Why taking time off is one of the most productive things you can do

A Spanish Balcony

The villa was in darkness when we first arrived. I stood next to the swimming pool looking out on the lights of town spread out below me. I could smell jasmine in the warm night air, and behind me a breeze played with the surface of the water and the curtains fluttered in the breeze. Finally, I could relax. The phrase ‘weight off my shoulders’ literally came true. It was as if my shoulders unclenched right there next to the jasmine and the pool. Work and life had been stressful in equal measure. I never seemed to get an overview. I was successful at both, but I always seemed to be in the day-to-day, the endless to do list. I couldn’t stand back and look – there was always too much to do – until that moment, looking over a Spanish city on a warm night.

The power of time off

That was about fifteen years ago now, but it sticks in my head, because it showed me the power of time off. Not simply for the obvious reasons: we need to recharge and refresh, spend time with family and friends, look after ourselves, and of course – we’re more than the work we do day-to-day. The power of time off is also about getting perspective. If you can stop, for a few days preferably, you start to figure out what’s important. If you don’t have a few days, a few hours, or even half an hour, can work – as long as you do it regularly.

Crucial questions

Gleaned from reading several of the productivity and time management books, here are some crucial questions you can ask yourself when you get some perspective time.

  1. What roles do I play in life? For me, three are: mum, tutor, writer, for example. Thinking about the next three months, identify the most important aspects of each of these roles.
  2. What do I spend my time doing? At the time I stood on that Spanish balcony, I might have said working, singing in a choir, more working.
  3. And the crucially, what would I like to spend my time doing? Make a note of anything – don’t prioritise while you’re writing. Here are some that have come up for people when I asked them this question: I would love to learn to play the piano. I want to write my memoir. I want to set up my own business. I want to build my own house.

Break it down into small steps

Now take each one of those and break it down into small steps. For example, to write a memoir, you’d need time and space to do it. You might want to read memoirs written by others. Or maybe you’ll do a course – which will take some money. Maybe you could find a couple of books on writing a memoir in the library? Keep breaking these things down until you get to something you could do today. For that, the steps needs to be small enough to do fairly quickly, and you need to understand what it will take to achieve them.

Questions designed to get you thinking

Now identify the answers to the following questions. To do your thing – whatever it is you want to spend your time doing –you’re going to need to take some action. The questions are designed to get you thinking about what action you need to take.

  • What do I need to learn and how can I learn it?
  • What support do I need?
  • Do I need any specific training?
  • What are the barriers?
  • What space / equipment do I need?

Use your holiday to recharge

Of course, it’s good to sit by the pool and recharge on holiday – we all need time to relax – so why not see if you can deliberately take four days out of your schedule to get some perspective time? If this seems hard, then make it a goal, write it out, and break it down into small steps, until you get to something you could do today. Keep going. It will begin to feel more achievable the longer you keep at it.

Your challenge

To get four days of perspective time, what would need to happen? Write it down – however cynical you are! – and now break that down into small steps. I’d love to hear how you get on!

Want more?

Read more about the small steps method here.

To your happiness,

Louise xx


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