Tips for Tapping into Your Body for Heightened Productivity—Taking Time Off
Last week I took a break from this blog series of tips for listening to your body (instead of capitalist prerogatives) for developing a stronger relationship to your creativity and productivity. Instead I wrote about not wanting to write, not wanting to push through, on the anniversary of my mother’s death. Really, it was a post on the same topic, but it was the act of living it, rather than proselytizing on it.
TIP # 2. Take Time Off
When I was a kid, I used to sit and do nothing but stare out a window every day. For minutes or hours or sometimes damn near a whole day. Just stare. Let my mind wander. Daydream.
In college, I lived with several roommates in one floor of a house, with a bay window in a corner of the living room. I put an orange, spinning lazy-boy thrift store chair in that corner and every day when I got home from class I would sit there, for an indeterminate amount of time, before I started my homework or anything else. I would stare at the street below, the parade of humans and cars passing, the buildings and school in one direction, the mountains clawing up in the other.
Once, one of my more, shall we say, energetic, roommates stormed into our living room. “I just made dinner, put away dishes, swept and mopped the kitchen—and you’re still just sitting here?!” (To be fair, sweeping and mopping were her chosen house chores, mine was taking out the trash, which I’m sure I did, at some point. Also to be fair she is still my best friend and she does get a lot of shit done.)
“Yes,” I replied. “And I’m not done yet.”
But as I got older, after I had a child and went to grad school and started teaching and started a business, I internalized a voice (much like her voice), about how I had to be doing, had to be productive, at all times.
Yes, I have more responsibility, I’m an adult, I have a child who depends almost entirely on me, I have so much I have to and want to do… And yet, this ideal of constant productivity has not served me well. If anything, it’s led me to be a more frazzled, disconnected, less productive mom and writer.
And what I’ve come (back) to lately, is how important it is to remember (to literally RE-member our bodies and minds to the truth) that creativity, that making anything, is a process, and all processes require both composition and decomposition, both creation and destruction, time for growing and time for composting. A time for readying the soil.
We demonize and devalue downtime in Western culture, especially in the US—despite the fact that research shows that people who take vacations have higher rates of promotion, and that disconnecting from work (and devices), and daydreaming or being idle creates more alpha waves in our brain, key to creativity and innovation.
We don’t put near enough emphasis or attention on how time off, downtime, putting the project aside, daydreaming, vacationing and playing are vital parts of producing anything. Nothing grows without them. And yet we get so hard on ourselves when we need a break, when we need time off.
It’s been a process of its own to discover (recover) my own validation and appreciation for downtime. For hours and days and weeks off. For vacations and breaks and time at the window. I have been in a quest in the last year or so, to get back to that intuitive part of myself, that part that recognized and just knew that I needed time doing nothing. That understood that one of the most crucial requirements for my creative productivity is a comfy chair by a window. (Bonus points if it’s orange and it spins).
If you need it, here is some permission: go sit by the window for a while. Don’t do anything else. Just sit. And maybe spin your chair every so often.