August 28, 2018

In the midst of a sea of motivational quotes and a near-constant push for self-improvement, sometimes what you really need to do is just...stop.

Like many of us, I really enjoy scrolling through my Instagram. I usually glance at it when I’m waiting on my bus or want to feel inspired by some beautiful photos of interior design, literature, art, or flowers, or to feel connected to my friends and family. And I love it for that reason.

But lately, I think I have been falling into the comparison trap a bit, which is not so good. The idea that I should be handling it all—meditation and wellness, a consistent workout routine, a career, my relationships, keeping up with the never-ending news cycle and pop culture—is sometimes just plain overwhelming.

The idea that I should be handling it all—meditation and wellness, a consistent workout routine, a career, my relationships, keeping up with the never-ending news cycle and pop culture—is sometimes just plain overwhelming.
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Have you seen the memes about making plans and then being relieved when they fall through? I can so relate to it, as I’m sure many of you can. It’s interesting to me because the meme implies that we make those plans even though we don’t truly want to follow through with them, and that we’d feel too guilty to cancel them ourselves. The guilt, then, is assuaged when someone else cancels for us.

This is a problem.

We shouldn’t have to feel guilty if we are tired or overstimulated or if we just feel like staying in. We’re all suffering from information overload, and there’s a sense that we should feel guilty if we’re not working to better ourselves in some way all of the time.

We shouldn’t have to feel guilty if we are tired or overstimulated or if we just feel like staying in.
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So my proposal is this: that we allow ourselves to feel okay about doing absolutely nothing. Some people call this time "white space"—like a blank page, it's a period of time when you let yourself do nothing.

Jocelyn Glei, host of the Hurry Slowly productivity podcast, explains on her blog: "If we want to create an environment that nourishes innovation and imagination, we need to build quiet counterpoints into our daily rhythm. These small moments of 'white space'—where we have time to pause and reflect, or go for a walk, or just breathe deeply for a few moments—are what give balance and flow and comprehension to our lives as a larger whole."

Basically, it's about carving out an idle 5—a moment of time just to be still. If this is hard for you (and it’s hard for me!), don’t worry—studies prove that it’s actually really good for you, both mentally and physically.

Here, the benefits of taking time to do nothing.

1. It'll Make You More Productive

Many companies are catching on to this, but allowing for breaks and flexibility in your workday actually makes you more productive. If you want more proof, the Harvard Business Review cites study after study to explain that allowing yourself to have breaks helps you stay productive.

Super busy but feeling that mid-afternoon slump? Go ahead, take a break. It will actually help you to do more, later.

2. You'll Get Your Creativity Flowing

In addition to productivity, if you allow yourself to have downtime, your creativity increases as well. According to Inc., when your mind is relaxed—when you’re enjoying downtime—a different part of your brain is engaged. And this part of the brain is connected to problem-solving.

So if you’re feeling uninspired or stuck, it might help to go and take a walk, a nap, or pick up your phone at the bus stop and laugh at cat memes.

3. It'll Replenish Your Energy

Know when you feel drained after working for a long time? There's a reason why. Research shows our brains move from focus mode to total fatigue every 90 minutes. Allowing yourself to stop will help you prevent the 90-minute burnout.

Forget powering through; instead, take a break. Grab a co-worker and go walk around the block. Run down the street to the smoothie place and treat yourself. Lay your head down on your desk and take a five-minute meditation. All of these things will help you to feel a little more energy than you did before.

4. You'll Power Up Your Focus

If you’re worried a break is a waste of time, think again. Instead, it actually helps your brain process new information and solve problems.

Letting your brain step away from whatever it is you’re focusing on often helps you think of a new solution or perspective. When you’re stuck or fading, it’s good to take a break to daydream or think of something other than the project at hand.

5. It'll Improve Your Memory

Finally, downtime is also proven to help memory. Unsurprisingly, allowing yourself time to process what you’re learning helps you remember it more clearly. If you feel like you’re constantly forgetting things, it might be that your mind is overloaded with information and in need of a break. If you allow yourself to slow down a bit and enjoy some time to daydream, chances are, your memory will improve as well.

If you’re feeling burned out from the business of it all, shake off the guilt and indulge in some downtime. Treat yourself (it’s proven to help) and you should feel better almost instantly.

A version of this article originally appeared on Career Contessa.


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The perfect idle 5 listening: our new meditation Nurture Your Confidence in the Shine iOS app.

Read next: How Being Less Productive Made Me More Productive