Portrait of male resting at home on his couchThe weekend gives most of us the chance to downshift and recharge. But how often do we seize on it to catch up or get ahead on our work instead? Slow down and imagine what could happen if we resisted the temptation.

If you’re driven like I am, you have more projects than time. It’s easy to think of downtime as simply another opportunity to get more things done. But downtime is crucial, and there’s more evidence every day that it’s essential to our productivity and wellbeing.

A “symphonic life”, like we discussed before, doesn’t allow work to dominate. It takes advantage of natural times to blow off work and rejuvenate. Here are three reasons to unplug this weekend.

1. We Need to Play

When researching people who demonstrated deep joy and life satisfaction, Brené Brown found that they “fool around a lot”. In other words, happy people play.

It’s easy to disregard playing as trivial, especially when there are so many “serious” things we need to do: problems to solve, deadlines to meet, tasks to finish. But play actually help us with all these things. It’s rejuvenating and stimulates our creativity.

“Play nurtures a supple mind, a willingness to think in new categories, and an ability to make unexpected associations” says Virginia Postrel after reviewing some of the growing research on the importance of play. “The spirit of play not only encourages problem solving but, through novel analogies, fosters originality and clarity.”

“Nothing lights up the brain like play” says researcher Stuart Brown, and it’s worth watching his TED Talk on the topic.

Play also helps us pop the stress balloon. Greg McKeown talks about this in Essentialism. Maybe that’s a “duh” for most of you, but I forget it pretty easily. Then I end up goofing around with my dog, Charlie Brown, for an hour and get up feeling like a new man. Just a brief time playing makes a big difference in my energy level and how I see the world.

2. We Need to Rest

We’ve talked a lot about sleep here recently. A couple of weeks ago I read that Yahoo’s CEO missed a high-power advertising meeting because she fell asleep before the event and kept people waiting nearly two hours.

The strange thing is that most of the coverage I read said nothing about how little sleep she brags about getting, just four to six hours a night. She defends working 80 hours a week by saying she gets enough vacations.

Apparently not.

Can we stop this already – this culture that values accomplishment at the cost of basic human needs like sleep? People have been sleeping since the beginning of time, and yet we think we can go without it. Isn’t it bizarre? We wouldn’t do that with food or water, but sleep is just as essential.

So close the laptop and take a nap. Or go to bed early. Or get up late. Don’t set the alarm. Just rest.

3. We Need Time with Our Thoughts

Now for the hard one. How often do you daydream or even allow yourself to get bored? This is a major struggle for me. It’s far too easy to scan Twitter or Facebook, flip through Netflix, or catch up on my RSS feeds. If I’m unoccupied I feel guilty. But it turns out there’s a lot of value in letting our minds just wander.

Daniel Goleman calls this “open awareness” and says when our minds wander we’re free to:

  • constructively envision our future – essential for planning and goal setting
  • reflect on our thoughts and actions – central to living intentionally
  • make fresh and creative associations between ideas – key to problem solving

I often feel unproductive in these moments. But that’s the point. Our brains aren’t designed to go nonstop. When we drop things into neutral ideas flow on their own, memories sort themselves out, and we give ourselves a chance to rest.

If you read music at all, you are familiar with the various notations that signal rest. The marks on the sheet music tell the musician when to stop. The weekend is a signal to rest, and the symphonic life is one that pays attention to the signals.

Do you cheat your rejuvenation by trying to cram in more work into the weekends? What could happen for your creativity, energy, and attitude if you took the time your body needs to rest?


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