Every now and then during a school day, a familiar ache begins to saturate my forehead and temples. The glare of my computer screen suddenly intensifies. My eyes trace the same sentence two or three times, yet I fail to extract its meaning.
I know that there is so much to do, but my brain is telling me to stop. It needs downtime.
In our society, people tend to equate productivity with busyness, but in fact these two concepts are very different things. We can be “busy” all day—answering emails, rushing from classes to meetings—but achieve very little in terms of our own productivity.
In reality, we can have a truly productive day by only having a few hours of deep work.
Sometimes the importance of downtime gets pushed to the sidelines, and we forget that optimal productivity cannot occur without it.
Slow down to speed up
We reach this breaking point when we deny ourselves downtime—but we should never let ourselves reach this point in the first place. We must slow down in order to speed up.
Taking breaks from schoolwork prevents us from getting bored, unfocused and unmotivated. We simply weren’t built for hours and hours of uninterrupted work, and a brief constructive interruption is all it takes to get back on track.
Science behind downtime
Our attention span is a limited resource. Multiple studies have shown that in order to effectively learn something, we need to take breaks. A brief amount of downtime allows our brains to consolidate and organize.
Not only is downtime good for productivity, downtime has also been linked to good mental health.
So, take time for yourself
But with this downtime that you now have, you should be focusing on really taking care of yourself. Maybe use the downtime to go to sleep earlier and get a full night’s rest. Sleeping is one of the best things that you can do in downtime, in my opinion.
Or maybe use this time to spend with your friends, read a book, go to the gym or anything that gives meaning to your life.
Also, try to take a break from your phone, or any form of technology. It’s difficult, but having an hour where you aren’t connected to everything is also very good for your mental health.
How to tap into your downtime
Jennifer Cole, a first-year student at UNB, spends one hour a day as her “me time.”
“There are twenty-four hours in a day, surely you can take one of those hours to focus on yourself,” said Cole. She says she spends her spare hours taking baths, organizing her room or watching YouTube videos. “I find this really helps me get through the day when I allow myself an hour to focus on something that helps my mental health and productivity,” she said.
Set rules for your downtime. You have a goal: to relax and recover from your school day so you can achieve optimum productivity the next day.
Self-discipline plays a big part here, and you need to remember that downtime isn’t wasting time. It’s truly important to your continued productivity and good mental health.