It is just after 9:30 am on Saturday morning and I am on yet another plane, headed to yet another conference. This is my fourth weekend working in a row. The last time I had a day off was October 4th, 27 days ago.
I say this not to complain. Actually, in a sick way, I can’t help but say this with a little bit of pride. If I am totally honest with myself, it makes me feel important, like I have a big job, like I have things to do and people to see. Being busy has become a status symbol. This is the glorification of “busy.”
We are busy. All the statistics tell the same story: we work more than we used to, remain connected to work even during off-work hours, and don’t take our allotted vacation time. But busy does not equate productive. And busy does not mean I am working on the right things. Busy just means busy. I have tried to strike the word “busy” from my vocabulary, and am a bit at a loss as to how to answer the question “how is work?” (challenging? great? stressful? stimulating? inspiring? overwhelming?…).
The worship of busyness means we have lost our appreciation for downtime, me-time, doing-nothing-time. This morning I was reminded of the importance of giving my mind a break by an article by Susan Gregory Thomas in More Magazine (November 2015). The author quotes various neuroscientists praising downtime:
- “Without downtime, the brain cannot learn from experience.”
- “Spending quality time alone also positively affects how you handle your job. The benefits include … higher engagement at work.”
- “The brain at rest is actually restocking its reserves of attention and motivation, productivity and creativity.”
A good reminder to let my brain wander, to day dream, to think. And as Gregory Thomas explains, downtime does not have to be meditation. Downtime can be folding laundry, gardening, in my case traveling, whether waiting to board or flying. “If you approach these chores as must-do tasks, your brain will probably translate them as stressful. But allow your mind to wander (and wonder) as you’re doing even ordinary activities, and you will experience them as relaxing.” Perception is reality… and I am about to enjoy some downtime high up in the skies.