To stop from mindlessly scrolling through my phone when I’m not busy, I look for productive downtime activities that actually rejuvenate me. If I use time off to regenerate instead of zoning out, it becomes a lot easier for me to do good work when it’s time to.

Productive Downtime Activities

Original photo by Nathan Dumlao
I won’t lie and say that I never get sucked into Instagram, or that I don’t enjoy a good Netflix binge. But I will say that neither of those activities are particularly helpful when it comes to relaxing. I mentioned in my last post that I’m trying to become more mindful, so if I want to use Instagram or Netflix, I need to do it with intention. And when you do that, it opens up your time for more productive downtime activities.

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And, because I know you’re super stressed out with your day job and creative projects, I thought I would share my tips for productive downtime activities.

Productive Downtime Activities

001: Avoid Screens.

I think social media, Netflix, or YouTube can be a good activity during your breaks. But I also know that I spend way too much time in front of a computer at my day job to want to be in front of another screen during my off hours. And I’ve noticed that by avoiding screens in my off time, I feel a lot more balanced.

Some of my favorite non-screen time activities are working out, taking Rosie for walks, reading, or sitting quietly with a hot beverage. Holding a steaming tea mug in your hands while you stare off into the middle distance is a really good way to slow down and just chill. Bonus points if you use the time that your mug is cooling for meditation.

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002: Don’t Mentally Check Out.

I really struggle with mindfulness because I spend so much energy trying to autopilot other things, and I know that if I just shut my brain down at the end of the day and zone out, it’s too hard to come back to a place of mindfulness. So I like to have downtime activities where I can be 100% present in that moment. And if I pick something that’s different than what I’ve been working on all day, it definitely makes it feel like a break.

Making a meal is great for this. So is yoga. Just the act of moving my body in a way that I haven’t been moving it, or using my brain in a way that I haven’t been using it is a great way to reset. Listening to music often gives me this experience, but mostly because I don’t spend a lot of time listening to music during the day. I’m one of those weirdoes who can’t function when music is playing because it’s distracting. But I like to just sit and listen to music to unwind.

003: Embrace the Quiet.

Perhaps my number one life goal right now is to get a house with a great back porch. I want to wake up each morning and drink my coffee out there. I used to be the type of person who lived for watching CBS This Morning as I got ready for the day. But over the past two years, I’ve stopped watching TV or listening to NPR in the mornings. Sure, I feel like an ostrich with my head in the sand, but damn. I feel so much more balanced.

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And I think it’s because I like to do small quiet activities instead that I feel balanced. So while sitting quietly with a cup of coffee is a great way to start the day, it’s also just a great way to live in general. So if you find yourself with a moment where you can embrace the quiet in the middle of a busy day, take it. It’s the best thing I do in my downtime.

004: Alone is Best.

I’m an introvert who also happens to have right around 100 students every semester. This means I do a lot of interacting and question answering, so when I get some time to chill, I like to spend it alone. I’m also not the type of person who needs to process ideas or emotions with someone else. I prefer to just make my choice and go about my way. For this reason, my productive downtime is usually alone.

Whether I’m taking time to journal or sitting on my couch with a mug of tea, I like to have some quiet time to myself every day. I don’t always get it because sometimes you go from work to meetings to birthday dinners to whatever else falls on your agenda. But when I get to choose my downtime, I’m going it alone.

005: Find Ways to Keep Your Hands Busy.

I’m definitely an anxious person. I’ve bitten my nails ever since I’ve had teeth. I tend to eat or drink compulsively just to give me something to do. If I have a day off, I’ll fill it with the biggest to do list you’ve ever seen. And I do this because I feel like I can’t sit still. While I know that this is something that can’t be cured immediately, I am working on it. And the best thing I’ve found to do for this is to keep my hands busy with healthy things.

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I’m a fan of friendship bracelets, and have been ever since like the second grade. You know how you’d spend hours on the playground braiding embroidery floss? I do that now, as a 32-year-old adult, and I do it because it allows me to sit quietly and just think. With my hands occupied, I can relax without feeling like I need to compulsively eat or bite my nails.

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How Do You Unwind?

While all these tips are helpful for me, I’d love to know what helps you have productive downtime. What helps you chill out when you want to take a break? Do you like quiet alone time? Or are you the type who needs loud noises and lots of people?

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