Is Taking Time off Really a Good Use of Time?

5 Tips to Ensuring Time Off is a G.U.T.

Once again, it is that time of year when people start thinking about taking their foot off the gas for a bit and enjoying the rapidly passing scenery of summer. Not so easy for some of us! How do you do with it?

I fully subscribe to the belief that down time is not lost time and that there are days when idly contemplating the burgeoning apples above my head in the hammock is exactly what I should be doing. But I would by lying if I said that this has always been easy.

I have a friend in the UK who likes to talk about G.U.T. – Good Use of Time. That is what I subscribe to more heavily. It does not have to be “productive” time, but do I have the need to feel like the time was well spent. And it takes guts to get to G.U.T.

When I was young, my father would chastise us if we walked from one end of the barn to the other without picking up a bucket or a halter or something that needed to get from one place to another. To him, that was a waste of time. Later in life, there was a time when leaving the office anytime before 6 pm felt like I was skipping out in the middle of the day.

Most of us are pretty well programmed to think that if you want to be successful in whatever your pursuit, you need to keep pedal to the medal all of the time. We may give lip service to the concepts of recharging the batteries, contemplating our navels, being couch potatoes, etc. But can you really do it and do you truly think it is a good use of time?

Here are my 5 tips to taking time off and still ensuring Good Use of Time:

Clear the decks first – if the emails are down to a dull roar and you can see most of the surface of your desk, consider your decks cleared! A common excuse for not taking time off is that you have 2500 emails in your Inbox and that your desk could be an archeological dig site! Use whatever document management system works for you and just get it done. I like the “touch it and move it” approach: reply/forward/file and delete as soon as you get the moment to do it, preferably as soon as it pops up. Then forget it.

Manage expectations – if you have a regular job, most likely you submit a request for leave and take it. But if you are a contractor, run a business, freelance, etc it may be harder for you to tell people you are not going to be accessible for 2 weeks or you take time but continue to reply to emails all afternoon. Just tell them you will not be available! Automated Out of Office notices are good but manage expectations in advance. Start giving your clients, customers and staff warning as far in advance as possible and by the time you do it, they will simply be wishing you a good break.

Turn your devices off – yes it is a sad truth that we are all addicted to checking our text and email messages every 3 seconds. No way around it: if you want true down time, you need to turn them off. When I am in down time mode, I set a time each day when I check messages (once in the morning, once at night) and steadfastly leave the devices off the rest of the time.

Be honest about your definition of down time – for some people, going home to enjoy a summer evening at 6 pm counts as time off or down time, even though they don’t actually take days off. If you are European, you may be accustomed to taking 5 weeks a year off. Other people’s definitions really don’t matter; what counts is what you honestly need to do to recharge those batteries and reap the physical, mental and emotional benefits.

Start thinking of down time as G.U.T. – regardless of your definition of down time, start thinking of it as Good Use of Time! Even if you experiment with not thinking of it as something you are not entitled to or can’t really do, you will be making headway.