Why You Should Plan To Have Downtime Everyday And Make The Most Of It
Relentlessly devoting as much of your day as possible to working or studying grew common in Malaysia during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, such hustle rhapsody is bringing unnecessary harm. Some students are becoming anxious and depressed from spending too much time online with classes. Employees are stressed because of extensive work from home hours. Long story short, humans are not wired to concentrate for hours on end. In fact, we are actually likely to be more productive if we plan to have our downtimes each day.
Why Schedule Your Downtime?
The planned downtime we’re talking about shares almost the same concept as what IT departments regularly conduct. Machines, servers or computer networks are shut down for a certain period of time to allow maintenance and upgrades. This ensures the equipment runs optimally at all times without unexpectedly malfunctioning.
The human version of downtime has similar benefits too, including:
1. Preventing burning out.
In the AIA Vitality 2019 Survey, 17% of Malaysian employees reported that they felt tired every single day. Yet 20% of them cannot decide when to take a break. Such a combination of excessive stress and mental exhaustion can negatively affect your physical health, thus increasing your risk for early mortality.
2. Restoring your focus.
Working non-stop can take a toll on your cognition, causing mental fatigue and becoming distracted easily. Brief diversions from a task can dramatically improve one’s ability to pay attention to a task for prolonged periods. As a result, you will accomplish more in terms of quantity and even quality.
3. Helping you make better decisions.
It is unsurprising that decision-making may get affected since it uses the thinking part of our brain — the prefrontal cortex (PFC). The PFC uses willpower to override impulses. For example, in a famous study, Israeli judges were more likely to grant parole to prisoners after coming back from food breaks. If they continuously worked, the judges would often go with the safest choice: just say no. Meaning to say, you think clearer and better when you have enough rest.
4. Helping you take better care of your eyes.
Most of us work and/or study using computers and tablets, but too much screen time could ruin your eyesight. Besides feeling them becoming dry and strained, the blue light emitted can damage light-sensitive cells in the retina. This can lead to early age-related macular degeneration, hurting your eyes.
How Long Should Downtime Be?
Different researchers have different opinions on how long should downtime be:
- The United States Army research institute found that ultradian rhythms have 90-minute cycles. So, you are recommended to take a break every 90 minutes.
- Some argue that the Pomodoro Technique works best. Using this method, you break your workday into 25-minute chunks separated by 5 or 10-minute breaks. After completing 4 of such sets (equivalent to 90 minutes), one should take a 15-30 minute break.
- A study conducted by the University of Illinois suggests taking a break once every hour.
Do take note that the frequency of your downtime also depends on what you’re doing. Graphic designing differs from emailing, which also differs from writing. Nonetheless, the rule of thumb when planning your downtime is that it should give you enough time to return to work feeling refreshed and energised.
How To Make Your Downtime Count?
When thinking of how to spend your downtime, don’t confuse it with “task-switching”. The goal here is to not stretch your brain’s abilities anymore. You want to avoid keeping your PFC up and running, so here are some ideas about what you could do instead.
1. Get physical.
We sit most of the time for anything. Some may even spend hours without ever leaving their seat, but sitting too much can produce various health problems ranging from obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure to anxiety. It also places a lot of pressure on our neck and spine, leading to poor posture.
So get up and move for a minute or two. If you really want to feel the benefits of movement breaks, go for a walk around your neighbourhood, stretch or garden. Getting those household chores you’ve been procrastinating done also counts!
Rather than brushing off your sleepiness with a cup of coffee, a cosier alternative is to go take a good nap. Catching some Zs can restore your alertness, enhance performance, and improve your overall mood.
However, don’t nap longer than you should because it can lead to sleep inertia and nighttime sleeping problems. The best nap lengths for adults are 20 (to prevent entering deeper stages of sleep) or 90 minutes (to complete one full sleep cycle).
3. Stay off social media and your phone.
Resist the urge to scroll through Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. These platforms only further increase stress and anxiety. Plus, your brain will still need to process information and visuals appearing on your social media feed. Given the bad news now constantly surfacing online, you might also end up doomscrolling instead. So best to put your phone on silent mode, turn off your desktop notifications and set all your devices aside during your downtime.
4. Grab a snack.
Our brains run better when our body isn’t starving. So refuelling yourself with some healthy calories would be helpful too. Some snacks you can munch on include almonds, dried fruit, protein bars and bananas. Coffee is great too because it can jolt you back into action with its caffeine, but be sure to consume it in the right amount.
Downtime Isn’t For Wimps.
In a 24/7/365 “on” world, it might be hard to carve out space for downtime. Though because of how demanding and fast-paced the world has become, it is necessary for us to cultivate discipline for downtime. Just know that taking a step back from work for a while will do you and anyone more good than harm. So, remember to schedule downtime into your life as you plan out your calendar.
For further reading, check out this article on how to maximize your downtime at work.