview on the Unmistakable Creative podcast with authors Carrie & Alton Barron