“Rest and be thankful.” —William Wordsworth
Research continues to affirm the importance of downtime. Empirical data, referenced here by the Scientific American, affirms the notion that our mental resources are continuously depleted throughout the day. As a result, various kinds of rest and downtime replenish those reserves and increase their volume.
Downtime during our day provides our minds with the rest and space to better process information, improve memory function, increase attention span, integrate learning, spark creativity, and make better decisions.
Yet, despite the research, our world continues to increase in speed. Because of advances in portable technology, a 24-hour news cycle, and advertisers relentlessly pursuing our attention, information enters our sphere of senses at an alarming rate. And it does not appear to be slowing down any time soon.
Distractions do not remove themselves and information will not slow itself down. Therefore, it is our responsibility to intentionally and mindfully slowdown, discover downtime, and create extra space. This can certainly be accomplished by making vacation a priority, by choosing rest one day each week, or by taking full advantage of holidays.
But this downtime can also be discovered on a daily basis. In fact, much of the research will confirm the importance of creating extra space each day. Creating even 10-15 minute windows of rest for our minds to experience downtime will result in both personal and productivity advantages.
Consider then, these 12 Simple Strategies to Create Extra Space Each Day.
1. Nap. According to some studies, our minds may be hardwired to shift between sleep and wake more than once a day, even dating back thousands of years we find evidence of society embracing an afternoon nap. And if you think you need to find 30-60 minutes to find this space, you may be over-thinking it.
Even a 10-minute nap sitting upright in a chair immediately enhances performance— and does not result in the grogginess of a longer nap.
2. Wake 15 minutes earlier. Many of our days begin at breakneck speed. We wake with just enough time on the clock to get ready, quickly eat breakfast, and catch the next bus in time. Or we wake and are immediately placed into the throes of life trying to get kids, spouses, and ourselves ready for the day. Meanwhile, the full brunt of the day has yet to even begin.
Find some extra space by waking on your own terms, even for just 15 minutes. You will find peace and calm there. And for the next 23 hours, you’ll be glad you did.
3. Get outdoors—even for a short walk. Embrace the value of the outdoors during evenings and weekends. But additionally, spending short bursts of time outdoors over lunch breaks or afternoon breaks can provide downtime for our minds. The fresh air affects our senses in important ways. And the change in environment provides greater opportunity for our minds to shift away from work-mode for a few short minutes.
4. Flip the off switch. Much of our downtime is being wasted and traded for the intake of even more information. The average person now watches 34 hours of television each week. For various reasons, I am a big fan of deciding to watch less.
Yet, the very reason many of us watch television (to relax, rest, unwind) may be the greatest motivation to simply turn it off. As a result of flipping the off switch just one show earlier than normal, we may be able to discover the true downtime our minds have been requesting all along… or at least an earlier bedtime.
5. Salvage the commute. Many of us have commutes that are literally killing us. In addition to increased cost and wasted time, according to the New York Times, commuters suffer from sharp increases in blood pressure, body weight, waist circumference, blood sugar levels, cholesterol, and heart disease. Lengthy commutes were also associated with greater degrees of exhaustion, stress, lack of sleep, and days missed from work.
If the commute can be avoided, it should be. But if it cannot, salvage the commute by using it to create extra space. Turn off the news channel (especially the one that only makes you angry), the cell phone, or the abrasive attitude. Try sitting in silence. Enjoy the calm as best you can. And use the space for your mind to sit quietly with yourself.
6. Take a longer lunch. If possible, establish a longer, more deliberate lunch routine. While some do not, many of your workplaces do indeed allow for longer lunch breaks—yet we often trade them simply to feel important or get more done.
Try taking a longer lunch. And don’t feel guilty about it—personally or corporately. Because of the downtime, your work in the afternoon will be more efficient.
I always took a brown-bag lunch to work. I found rather than rushing to the fast food joint down the road for food, having something pre-packed allowed more time for downtime during my scheduled lunch. Plus, I learned it from my dad.
7. Enjoy an afternoon tea. There is good reason some of the most advanced societies in our world take time for afternoon tea. Along with some health benefits, afternoon tea relaxes our mind, replenishes our spirit, and nurtures our soul.
No wonder it continues to be one of our longest-lasting memories of experiencing different cultures. We would be wise to embrace some of its routine in our daily schedule.
8. Set aside time for meditation. Meditation benefits the soul. Properly used, it centers our minds, our pursuits, and our passions on those things most important to our well-being. Additionally, some studies cite specific positive physical changes in the brains of those who consistently make use of the practice.
And while there is benefit in even short-term meditation, the more we embrace the practice, the greater the outcome. Whether you discover this practice during yoga, alone in solitude, or meditating on spiritual writings, it continues to remain a highly effective tool for creating space in our lives each day.
9. Take a longer shower. If you are one of the those people who believe you have your best ideas in the shower, you just may be right and science may finally be proving it for you.
But even if you don’t do your best thinking in the shower, intentionally taking a longer one may be just the right formula for slowing down and enjoying a little more distraction-free living. Your water bill may not thank you for the practice, but your mind just might.
10. Test out the Pomodoro technique. The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s based upon the idea that our minds work best in 25-minute bursts. The technique goes like this: Decide on a task to be done; set a timer for 25 minutes; work on the task until the timer rings; take a short 3-5 minute break; and every four intervals take a longer break (15–30 minutes).
Personally, I have found the technique to be more advantageous during some projects/days than others. But if your drive to succeed is constantly keeping you from slowing down, this time management technique may be helpful in both creating space and accomplishing more.
11. Remove mindless Internet. According to this study in the National Bureau of Economic Research, for every 10 minutes people fool around online, they spend: 2.9 minutes less on all other types of leisure, 2.7 fewer minutes working (or a more dramatic 3.75 minutes, for people in their 30s), and 1.2 fewer minutes on personal care, including sleep. Multiplied over the reality that the average person who uses the Internet for fun spends roughly 100 minutes a day on it, turning off mindless Internet may be a significant strategy to create significant extra space.
12. Turn off notifications. Our smartphones have created workspaces even away from work. Even when we are not “clocked-in” at the job, our constant stream of notification reminds us of incoming emails, pending deadlines, and opportunities for employment advancement. The lines between work and rest continue to blur.
One simple strategy to redraw those lines is to turn off the notifications (email, Facebook, IM) on your smartphone away from work. As a result, you will be able to check your apps on your schedule at appropriate times throughout the day and reduce the number of times you check your phone each day (which currently sits at 150 times, just short of every 6 waking minutes.
Of course, adopting each and every one of these strategies is not recommended. After all, we do have important work to accomplish for ourselves and for this world. But if your mind needs respite from the ever-increasing flow of incoming information, implementing just one or two of the simple strategies above will provide the extra space your mind desires and demands.
There are great. Except the shower. We should conserve water. I’m going to start taking a proper lunch break and sit with someone new in the cafeteria without my phone. May be time to look at my work calendar and restructure my day.
I need to know something, unrelated to the great content of this post. That picture used for this article- the man sitting down in the grass. Is that man sitting in Piedmont Park in Atlanta looking up on rainbow hill? What are the odds and who can tell me?
I know this might seem counter-intuitive, but you can download a free desktop app for your computer called “break taker” which reminds you to stretch, walk, drink water, and other things according to the time intervals you set. This way, you remember to move around and stretch out to counteract those terrible health effects of sitting down all day.
People at my office use this with encouragement from management, but you can also set reminders in Outlook or other desktop applications or even on your phone.
I like to scarf down my lunch at my desk at 11:30 while working and then spend my whole lunch hour on a long walk with my iPod! Catching some rays and getting exercise also helps with my mood! :)
Waking up early is great, too. I always end up getting chores done before work, which makes me feel great knowing I’ll come home to a nice clean house (my housemates aren’t minimalists themselves). Leaving a bit earlier for work makes the commute really zen. People would rush and buzz all around me, even cut me off at times, but I’d just be really zen, let them in, and even waved at them even if they were really rude to me. It’s hard to get mad when your doing deep breathing while driving calms to work with time to spare!!
But most of all, I love going to bed about one to two hours earlier than necessary (I don’t watch many TV shows… at all!). You know on weekends how you might like to sleep in for a really long time? I have friends who don’t wake up until one in the afternoon on weekends. But they can’t do that on week days! I personally never could sleep in that long, but an hour or two extra always feels nice. I go to bed that much earlier now, so I get to “sleep in” every day before work, and it feel GLORIOUS! People tease me for going to bed at 8:30, but I absolutely swear by it! I don’t always have the chance to do this, but lazing around an extra two hours every morning feels amazing on a week day!
I find I spend TONS of time reading blogs & FB posts about minimalism at the moment! I find it quite contradictory that everyone is saying get off your smart phones & the internet but this is the method they are imparting the info (and making a living, many of them!). FB, blogs, Pinterest boards, podcasts, you name it. I’m feeling quite overwhelmed (/addicted?) by minimalism information overload. I’m not criticizing, I just find it paradoxical. Thoughts?
Amit K Jha says
Helpful article and really loved the motto by author ” Live more by owning less”.
Katie O'Brien | The Simplicity Coach for Mom Entrepreneurs says
Love these strategies! An additional one that works well for me (along with disabling notifications) is keeping my phone on silent to reduce distractions. I’ve also been working on not picking up my smart phone before a certain time in the AM and not looking at it after a certain time in the PM.
I love the Pomodoro method. As an at-home wife and mother, my days can be a *little* aimless if I allow them. I love the notion of separating work from breaks – helps me stay focused, yet allows my creative mind a chance to play. I’m teaching my husband and children this method, too, to improve both the work we do together and the break time we can then have as a family.
I take a nap,have long lunch time,watch one tv show,take a short walk before starting my work, and have afternoon tea, but still stressed out.
I have a university deadline tomorrow & was feeling under immense pressure. I decided to set a timer and break the task into small pieces of serious focus. I had no idea the “pomodoro effect’ was a thing….
It seriously worked, I feel like I am a miracle worker since doing this today!
That’s a lot of television time! I don’t think we’ve ever watched that much. We watch no network tv to speak of (maybe an hour a week and we do it commercial free), but do watch movies and videos for enjoyment. Only at night though, and not every night.
For myself I’d say that biggest waste of time is the internet. Looking back I think of all of the minutes and hours I can’t get back.
Ann Kilter says
I got in the bad habit of putting my phone in my pocket at work. But when I put it in the cupboard in my purse, I get more done undisturbed, so to speak. Although today, I got three texts and two phone calls. They finally called my work phone.
I like the first one…a lot. But I practice taking a longer lunch and getting away from my desk. I am a legal secretary and my computer is my work tool. I need to rest my eyes from the screen.
Ann Kilter says
“They” meaning my family.
I have always been a big proponent of #6, after seeing people in office’s eating at their desk day after day. Often there’s no need for it, it’s just the company culture. So, not only are you giving yourself space to be more productive and happy, you can start a cultural revolution!
I would love to curb mindless internet use too, but I find that INCREDIBLY challenging as most of my work is done in front of the computer. It feels almost impossible sometimes to resist the temptation. I’ve tried tools like Leechblock to bar me from my most time-wasting sites, but I always find ways around that. Any tips?
Hudson Burgess says
I’ve found that removing the “keep me logged in” function on sites like Facebook is quite helpful. It certainly doesn’t block you from accessing the site, but it adds a layer of effort to get to it and serves as a little reminder that you don’t need to be on it at work.
jodie white says
Divorced, empty nester, selling my home and reinventing myself at 52. I am selling everything and wanting to start living without THINGS My things owned me. Let the journey begin. Thanks for the article.
I will have to try the Pomodoro Technique. I have fibromyalgia and cannot sit or stand for long periods of time. The could be a very beneficial way of getting things done. Thanks for the info!
George Welty says
I try to eat lunch by myself at least once a week. Does wonders.
creating a website says
I usually do not drop many comments, however I looked at a few of
the remarks on this page 12 Simple Strategies to Create Space Each Day | Becoming
Minimalist. I actually do have some questions for you if you do not mind.
Could it be just me or does it look like like some of the responses appear like they are coming from brain dead people?
:-P And, if you are writing at other sites, I’d like to keep up with
anything new you have to post. Could you post a list of every one of all your
social community pages like your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?
Great list, thank you! Numbers 3 and 12 resonated with me in particular as things I’ve been meaning to do for a while. This is the nudge I need in the right direction :) The Pomodoro Technique has been ridiculously helpful for both becoming more productive and for feeling much better within myself about how I’m spending my time. I also agree with a previous commenter, Angela, that there’s something magical about getting up before everyone else and enjoying that early morning silence.
Thanks for a lovely post, lots to implement here :)
I discovered your blog last year and your story about cleaning out the garage while your children were playing really resonated with me. I have felt that more than once! I realized I needed to do something different. Since then I have decided to become a minimalist. Thank you for sharing your journey with us!
On Creating Space: One thing that I try to do is getting up early while everyone else is asleep. I truly enjoy the quiet in the more and I try to read and pray during that time. I am not perfect at it but I do know it makes a difference.
Rain San Martin says
Classic post! I love the Pomodoro technique of setting 25 minutes for each task, or Flylady’s 15 minutes at a time method. I think people jam pack their activities to the brim so they can either numb themselves from looking inward or because unimportant “busyness” gives them a false sense of accomplishment. We need to have mindful rest and meaningful life goals.
Joshua Lancette says
Thanks for the great suggestions. I want to start incorporating a lot of them, especially #11.
Six years ago I left my almost new TV set on the side walk and watched from my window; less than three minutes later someone took it. During these six years, I spent my free time running, doing exercises, reading, watching dvd ,the interesting films that I choose and learning two other languages and I am much happier.
Yes!! We don’t watch tv, and it’s turned out to be the smartest decision we’ve ever made, for several reasons~not the least being, no negativity, streaming into our home, more exercise, we don’t watch endless food ads, which used to send us to the fridge, several times a night!! We actually lowered, and leveled out our glucose readings (we are diabetics), giving us tests within the normal range!!
people who have a commute of only a few miles might like to walk to work or from work when the weather is suitable-no need to go to the gym and fresh air is good for you!
While travelling in developing countries, personal space is a non-issue. You are surrounded by hundreds of people and you have nowhere to go. The only place that is kind of your refuge is your hotel room at night. Coming back to a space your own each night is how I create a space in my life to breathe and just be. Other ways, is by unsubscribing to everything except two or three favourites in my inbox, and giving away as much of my stuff as possible. I have seen a lot of Mexican homes and they are uncluttered with stuff like American homes might be. They have very little, and their homes reflect that. They have the essentials and they seem to be content with that.
Christy King says
For #9, make sure you have a low-flow shower head :)
Although I should confess my favorite “extra space” time is reading in the bathtub. That’s definitely not environmentally or water/electric-bill friendly. I just try not to do it TOO often.
Love these ideas – for the last few weeks I have been working for 45mins, break 15mins and its really worked for me :-)
Sandra Pawula says
Joshua, The various statistics you’ve woven into this article are mind-blowing. Naps and meditation are two of my favorite ways to enjoy downtime.
Like you, the Pomodoro technique doesn’t work as successfully for me. I find the 25-time bursts too short and feel interrupted. A 40-50 time slot might be worth trying out.
Linda @ Notes from the arena says
Like Bethany, I also love #2. I never used to be a morning person, until I read Leo Babauta’s book the power of less, and decided to try waking earlier. It gave me time to sit and relax, write morning pages, and slowly sip my tea in the morning before getting ready for work. It reduced the stress.
I also limit my TV watching to catch-up only, and then only 1 hour per day max. I get a lot more done when the TV is unplugged, and also more downtime.
When I worked in an office, I tried to make sure I went out at lunch time, for some fresh air. I felt better for the rest of the day.
Bethany @ Journey to Ithaca says
I absolutely love #2. I started getting up 30 minutes to an hour early, and I love having time to establish a morning routine. My days are much more organized when I take the time to start them out that way.
#5 has also worked well for me, except I’ve taken it a step further. I ride my bicycle to work! Not only is it good exercise, but it has improved my mood and improved my concentration during the day.
Harold J. Forbes says
Regarding #5 about salvaging your commute, a great alternative for those of us who can’t really shorten our commute is to find some way to reclaim the time for your benefit. If you currently drive into work, see if there is a viable public transit option. I did this about a year ago and use the time I was driving to read, nap, just close my eyes and listen to relaxing music, or work on my writing on my Chromebook. This doesn’t include the financial benefit you get from spending less on gas and putting fewer miles on your vehicle.
If you must drive, try sitting silently as suggested or perhaps find a few good personal improvement podcasts or audiobooks to listen to so that you are at least feeding your mind as the miles go by. Just do something so that your commute is not purely lost time.
Kristin Nador says
#12 I can highly recommend. Last week because of some type of app glitch I went over my data amount on my smartphone. I cleared off all the apps that don’t already come loaded with the phone since I didn’t know which one was the culprit. I’ve now noticed increases in my time spent writing, and I feel a bit calmer. Not hearing all those rings and dings all day has definitely helped my piece of mind, and taking intentional time with social media rather than mindlessly consuming when the bell rang a la Pavlov’s dog has given me a more peaceful day. And thus far I haven’t missed anything life-altering by not receiving all those electronic notifications. I think I may leave the apps off for now. :)
Miss Growing Green says
I agree! I recently deleted all the apps and games off my phone. The one that was definitely consuming the most time was “words with friends”. I thought that it was a fun, mind-stimulating game, but I realized it had turned into an obligation that wasn’t really fun anymore. Instead of playing it for 30 minutes when I lay down for bed (and randomly throughout the day) I choose to read instead. It actually lowered my stress level to delete all those apps, so #12 is definitely a worthwhile point!
Kristen, you can disable the apps that DO come with your phone. This has been a godsend for me to keep your little from watching garbage on YouTube.
These are such simple but often forgotten strategies. Thanks for the reminder to create space each day. I’m definitely going to try the Pomodoro Technique for my writing. Thanks, again!
joshua becker says
I actually find using the technique while writing to be quite helpful though I don’t typically stop mid-paragraph or mid-thought based on a timer.