It’s no secret that in today’s world, we are always-on.
With days full of meetings, smartphones packed full of apps to delight, entertain and compel us, there’s little time to ever feel bored. And that’s before we reach the weekend, where often, we’re busy filling time with the tasks of our off-duty lives, from meeting friends to rushing through chores to spending time with family.
Suffice to say, we’re rarely bored. But have you ever wondered — is that a good thing?
While technology and the luxury of life in the 21st Century have eased many challenges, I’m firmly of the opinion that we still need to find time for simply doing nothing — most crucially for our mental health and energy.
Case in point. Unusually free on a recent Saturday, I opted to swap my to-do list to simply sit on the couch and read for a few hours. At first, I felt guilty. How could I possibly waste my free time?
But after a while, I embraced the joy of doing nothing. And to be frank, I had a ball, feeling refreshed and energised at the end of the day — so much so, that I started to wonder: Could the drive to be busy, do more, spend more time, more money, more energy, the wrong way to approach your day?
For after all, when we’re constantly busy, are we simply constantly preoccupied? And verging on constant exhaustion?
In one word, yes.
Idle Brains Make Good Work
Consider this. With a full workload, your brain rarely gets time out. And in turn — rarely has time to wander, rest and process the sheer load of information that goes whizzing through your mind much of the day.
And while appearances may be deceiving, doing nothing can be incredibly productive for our brains. Freed from the obligation of remembering a multitude of concurrent tasks, research shows that time-out gives your brain the chance to really get into its own rhythm to process and unload any unnecessary junk.
In fact, contrary to the pressure to pack more into your day, in an article debating the importance of downtime, Scientific America quotes a number of research studies which found that day-dreaming — a process that can activate the default mode network in our brains — is a highly productive time for our brains, helping us to craft imaginary solutions to ongoing problems, consider current quandaries and to imagine alternative approaches.
A Nap a Day
And if pressing the pause button is the ultimate luxury, brace yourself.
Many commentators now cite napping as an essential part of working and productive life — to give your brain (and body) the chance to re-charge during a busy day.
While the tradition of siestas has long appealed to me, reports now support this theory, (recommending a nap no longer than 30 minutes as the optimum time to aim for). Any longer, you risk entering a deeper sleep cycle and wake feeling groggy.
Along with napping, experts also recommend that you make the effort to meditate. Regular meditation practice can help to improve your brain’s ability to focus and your memory, while a 2011 study found that meditation can also help to reduce anxiety and stress.
Truly a no-brainer to try. And you don’t need to put aside hours to cultivate a successful practice — with experts reporting that you can start out small, by putting aside as little as 5–10 minutes in the morning and evening to give it a go.
Of course, the bid to switch off and down tools can sometimes be yet another task to add to your to-do list and can take time to build into your daily routine.
For instance, ever go on holiday and initially struggle to relax, not to check your phone, or scroll mindlessly through Instagram? Me too.
So if like me, it’s a challenge, I say: try not to worry about it.
Set yourself a goal of building in some downtime one day a week — or fortnight — to begin and go from there. Who knows! You may find other ways to fill the time, from reading to trying your hand at sketching or cooking.
Most of all, focus on momentarily pressing pause on your list of chores. And take time out to appreciate the moment.
If you want to read more around the important of taking time out, here are some pieces I came across:
7 Ways Meditation Can Actually Change The Brain
The meditation-and-the-brain research has been rolling in steadily for a number of years now, with new studies coming…