Summertime means warm weather, enjoying the outdoors and time with friends and family. It's a chance to stop, slow down and hopefully explore our interests during those long, slow summer days. Still, too many of us are so hopped up on productivity juice that we're off to summer school, taking extra jobs, or prepping for autumn.
Stop that: It's important to keep the "holiday" in "summer holiday".
Photo by elenabsi (Shutterstock).
If you're in school, summer seems like valuable time away from classes to pick up a part-time job, or prep for next semester or university. That's all great, but it's just as important to make space for yourself, and since summer is so traditionally associated with creativity and holidays, it's a natural time.
Why Downtime Is So Important
We all need boredom and downtime in our lives. Downtime gives you the opportunity to explore your own interests instead of pushing yourself to work on the things you're "supposed to do", and boredom lets your brain process the things you've learned and events you've experienced.
It's essential for creativity, too: keeping a packed schedule that never lets up never gives you room to stop, think and come up with your own ideas and solutions to problems.
One study conducted by the University of Limerick suggested that while boredom can make you feel directionless, it simultaneously encourages you to seek out more meaningful activities - especially around other people.
Daydreaming and wistfully letting your mind wander also plays an important role in developing focus and long-term mental performance, according to this study published in The Journal of Neuroscience. Of course, when we talk about downtime, we're usually talking about breaks at work, or a short relief from work.
Maybe a few days off, or a long weekend. That's great, but it's also important to take longer breaks when you can get them.
Summer Is Especially Important for Creativity
When I was in university, one of my old tutors used to remind me to take some time away from academics and extracurriculars during the summer. I would try to explain that I wanted to get a jump start on my studies, but he responded that summer is the perfect season for "rearranging the furniture of the mind", and even if I did study, I should make time specifically to not do anything.
He explained that creative minds across generations like Tennyson, Keats, Bronte, Dickinson and Shakespeare all wax rhapsodic about the rejuvenating beauty of summer, and how it's a special time of year for developing your creativity.
You might remember how summer used to feel when you were a kid: Full of possibilities and a seemingly endless amount of time to do whatever you wanted. If you have kids, try to encourage that same feeling in them, even if you feel like you're supposed to use the time to "give them a head start on their peers".
If you miss those days yourself, recapture some of it by building your own summer manifesto; or a simple, short list of things you want to do this summer; or the steps you can take to make your daily life feel like a holiday.
The goals on your list can be as broad as "relax more" or as specific as "drink mint juleps on the porch on hot days". As long as they're actionable, specific things you can do and look back at having enjoyed, then you're in good shape. They should also encourage you to take time out for yourself. In short, they should be activities that you enjoy and enrich you emotionally. Think of the books you'd like to read, or bands you'd like to see. Perhaps you want to travel, or see a museum you've never visited.
Maybe you just want to reconnect with old friends. The only important thing is that your manifesto shouldn't include work, or pet "productivity" projects, even if you enjoy them on some level. The whole point is to take time to broaden your horizons and give your brain some free time, even if you have to plan to do it.
Yes, It's Harder Than It Sounds
I know I'm making this sound easy here. Many people need the downtime and long hours that summer brings to actually accomplish things. Maybe you need that part-time job to make ends meet. It's easy to assume this kind of advice is for office workers with weeks of leave granted to them by their cushy employers, but it's not.
The key isn't to take weeks off and sun yourself on a beach in Bali (although if that's your thing, more power to you) but to carve out some time for purposeful, deliberate relaxation and empty-mindedness.
The big difference is that instead of striving for relaxation alone, or for singleminded focus, taking downtime in the summer gives you the unique opportunity to capitalise on all the wonderful connotations that summer has.
You also get the chance to explore and discover new interests that you wouldn't be willing or able to at any other time of the year. After all, most workplaces generally understand that with summer comes people taking holidays, and odds are that no matter where you live, your community is busy planning outdoor activities, community events, free movies and other ways for people to get out, get together and communally relax.
Even if you can't think of goals for your manifesto, one of them may be "go with the flow" and enjoy the opportunities that arise in your community.
Even if you are stuck working or you have to get ahead on your studies, carve out some time for yourself to do nothing and explore your personal interests. You'll feel refreshed and more engaged when it comes time to jump back to school, go back to work, or pick up your own projects where you left off.
We're also willing to bet you'll be happier for having a memorable summer under your belt.