When I’m talking with new coaching clients, I’m often stunned by how busy they are. It’s not unusual to hear that someone has just received a big promotion, is managing a team of 20+ people, has several young children, is looking after an older relative, and is heavily involved with his or her church or other community activities. Please note, this is not just a woman’s problem, although many women think it is. Most of the men I work with are also juggling multiple commitments and responsibilities, and like the women, they often feel they are coming up short. When I hear people describe their lives, I usually respond with the quip, “So what are you doing with all your free time?” And we both laugh ruefully.
Waking and deliberate rest
A recent article in Elle magazine (January 2020, p. 62-63) talks about free time and why it matters. The article describes two kinds of rest (not sleep). First is “waking rest,” which is “a period of quiet, reflective thought that allows the brain time to consider and process whatever arises spontaneously.” During waking rest you can do routine tasks that don’t require much thought, such as mowing the lawn or washing dishes. This process of just letting yourself think about whatever comes can help you to consolidate ideas, think through plans, and otherwise get your mental house sorted out.
The second kind of rest is “deliberate rest,” which means planning a period of rest that may include activities that are physically challenging or mentally engaging. The essential ingredient is that you are doing something different from your usual work and other responsibilities. This enables your unconscious mind to work through important issues that can get lost in the hustle-bustle of our frantic lives. As the article says, “Ever have a breakthrough in the shower? This is why.”
Studies of very successful people have shown that most of them take time for deliberate rest. Elle suggests that most of us need about ½ hour a day of waking rest. In addition, longer rest periods are also important. According to Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, who is quoted in the article, the ideal vacation schedule is 7-10 days, every 3 months. I’m always skeptical when I read that kind of one-size-fits-all advice. I know that I get antsy after about 5 vacation days and want to get back to my usual schedule. But the point is, find the rhythm that works for you and make it happen. Why? Because there’s a heap of research that shows that we are both more productive and happier when we balance strenuous work with periods of rest and recovery.
How can you do this? It doesn’t happen by itself. Some people find a little time at the beginning or the end of the day for quiet reflection. Some people use their commuting time to mull over whatever comes into their mind. As Pang says, “Rest has never been something you do when you’ve finished everything else. If you want rest, you have to take it.”
My father used to occasionally say to me, “I wish for you a little boredom.” I was very puzzled by that comment. I thought boredom was agony. Why would anyone want to be bored, ever? But now that I am older, I get it. A little boredom – what a wonderful respite!
If things are piling up in your schedule and you need help curating your life, email email@example.com