The Importance of Downtime: What It Should Look Like and How to Find It

In this day of the over-scheduled, overworked average American, it sometimes seems like a luxury to have downtime.  With our calendars bursting, work and family obligations looming over us, who has time to consider downtime? Maybe on vacation, you dream, but that might only amount to a week...and how many months from now?  Downtime is not a luxury. Nor is it selfishness or laziness. Downtime is not something we schedule during a once-a-year vacation. Downtime offers both physical and psychological benefits that we need to attend to now.  Here are some factors about the importance of downtime -what it should look like and how to find it.

Physical or psychological benefits of downtime

Downtime is actually a critical component for our physical health, our brain health, and our optimal brain function.  Without downtime, we are not allowing ourselves to be our best selves, to quiet our minds enough to process complex information deeply, to make important decisions in a less stressed and methodical way.

Ferris Jabr wrote in Scientific America that a growing body of research shows, “Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life.  A wandering mind unsticks us in time so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future.” Jabr goes on to report that parts of the brain are actually more active (as tested with MRI) during periods of relaxation and daydreaming than when engaged in a mental challenge.  Have you ever had a brilliant idea or sorted out a solution to a difficult problem while you were daydreaming in the shower?  Yes? Then you have experienced the benefit of downtime.

Meditation for restorative downtime

One good option for restorative downtime is meditation. It may be hard to comprehend meditating at work, but there are meditation techniques that you can do almost anywhere and only take a few moments to reap the stress-reducing, mind-clearing benefits.  Here’s just one example from

 Zen Meditation:

Make sure that your back is upright and straight

Focus on the ground in front of you

Keep your mouth closed tight

Breathe through your nose

Take slow, steady breaths

Clear your thoughts, focusing only on your breath.

 Time in the Great Outdoors

Various research points to the long list of physical and psychological health benefits of spending time outside: lower stress, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and blood pressure; improved short-term memory and focus.  Put on those walking shoes at lunch or plan a park outing this weekend.


Some researchers state that we are physiologically pre-disposed to nap between 2-4 pm, like our ancestors did throughout much of history.  Instead of relying on that cup of coffee to perk up during the dead zone of late afternoon, try a 10-20 minute power nap to re-charge.

Small breaks throughout the day

Even just a few minutes of downtime sprinkled throughout your day--eyes closed, deep breathing, stretching, short walk—can improve your work and outlook.

Taking a vacation

Time truly away from work in a new environment is very restorative to the body and brain and pays dividends back in the office, with more productivity, creativity, and higher job satisfaction. One week a year is not enough. Ideally, in addition to that week off, a few shorter periods off, a day or so off during the week periodically during the year, and no work at home in the evenings would collectively allow workers to be more refreshed and work optimally.

How can I achieve more downtime? Here are several ways and suggestions to help you carve out some downtime during your day.

Set an Alarm

Set an hourly alarm to remind you to pause for 1-2 minutes to breathe deeply, say an affirmative statement, stretch.

Schedule an appointment

Use that smartphone of yours to schedule an appointment to get outside into some greenspace.  Having it hit your calendar might make you more likely to follow through.

Chat it up at the office

Maybe some enlightened conversations with your boss or HR staff (backed up by the research) could bring about a change in the office culture to support downtime as a vehicle for a less stressed, more productive and creative workforce.  

Technology as a tool

With the help of modern conveniences that streamline or simplify daily routines and tasks, you will be more likely to include downtime in your day.  The iStratus Day Planner app can equip you to manage the craziness of multiple calendars, to schedule recurring tasks at odd intervals, to access sensitive/secure documents and a password vault, and generate PDFs....all while you’re on the go.  With the power to move more efficiently and productively through your day, you’ll have more time to relax and let your mind wander, help mind and body restore, process the events of the day, and become rejuvenated for the next challenge.   Downtime—not a luxury, but a Must Do to be your best you.

Phil Matrone