“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.