How to Take Advantage of Downtime

Declan Wilson
Photo: Joshua Rawson-Harris/Unsplash

How many of us before this pandemic used to say, I’m too busy, I wish I had more downtime?

I know I said it. Every once and a while I wished for an occasional weekend alone to catch up on other things. Write that book. Create that course. Learn a thing or two.

Well, here it is folks. Mandatory downtime. It’s arrived and it’s not as pleasant as we expected.

Pre-pandemic, I tried to fill my downtime with constructive activities. I hated the feeling of doing nothing.

Post-pandemic, I now have too much time. What am I supposed to do with this downtime?

If you’re like me, an ambitious creative, complaining and lamenting do us no good.

We need to focus our anxious energy on “productive” activities — take advantage of these strange times and throw away our normal tendencies.

How do we take advantage of downtime? With a healthy dose of the following:

  • Two parts intentional consumption
  • One part unintentional creation

Why not an even 50/50 split between consumption and creation? And why the intentional versus unintentional thing? Let’s break this down.

Two Parts Intentional Consumption

If you are a creator like myself, sitting down to read or watch a movie is always accompanied by a twinge of guilt.

Now with all this downtime, we are free to kick back and consume to our heart’s content. However, we have to be careful.

Binge-watching Netflix, scrolling through our phones, flicking through the channels, these are all mindless forms of consumption. If you want to take advantage of this downtime you need to put in more effort.

That’s where the intentional part comes in. Intentional here means you’ve given some thought to what you want to consume. It also means you have an end goal in mind (ie. you’re seeking for inspiration, ideas, knowledge, etc.).

The purpose of intentional consumption is to carefully curate a “playlist” of material that is both educational and entertaining.

I say consume because it doesn’t have to be watching content. You could be reading books, reading blogs, listening to podcasts, listening to music, etc. Here are some practical ideas:

  • Pick one subject and do a deep dive. For me and my wife lately, it’s been cooking. We’ve watched Binging with Babish and Bon Appetit videos on YouTube. We’ve researched new recipes. We’ve even listened to a cooking podcast.
  • See what a digital library trove has to offer. Although most libraries are closed, digital libraries are still open. While there has been some controversy around this, many public libraries offer digital collections of their own.
  • Combine podcast time with chores. This isn’t a groundbreaking idea but some people forget how easy it is to combine chore-time with podcast-time. I know I love a good Reply All episode while washing the dishes.
  • Play the YouTube rabbit hole game. This is a slightly less intentional (more like intentional unintentionally) but still a fun way to explore a topic. Pick one video on YouTube then watch whatever the algorithm suggests next. This is how I learned The Sound of Music is based on a true story. (And the real story is even more harrowing.)

So what do I mean by two parts? Like I said before, consumption is usually accompanied by a sense of guilt. By giving yourself permission to consume more than you create, you’ll absorb new ideas and recharge during a time you’d otherwise be pushing yourself to create.

To put it plainly, go easy on yourself.

One Part Unintentional Creation

I’ve struggled in this area recently. I wake up early, grab some coffee, and sit at my desk. A blank screen stares back at me.

For whatever reason, I can’t quite flex those creative muscles. (Or is it let those creative juices flow? Have we collectively settled on a creative metaphor yet?)

So I closed my eyes and tried something different. No really, I closed my eyes and drew this:
Image by author

It’s a blind contour self-portrait. I put pen to paper, closed my eyes, and didn’t lift the pen back up until I thought I had a masterpiece (which I obviously nailed).

Pre-pandemic, everything I made was intentional. Every single piece of work was supposed to push me forward. Now there’s nowhere to go. So why bother?

Instead of carefully creating content, do some exploration. Try to make things you want to make. They don’t need to see the light of day, but every once and awhile you’ll surprise yourself.

Like this post about a chocolate chip cookie I wrote. I typically write about creativity and career advice, not about cookies.

Unlike the intentional consumption bit above, I don’t have a list of practical ideas. That would defeat the purpose.

During this downtime, give yourself the freedom to explore. Step away from what you're supposed to make and close your eyes instead. You’re in quarantine, who’s going to judge you?

Balancing Productivity and Self-Care

Since I left my full-time job back in 2017, I’ve grown accustomed to working from home.

However, it’s the slowness and the feeling of being boxed-in that I’ve struggled with the most. I want some semblance of freedom back. I know I’m not the only one struggling.

As long as you are staying safe and not dealing with medical emergencies, this downtime is the perfect opportunity to balance productivity and self-care. Better yet, this is the time to add self-care back into your routine.

I know in years past I’ve fallen victim to the hustle mentality. My self-worth was wrapped up in what I produced. But in the past year, I’ve dialed back, finding I’m much happier with a healthy balance of work, family, and creativity.

This downtime has reminded me that it’s okay, even necessary, to take time for yourself to recharge and discover new ideas. J.K. Rowling summed it up perfectly:

Take advantage of this time, if you can. Find some balance. Consume and create.

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Stay-at-home dad. 9-to-5 escapee. Aldi aficionado.

Baltimore, MD

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