How to make the most of your downtime

How to make the most of your downtime

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The coronavirus pandemic has completely changed the way we work and interact with people on a daily basis. It has created new challenges, especially regarding finding an appropriate work-life balance. Heleen Brinkman, from Woman What’s Up, explains why we should take full advantage of our downtime and spend a little time just doing nothing.

Tough times

COVID-19 changed our lives in a major way: we had to find a new balance when everything we took for granted fell away. Working from home became the new "normal," which had - and still has - considerable implications on many aspects of our lives. The boundaries between professional and private lives dissolved. If we wanted to, we could work in our pyjamas. We had to hush up the kids during online meetings (which didn’t always work). On plenty of occasions, housemates or pets would come in full screen asking for your attention.

How can you stay focused and get the work done in these trying circumstances? How do you stay motivated in the job when you haven’t seen your boss or colleagues in person for months on end? How can you deal with the anxiety of not knowing when you’ll be able to see your family again? And how can you find meaning when you’re cut short of social and fun interactions? These tough times are challenging, yet offer great opportunities.

Make the best of your downtime

That’s where downtime comes in! Some may have experienced way too much downtime, others none at all. Commuting to and from work used to be a daily dose of downtime. On route, you can’t do much except ponder the day ahead or the day spent. That reflection, that synching of mind, feelings and physical reactions, is crucial to our well-being. A study published recently in the Lancet has shown that “people without depressive, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorders showed a greater increase in symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic."

Don't feel guilty!

Women, in particular, seem to have a tendency to feel guilty about almost anything - including "doing nothing." Immediately thoughts such as "people will think I’m lazy," "there’s so much to do, I can’t afford to take a break now," or "I’ll take care of myself when all the work is done" will keep you on in the busy mode. That only leads to more stress, less joy, and deprivation of motivation, sleep and energy. Somehow we have become addicted to doing: it gives us a brief sense of meaning. As with any addiction, it needs to be fed with more doing, repeatedly. Guilt, disguised as a great sense of responsibility, holds you in that hamster wheel.

From doing to being

One way to step out of the hamster wheel is to go against your habit of incessant doing: a few times a day do nothing, be idle, pause. Quitting a habit can be scary. Suddenly a void is looming: help, what am I supposed to do with that? Nothing! Let go of doing and things will unfold. The reflection process will start. Just breathe and let it happen. Just be.

Five reasons to do more of nothing

Including moments of nothing in your busy day increases your well-being. Here are five reasons why you should start as of tomorrow:

1. To stay focussed. It sounds contradictory, but doing nothing creates focus. Compare it to sports: the day before a match, the sportsperson relaxes. All the training has been done, all muscles in the body know what to do when the match is due. Relaxation is essential to be able to perform to the utmost. That goes for you and your mind as well. Your productivity increases when you take regular breaks.

2. To be a pleasant person to be around. Burning the midnight oil is not only hard on yourself, but on the ones in your immediate surroundings too. Although it’s only human to lash out at your children and partner when you’re stressed, that’s likely not the kind of person you would like to be. When you allow yourself a break and take a couple of deep breaths, the tension in your body and mind immediately softens. People will notice.

3. To reconnect to yourself: getting in touch with your feelings and needs. Once you acknowledge your feelings and needs, it is easier to express them. This is actually what is meant by "taking good care of yourself." Expressing your feelings and needs opens the door to having your needs met. You will know what choices to make (i.e. choose what is in line with your feelings and needs). That gives tremendous joy and fulfilment in leading your life.

4. To be more creative. Being idle for a while activates the right side of your brain. That’s where creativity resides. Luminous ideas pop up, eureka’s happen when you’re staring out of the window or taking a bath.

5. To recharge your batteries. It works the same as a summer vacation: being away from the bustle is energising. Why not do that on a daily basis? Taking a walk in a park, staring at the clouds, or dancing to music just ten minutes a day will boost your energy and make you more productive.

Be the best version of yourself

The challenging times of the pandemic offer opportunities to balance your life and work in such a way that it fits you best. Taking breaks, taking time off to do nothing in particular is the flipside of productivity and focus. Both are needed. Here's to your well-being!

Heleen Brinkman is a former actor, communication trainer and coach with an embodied approach to leadership. As the founder of Women What’s Up she specialises in coaching international female professionals. Get in contact to find out what workshops or coaching courses might be best for you. 

Heleen Brinkman


Heleen Brinkman

Born in Singapore, spending her early childhood in Australia, she moved to the Netherlands at age 7. She understands the impact of being and feeling a foreigner. Her survival strategy...

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