When was the last time that you had time off? Not just a day off work, but a day off from everything? When was the last time you sat around in your pyjamas all day watching films? Or if that’s not your style, when was the last time that you had a day free of plans written in your diary, or chores listed on a to-do list? With any luck, you’re reading this and wondering when I’m going to get to the point, because actually you have plenty of time to do those things. However, I suspect you’re more likely to be nodding in resigned agreement, acknowledging the fact that yes it is too long since you had a day off. There are plenty of buzzwords around at the moment which deal with concepts such as slow living, wellbeing and self-care. They’re in the media, they’re topics of conversations on the street, and they’re concepts that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently.
Technically, the last time I had a day off was the weekend. I wasn’t at work, I didn’t do any chores, and I had a lovely time catching up with some friends. However, it wasn’t really time off. The time I spent with my friends had been carefully scheduled in plenty of time in advance to allow for our busy diaries. It felt like I spent a lot of time rushing between places and whilst I enjoyed myself, I returned to work on Monday feeling like I needed another weekend to recover. Ignoring weekends, I had some time off a few weeks ago – a random Friday just for me. So what did I do? I spent the grand total of 15 minutes sitting on the sofa, reading my book and doing something that was just for me. The rest of the day I was cleaning, buying a few bits for a birthday, sorting out my accounts, replying to emails and generally just buzzing round trying to rush through a to-do list rather than taking some time off. I’ll be honest, I don’t think there’s that much wrong with what I’ve just said except for the fact that I’m not convinced that it’s sustainable long term. There are a few things which I think are enemies of us having time off, which I’ve listed below:
Having a diary which is full of different activities and social engagements is exciting. It feels like I’m leading a fulfilled life and I’m thankful for that. But there’s a tipping point when suddenly rather than things to look forward to, those things start looking like chores and you’re at a risk that they won’t be enjoyable any more. A couple of months ago I wrote quite gleefully about how few plans I had this Autumn, but that changed quite quickly. Flicking back through my diary, I haven’t had a weekend entirely free of plans since the start of September, and we don’t have one free until the new year (with January filling up fast).
Up until recently I haven’t had much on during the week so being busy at the weekend didn’t matter so much. Now I’m beginning to realise that once you’ve filled up your weekends, the only time you have is midweek so suddenly that starts filling up too. Before you know it, you’re short on time for anything else but also you’re in a position where every aspect of your life has to be carefully coordinated in order to work. I love a plan and a to-do list just as much as the next person, but I’m fast coming to the conclusion that you need some time where nothing is planned, to just be, so that you can achieve some balance and allow a little spontaneity in.
I quite often reach a point where I have written things on my to-do list which I would generally class as fun activities and things I want to do when I have slightly more time. It might be baking a cake, it might be trying to finish my scrapbook, it might be doing a dot-to-dot, but it’s usually something I promise myself I’ll do when I have more time. So why is it on my to-do list? Because this is the only way I think I’ll get round to doing it, and it acts as a reminder that it’s something I want to do. However this puts pressure on me to complete it so I can tick it off, makes it feel like a chore, and means I sometimes get to these activities and do them because I feel I have to rather than because I want to. Surely it would make more sense to give myself the time and space I need so that I naturally turn to them when I do have a day off.
Anyone who knows me well will know that I have a love-hate relationship with technology (usually to their amusement as I work in social media and I write a blog as a hobby). I think technology can be fantastic and I love the way it makes information more readily available and connects us more easily. However I also think it has a lot to answer for the mental health crisis in young people and the constant pressure that most people feel under. How many people come home from looking at a screen at work all day, to looking at another screen at home? Something that I’ve noticed about my use of technology is related to the amount of content that’s available online. Quite often I’ll see a news article that catches my eye, or a blog post I want to read, but rather than reading it there and then (because I feel like I don’t have time), I save it for later.
This means I currently have a bank of over 50 saved items on Facebook alone that I’ve somehow convinced myself I’ll go back to. I want to read them, and I fully intend to, but because of the sheer amount there is available online that I’d like to read, I add more to this list than I take away. This means I have yet another to-do list (more of a to-read list) on the go, so when I do have time to sit down and read a few it once again feels like a chore, or a race to get through as many as I can in the time available, rather than something enjoyable.
Things I’m trying to take time off
I’m very aware that a lot of the time I continue to do things even though I’ve realised they might not be the best idea, because sometimes it’s easier to continue with what you are used to rather than break a habit. However there are a few things that I’m trying to do (and a lot more that I intend to do!) to give myself some more time off:
- Having a bath. Recently I’ve started having baths more frequently and have found that this is a good way of relaxing (surprise, surprise). It means I can’t use a screen and I’m forced to spend some time not particularly doing a lot – which is lovely!
- Using my phone less. Because I’ve decided that technology has a lot to answer for, I’m trying to use my phone less, especially before bed. Rather than mindlessly scroll through a social media feed, I can turn it off and read part of a book instead.
- Blocking out time in my diary. I haven’t started this yet but a friend suggested it and James and I are both keen to try it next year. By forcing ourselves to have at least one weekend a month with no plans, hopefully we’ll have more time to do things spontaneously, or work on little creative projects that we want to do (or maybe finally get round to finishing buying furniture for our flat…).
Earlier this year I felt like I had no social life, but I also had very little energy to sustain one. Now I seem to be busy a lot of the time which makes me feel more motivated and like I have more energy to do the things I want to. However, I still don’t think I have the balance right and wanted to talk about it, which is the reason for this long and rambling post. Now I’d like to hear from you. Do you have any recommendations? What do you do to slow down?
When did you last take time off?
I definitely feel this too! Normally I alternate between not planning much and feeling bored then planning too much and feeling overwhelmed. Going back to uni has thrown an extra level of craziness into the schedule but it has made me better at saying no to things and accepting that I need to stop sometimes, actually having a fixed schedule and term times has made it easier to plan. Fingers crossed I can keep some of that up when I finish.
I really need to learn to get better at saying no to things, and also to stop feeling obligated to make plans with people if I am free. I hope that you manage to keep it up when you finish and that you aren’t too exhausted with everything you’re doing!