The importance of down time

Here at Thoughts on Translation, I’ve been working on a loosely organized series of posts inspired by summer. A few weeks ago I wrote about ways to handle summer as a freelancing mom or dad; now let’s talk about the importance of down time in our freelance lives.

In the not-so-distant past (I’m 38 and I can remember this), we didn’t really have to schedule or even think about down time because there were many fewer technological intrusions into our lives. For example, I was in high school when my family first purchased an answering machine and in college before I ever used e-mail. I even remember going to visit family friends in Canada who still had party line telephone service in the 1980s.

With all of our 21st century opportunities to be working/on call/plugged in at all times, it’s important to think about the importance of down time and how to schedule it so that our businesses remain viable but we don’t burn out. Here are a few suggestions, and feel free to add your own!

  • Allow yourself to exclude certain types of technology from your life. After a lot of thought, I’ve decided that I just don’t want a smartphone, largely because the boundaries between my personal and work life are already so blurred. I respect (and even agree with) the reasons that people have and love smartphones, but I’m sticking with my prepaid cell phone that just makes phone calls.
  • Schedule down time in various increments. For example, I think that most people need at least an hour of mental down time a day. In fact, I think that an unplugged hour can actually increase a freelancer’s productivity. Likewise, I think that one fully unplugged day a week is really beneficial. Here’s an interesting New York Times article on the concept of a “secular Sabbath,” in which the writer unplugs completely for one day a week; and if a die-hard New Yorker can do it, I bet you can too!
  • If you can manage it financially, take at least one week of unplugged vacation time each year. For example, we took a family camping trip for a week at the beginning of this summer, and I made a deliberate decision not to take a laptop and to only turn my cell phone on once a day to check my work voice mail. In past years, I’ve gone as long as two weeks without checking e-mail at all. If you’re going to do this, I think it’s important to accept that there will be some opportunity cost; clients are not going to wait two weeks to hear back about their rush project. However, I find that this time to focus completely on my family is so valuable that it’s worth the loss of income.
  • Spend at least some of your down time doing simple activities that you enjoy. It’s debatable whether down time is good for you if you spend the whole time trying not to think about who you want to be calling or texting or who might have e-mailed you. Instead, let yourself enjoy the kinds of activities that people did before the advent of high-speed Internet. Grow some of your own food; bike or walk somewhere that you would normally drive; sleep late or go to bed early; write a real paper letter to someone you care about; read magazines at the library for a couple of hours; find a nice patch of grass and just lie on it and look at the sky!

I really love the point that this article makes (it’s from the journal Science). The author, Irene Levine, closes by saying “Consider how many of your most creative thoughts occur not in front of a computer screen or at the bench but while you are showering, golfing, lying in bed, or taking a jog in the park?” Don’t you think she’s right? So this summer, make sure that you get some time away from work so that you can start the fall feeling rested and recharged!

4 Responses to “The importance of down time”
  1. Kevin Lossner July 9, 2010
    • Corinne McKay July 9, 2010
  2. Karen Tkaczyk July 16, 2010
  3. Ron McCoy August 28, 2010

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