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Purposeful Down Time

Posted Dec 18 2013 5:25pm

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I’m back in school. I never thought I’d return to school to be honest. All that changed when I realized that I may not ever land a full-time faculty position if I am constantly going to be applying for the same jobs as those with doctorates. Here I am – back in school.

I manage my time very effectively, almost obsessively. I am a very organized and detailed person. Something I have learned to do, however is to be very purposeful in my down time. For some reason, even though I found that it was fairly easy for me to be organized and to schedule my day, I was unable to enjoy any free time I might have. When I was “off”, I wasn’t really enjoying the time. I even recall telling my mother that if I didn’t have plenty to do, I was convinced it would contribute to my feeling depressed. “Be so busy you don’t have time to feel blue” was my motto, I guess.

The truth of the matter, this is dangerous. Some folks think their time is too valuable to be spent in frivolous activities. Some believe that there is too much to do to waste time doing nothing at all. I argue that not taking the time to simply “be” is deadly. You don’t have to search very long to find reports of Americans who are stressed. We seem to be over-worked, over-scheduled, and over-committed. I have family members who don’t take vacation time because their company will pay them back for it at the end of the year if they don’t use it. My response is, “Whaaaa…?”

(I’m very eloquent).

I’ve been reading “Essential Guide to Online Learning” as many of the classes I am taking to finish up my doctorate are in an asynchronous classroom. The author of the book explained that we need to “be present in your downtime” (Laureate Education, Inc., 2013, p. 27). In order to make time for school, work, family, errands, and all the “other stuff” we squeeze into our schedules, I employ the use of Google calendar. Every task has a specific color. As detailed as I am, however, every day has blank time slots open. FREE TIME!

“Let’s Par-teeeeeey!” Or not.

I try to be purposeful with my free time. If I choose to use my free time to read a good book, groom my dog, or take a walk, I mindfully do those things. So often, folks spend their free time worrying about what they have to do next in their schedule! How is that enjoying your free time? How does one reap any benefit from having some time to yourself?

The first time I realized I had trouble with this was when I realized I couldn’t even go to sleep at night. Here I was, drop-dead tired and weary, exhausted from having to “hear” all day and needing a good eight hours of sleep. Instead, I would lay in bed worrying about what I had to do tomorrow – often things that I had little control over. I was losing sleep over losing sleep. Oh the irony…

I realized that I was going to have to get serious about fun and relaxation. There are things I do each week for just me. There are things I do each DAY – although some days I have more time than others. If I have the time every single day to walk my service dog, Chloe , then by gosh when I’m walking her I will do nothing but walk her and enjoy the moment. I run into folks who are walking their dogs too. By run into, I mean that quite literally. Their attention is on their cell phone instead of the dog at the end of the leash. They are not looking up and around, which means they may not be aware of their surroundings, who is in their vicinity, or what *blech* they are getting ready to step in with their brand new walking shoes. I breathe deeply, look around, talk to my dog, and intentionally notice the world around me.

If I have 30-45 minutes to read before bed in order to decompress and unwind, you can be sure I am not reading a required text. I will be reading something for me… something that “feeds my soul” or “fires my imagination”.

This morning I had two hours to put up my family’s Christmas tree. The house was quiet, with hubby already gone to work and kiddos sleeping in since their work schedules were later. I mindfully put up my Christmas tree. I didn’t think about the assignment I had due by 3 PM. I reminisced as I hung old ornaments and strung lights. I arranged and re-arranged. I asked the dogs if things looked “purtee”. Then I turned off all the lights in the room, pulled the blinds down, and turned on the twinkle lights. I listened to Christmas music. I rubbed my dogs’ bellies. At 11 AM, however, I had research that I had scheduled to do in advance. However, I deliberately refused to think about it prior to my free time being “up”.

Do you need to be more purposeful with your down time? Do you need to reduce stress and schedule “me time”? Please feel free to share tips and favorite “purposeful me time” moments in the comments.

Denise Portis

Laureate Education, Inc. (2013). Essential guide to online learning. Baltimore: Laureate International Universities Publishing, Inc.


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