The way we work has evolved over the years. It wasn’t until late 1938 that the Fair Labor and Standards Act was passed and put into effect, which put into law a 40-hour maximum workweek. Thanks to this act and pioneers like Henry Ford who instituted the shorter workweek in 1926 before it was law, we have as much downtime as we do now – even if it doesn’t feel like enough. Downtime when people can allow themselves time for leisure activities is crucial, not only for their personal well being but also for overall productivity.
When CNN explored the relationship between leisure time and productivity, they found that when people are “idle, in leisure” they are able to be most creative and therefore more productive. Based on this insight, economists and theorists have long predicted that the amount of time spent working will continue to decrease and that leisure time will increase.
Economist John Keynes even predicted that everyone would have a 15-hour workweek by 2030. Despite his prediction, many people still have very limited time for leisure, which makes it even more important to work it in when we can.
Even if you are one of those with very little precious leisure time, there are several things that you can do to help ensure that you work it into your schedule and that you do so effectively.
Make it a Priority
The first step is to acknowledge that leisure time is important and worthy of being a priority alongside the other priorities in your life. It is simply too easy to get into the habit of viewing leisure time as wasted time when in reality it is crucial to productivity.
If your life is all about work and the next thing you need to get done, it is difficult to stay motivated; and low motivation is a huge drain on productivity. Leisure time also allows your brain to wander and new connections are made. Solutions to longstanding problems are liable to suddenly come to mind when you allow your mind to wander and see things in a new light.
Schedule Routine Leisure Time
Whether you schedule 20 minutes into your daily morning routine to play a game or take an hour every day after work to swim laps, it is a good idea to make taking time for leisure a habit. Once leisure time is a habit, it is likely that it will remain a consistent part of your life.
If leisure time is pre-scheduled, you are more likely to actually take that time for leisure. There is almost always something more that you can work on when you finish a task, so leaving leisure time for when you find free time is often unrealistic.
Take Advantage of Unavoidable Downtime
If you examine your average day, you may be surprised how often you are able to work in a leisure activity that you enjoy. You can listen to an audiobook while you blow dry your hair or play a game on your phone while on your daily commute.
A good trick is to always have something that you could do on hand if you find yourself in a situation with some unplanned downtime. You can carry a book of Sudoku puzzles in your briefcase or a book in your purse, and that way surprise leisure time will not go to waste.
Avoid Wasting Time
Just as it is a good idea to be prepared for unplanned downtime, it is also a good idea to be prepared for planned downtime. If you know that you have some time at the end of every day that you can dedicate to leisure time, try thinking of something that you would like to do in advance.
If you always simply leave that time open to do whatever you feel like at the time, you may find that you are more likely to veg out in front of the tv or engage in some other activity that doesn’t leave you fulfilled and mentally more refreshed.
That isn’t to say that watching tv isn’t a good leisure activity – but rather it is better to be sure that the time is spent watching something you enjoy instead of whatever is available. Of course, planning out every minute of your day can have a draining effect on its own, so it is important to find a good balance.