The importance of taking downtime

10 December 2020 • 3 min read


Downtime makes you more productive and creative, enhances your problem-solving capability, and improves your judgement and health.

Taking a break is not just good for your mental health, it’s good for your business.

While it can be tempting to keep pushing through a piece of work because it needs to get done, the quality of that work can actually be improved by taking a little time out -- to allow you to refocus, gain a new perspective, and get creative.

According to a study cited in the Harvard Business Review, employees who took one day, a week, and even extended time off work actually increased their overall productivity.

Time away from core responsibilities acts like a reset for the brain.

Here in New Zealand, Unilever just announced a trial to pay employees a full week’s wages for four days of work. Managing director Nick Bangs said the company was looking to measure performance by output, not hours spent on the job.

How can I make space for downtime?

You may not be Unilever, and you may be wondering how you can incorporate downtime into your schedule. Well, you don’t need to block off a day a week (20 per cent of your work schedule) to benefit from downtime.

You can start with a more achievable hour a week, set in your diary, to take a walk and allow your mind to wander.

Make sure that you treat this time like an appointment, so you actually take the break.

Take care at the end of the day that you don’t fall into the trap of scrolling through your social media feeds for an hour, and try to convince yourself that this mindless activity is downtime. It’s not.

Instead, dedicate that hour to something you really enjoy, like a good television programme or a book. This time to escape the everyday will make you feel like you have had a break.

If you spend time commuting each day, make it count. Listen to a podcast or music that relaxes you. It is important not to use this time to ruminate on work problems that drain you of energy.

Make sure you take breaks during the day. When you are trying to complete a task, it is really tempting to miss out on morning or afternoon tea breaks. Allow yourself to take 10 minutes a few times a day to clear your head - it will do wonders. Move your body, drink some water and breathe.

Turn off the notifications on your phone. We already spend way too much time on our phones; don’t give yourself a reason to check it any more than is necessary.

In addition to scheduling holiday time for yourself, consider taking the occasional half day or full day off work as well. These mini-breaks can be incredibly restorative, especially if you use that time to do something you love: volunteering, crafting, sports or browsing a gallery.

Make sure you are getting enough natural light during the day. If you work in an office, take the time to get outside or sit by a large window. If you are on the move, jump out of your vehicle and stretch your legs.

Lastly, protect your time from encroachment from people who don’t respect it. Learn to say no.

Tags Wellbeing

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