As much as some people may find the idea of leisure time appealing in theory, when it comes down to stepping away from work and other personal and family obligations — even for a few hours — the thought of not being “productive” can be a source of stress.
Unfortunately, that defeats the whole purpose of having some downtime, so people who fall into this category may find themselves continuing to push through, even when they’re approaching (or beyond) the point of burnout. And the key to navigating this challenge is structuring — but not scheduling — leisure time. Here’s what to know.
How could having downtime stress people out?
A recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that thinking of relaxation or leisure time as a waste of your time can reduce happiness.
“While work can impart meaning and a sense of purpose in life, leisure, such as time with family and friends, hobbies and exercise, is what makes our lives happy and healthy,” Dr. Gabriela Tonietto, assistant professor of marketing at Rutgers Business School–Newark and New Brunswick and author of the study said in a press release.
But as it turns out, not everyone sees the value in doing something for enjoyment. “Many hold a general belief that these activities are an unproductive use of time — at the cost of their own happiness,” Tonietto explains. “We find that believing leisure is wasteful causes time spent on leisure to be less enjoyable.”
How to structure your downtime
Here’s where things can get tricky. Someone who finds it difficult to allow themselves some leisure time may then see the need to schedule every minute of an afternoon off or a weekend away to ensure that they are able to be as productive as possible with their downtime.
That may sound like a great idea at first, but no one needs the added stress of sticking to an agenda during a period where they’re supposed to be giving themselves a break. So, instead of a packed and rigid itinerary of nonstop activities, assess the amount of time you do have — whether it’s two hours, or two days — and consider what it is you truly enjoy doing.
Give yourself a few options for what might work in the time you have, and keep in mind that it doesn’t (and ideally shouldn’t) including accomplishing a specific goal in that time. For instance, if you love knitting, don’t set a challenge for yourself, like finishing a scarf in a particular amount of time.
Or let’s say you have a morning off. Maybe you want to start the day with some light stretching, followed by a cup of coffee while sitting outside, and you wouldn’t mind reading some of that book you love but never have time for. That’s great, and you can definitely do those things, but don’t feel the need to stick to a schedule. And if you don’t get to the book (or stretching), no harm done — it’s your time off.