Over the last holiday, I spent some time thinking about how we relax. Personally, I find that there are two ways achieve “down time”. The first way is when I intentionally plan to take some time relaxing. This occurs when my wife and I decide to watch a movie, go on a walk, take some vacation and visit family, or go to the lake. The second way is when I have a list of things that I need to work on, but I really want to take a break. In this situation, I intend to do work, but instead I find myself fiddling with some gadget, browsing the web, etc.
The first way of getting down time is relaxing, fun and refreshing. The second is frustrating and makes me feel worn out and like I need to take another break. Avoiding work often seems to be more exhausting than work itself.
It is far more productive for me to intentionally do something recreational when I feel like it than to tell myself that I’m going to work but not do it. If I don’t feel like working I shouldn’t try to force myself. It doesn’t result in any significant accomplishment and if anything gets done it takes 10 times as long. (Obviously, if the work is on a deadline and has to be finished, I don’t have an option, but in those situations I don’t end up procrastinating anyway.)
One advantage of this approach is that it trains you to not procrastinate. If you don’t feel like working–you don’t work. There is not of this sitting around finding things to distract yourself with while you avoid a task. On the other hand when work needs done, you focus on the task at hand. Just knowing that you are giving yourself a choice, puts you in a different mindset and lets you put all of your mental energy behind what you are doing at the moment.
Obviously, this type of setup only works for people who actually enjoy their work. If you hate what you do for a living, this advice will probably lead to unemployment. However, I doubt that people who hate their jobs are going to be spending much time reading a website about increasing their productivity.
Originally published on November 28, 2005.