The Great Possibility of an Unstructured Day
Having a free day to do anything one pleases.
I know, it’s downright terrifying.
For your average overly scheduled, impossibly busy, eating-lunch-at-desk multi-tasker, the idea of having an entire day without an agenda or meeting can be bewildering. Being time-starved is a perpetual, borderline addictive state that many modern people have adopted as a lifestyle. Still, it’s neither healthy or sustainable, even for the most ambitious!
As I deliberated over taking a life break, one of my greatest concerns was how restless I would be in a smaller, slower city where I knew only a few people and had no clear roles or responsibilities. No structure. I recalled how every exotic beach holiday was wasted as I, try as I might, couldn’t just lay out on a beach towel and relax. What would I do for an entire month without any quantifiable objectives for each day? Without some kind of schedule? Without meetings or even social drinks, coffees and dinners to fill up my time? I pictured long lonely walks in the rain as people haggled me to buy tourist chotchkies.
I was so wrong.
Human beings are amazing at creating order, even if there is none. Over the course of a few days during my break, a routine started to emerge. I would get up, get dressed, drink my hot lemon water and down a battery of vitamins, whip up a quick breakfast, then spend some time in solitude windowside as I thought, read and wrote. Then I’d hop over to my favorite neighborhood café to read some more.
The rest of the day was an equal mixture of spontaneity and structure. I was fortunate enough to have friends and even made new connections early on, so I had at least one planned engagement daily. Everything was up to chance and whim – if it was raining that day, I might check out a museum. If it was sunny, I might get to a pretty outlook near a canal or garden to picnic and read.
I also had plenty of time to walk around alone but found it not as harrowing as my extrovert self had imagined; I felt like a kid discovering an unknown path home as I explored the city’s streets and neighborhoods. If I made a new friend that day, I’d often ask them to join me on my impromptu itinerary or would tag along to whatever fun activity they had on the books.
A day without an extensive to-do list can actually be a boost for any self-professing overachiever.
That said, I hope to incorporate into my life post-break some tips and benefits I have learned from these unstructured days, including:
Have half an hour in the morning where you can just be quiet.
Whether that’s to eat a nice breakfast, read or anything else that brings a sense of peace, using solitude to start off your day is powerful for your mental health and will impact your life positively.
Block off one night/afternoon/morning during the week to dedicate to whatever you want to do.
Bonus points if you spend time on your own to care for yourself and cultivate areas of greatest interest to you.
The next time you go out with a friend, leave the plans in their hands.
Or you can take the reins and see if your friend is up for an excursion that you design off the cuff.
Switch up your lunch routine.
Decide where you go to eat and who you go with at the last minute (so, maybe 10 minutes before lunchtime).
Assign at least one day every month to a new, undefined exploration of your city or anywhere else for that matter.
No pre-work required; just use a map app on your phone and go already!
If you need any further convincing, please note this: a day without an extensive to-do list can actually be a boost for any self-professing overachiever. Allison Gabriel, an assistant professor of management at Virginia Commonwealth University who studies job demands and employee motivation, says that “the brain is like a muscle. You can strengthen it or deplete it. If you let this muscle recharge and replenish, you'll feel better mentally and see improvements in your [work] performance.”
So, there you have it. Your mental health will improve, your general performance in work (and life) will be enhanced. Plus, your capacity for possibility – whether that’s a new adventure for that day or for this season – will expand ten-fold. How does that sound for a new perspective?
(Photo credit: dotshock/shutterstock.com)