This summer I did something I rarely do.
I decided to take some time for myself.
I didn’t necessarily take time off, but I did allow myself some leeway to focus on things outside of work.
I had been burning the candle at both ends for so many years, the mere idea of actually taking time away from the office gave me a queasy feeling. It wasn’t until someone said to me, “Dottie, you need take a beat. Give yourself a break,” that I realized I was paying a very high price for my unstoppable drive and fierce determination. My energy was shot. My focus was spread thin and no matter how many times I told myself I could plough through, the reality was, I was drained.
I have been building a new home in the Hamptons for close to 2 years and thought taking some time over the summer might give me the opportunity to oversee the final stages of construction. Hardly taking time off, I know, but at least I was still doing something I enjoy. Besides, I had ignored the project for so long, it had gone way over budget and had taken much longer than I’d anticipated.
Real estate is the center of my universe.
I eat, sleep and breathe it every day. I do it with purpose and passion because I love what I do.
What I was not very good at was allowing ample time for myself--striking a healthy balance between family, work, health and well-being. I am an all in kind of gal. When I do something, I fully commit. So against every ounce of my fiber, I gave in to this concept of taking some downtime and spent my summer managing my construction project, spinning at Soul Cycle, seeing friends and reconnecting with them and myself.
Many of us find it hard to take downtime. The idea of leaving work at the office, stepping away for a period and focusing on yourself seemed impossible in this over connected world of smartphones, laptops, and global communications that are always on. We fear turning off our devices just in case that big deal closes, a client needs us or there’s a crisis that calls for our attention. Believe me, I know how that feels. But creating a greater balance between work and time off — spending quality time with family and friends, getting outside to connect with nature actually has benefits for increasing productivity, creativity, and wellness.
It’s easy to put our heads down and charge through tasks, thinking we have no time for days off, free evenings, or weeklong vacations. But driving too hard without breaks can make us less productive and less focused. Even brief periods of downtime, like afternoon naps, can restore focus and energy. Taking the time to get out of the details and view of the larger picture can also help us better understand the purpose and priority of our task.
3M is one of the most innovative companies in history, and to feed their innovation engine, the company introduced “15% time” back in 1948 — giving employees 15% downtime to pursue their own projects, a practice that has since been replicated at companies like Google.
Finally, downtime can dramatically improve mental and physical health and our personal relationships. One study, for example, found that employees who unplugged and took time off reduced serious health issues like coronary heart disease. Victor Lipman has written in Forbes that exercising midday can help to reduce workplace stress and just six minutes of reading a day can reduce stress by 68%.
It took some getting used to, but by the end of the summer I noticed people were telling me how good I looked. They were asking me what was different? Why was I radiating? That’s when I realized the upside to downtime. I felt great. Renewed. Rejuvenated. And it showed.
It can be hard to carve out space for downtime in a 24/7 world. But it’s precisely this chaos that calls for us to be more vigilant than ever about cultivating the discipline to give ourselves downtime when the moment calls for it. Just as it’s healthy to focus at work, it’s essential to occasionally leave work behind and make space for life.