The good, the bad, and the ugly of down-time

Well-known fact: I have poor time-management skills for someone who works a 40+ hour a week job but also wants to become a relatively well-known writer. Or maybe it’s a little-known fact for some of you, in which case I’ll take a moment and appreciate my good fortune that not all of my readers readily identify me as a terrible, lazy slacker.

Let me ruin that for you. I came home from my first day back at work and napped, off and on, for about two hours. My body doesn’t always appreciate naps, but it seemed like a particularly necessary evil tonight for some reason. Probably because not being at work for eleven days and then returning after a day of furniture shopping makes for a rather tired person who can’t stop thinking “I need a vacation”. During my vacation, which had been filled with plans of creative time while Jason worked and potentially drunken shenanigans while we hung out, I accomplished far less than I had hoped to during my plotting of said vacation. My world-building for the still-unnamed novel project found some good points here and there, and a couple characters were really fleshed out more than I could have hoped. However, this was not nearly what I envisioned myself getting done.

I’m only somewhat okay with calling this more of a success than a failure, if only because failure seems to indicate there was absolutely no movement towards my goals (which included writing multiple short stories, sending them off for consideration, and accomplishing a great deal towards the page count of the previously mentioned novel project). I can’t, even in my magnificent self-loathing, call last week a complete failure, anyway. 

There’s a point to all of this, I promise, and it’s not just a post in which I beat myself up over not meeting my goals, lofty or achievable as they may have been. Just recently, and by just recently I want to say yesterday but I’ve reached the point where all days run together to some extent or another, I saw a TED Talk titled “The power of time off”. It was really quite interesting, but what really caught my attention (though it probably shouldn’t have had so much of my focus) was that the speaker, Stefan Sagmeister, was telling his audience about how he had decided to take off one full year every seven years. No clients, no working at his studio, and so on. I’m not doing the Talk justice, and so I can’t help but link to it here. On a related note: TED Talks are, without a doubt, some of the best ways to use up little snippets of time without feeling like those moments are wasted.

My knee-jerk response to a year off of work was “How did you not go insane from not creating?” The talk continued, however, and I realized it wasn’t a year off of creating things. It was a year off to act as a sort of artistic reboot, and it resulted in some new and different ideas thanks to the location Stefan Sagmeister chose for his hiatus.

I am, as far as I can tell, miles and miles away from the kind of genius shown in this video. I’m fairly certain, thanks to the support of my friends and family, I have my own sort of creative genius (though the word genius may be a hair misused in such a situation, as families and friends tend to hold some fairly strong biases). More worthy of note, however, is that I’m not in a position where I can reasonably enjoy a one-year sabbatical from my job so as to try recharging my creative energies (which, I must admit, sounds like a phrase just begging for use as a double entendre). I’m pretty sure such a break would involve, at some point, me becoming unemployed. That doesn’t mean regular day, 9-to-five types like me are excluded from creative down-time to help refocus their minds and find potentially new and exciting ideas. It just means the process involved is a little different, and requires different focuses and disciplines.

There is a certain ugliness to down-time, and I can understand that. Down-time, as far as I’ve always seen it, is mostly time spent just not really doing anything. Lazing about. Napping. The opposite of achievement on the spectrum of potential productivity. I failed, admittedly, to consider such activities as reading, taking walks, having extended conversations with friends and family (whether they are people you are out-of-touch with or had just spoken to no less than a day ago), and a host of other little things that can fall under the umbrella term of down-time. I have found a certain magic to down-time, most often when I am not looking for it, and that seems to be when the best inspiration strikes; when I am not directly focused on writing a specific something or planning a certain other-thing.

Make no mistake: there is down-time, used to refresh oneself from a long day or a great deal of hard work or perhaps some emotional distress, just to name a few of many possibilities, and then there’s laziness excused as such a reboot. Defining such a difference may very well, and very probably does, depend on each individual as they define such things as down-time and laziness. For me in this case, it’s the novel ideas that didn’t see writing down or the short stories I didn’t bother to create. The efforts I should have made to seek publication, but neglected to on the basis that I was on vacation and had found other uses for my time. Hearthstone provided a pleasant distraction, and some of my followers on Twitter (related: the folks I know on Twitter are some of the most magnificent ones on the planet, and so I encourage checking them out) had my attention with enjoyable conversations. I consider that to be the good down-time of the vacation, as it didn’t necessarily serve a purpose but it left me feeling refreshed and wanting to do work. The bad came in with my choosing to spend some of my vacation taking naps I could have bypassed or drinking a little too much (though I will admit that it’s rare for me to indulge in alcohol to such extents, and I could argue it was a good thing overall even if it was to the detriment of my liver, my social skills, and my motor functions).  The ugly came in when I would know what I wanted to work on…and then I would take a nap or let myself get distracted by something else. None of this really takes into account that I spent a fair bit of last week dwelling on things like a champion over-thinker.

I think the most important point I’m trying to get at here, at least in my mind, is that it’s not always bad to feel like you need to just sit down, take a breath, and not really focus on any one project so as to let your brain (and soul, perhaps) reboot. It’ll help make life feel a little less robotic, especially if such down-time involves alcohol.

Sorry, robots. You may be able to emulate human behavior, but you can’t have our booze just yet.

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