The Art of Leisure
With summer just around the corner and for many of us, myself included, COVID still nagging at our work situation, we find ourselves with more free time and might have realized a need for more solid rest.
With today’s newsletter, I would like to explore downtime as being key to becoming a better creative self.
As we live in a time where busyness is seen as a badge of honor, downtime — time spent on leisure activities and hobbies — can often seem like a forgotten or ignored concept.
“We mistake leisure for idleness, and work for creativity. Of course, work may be creative. But only when informed by leisure. Leisure is not the cessation of work, but work of another kind, work restored to its human meaning, as a celebration and a festival.” — Josef Pieper, Leisure: The Basis of Culture
The concept of rest is seen very differently in many cultures.
When I moved from Europe to the US, I very quickly noticed the strong American always-on hustle culture that’s deeply engraved in the American system.
I recently discussed this with a friend of mine, Gian. He made me aware that many of our European rituals that value time to wonder, observe and “do nothing” and just sit still, such as sitting in a cafe for hours while reading or just watching people, or taking actual lunch breaks (which is taken to another level in Spain and Italy by having “siestas” for about two hours during lunchtime), are often undermined in American culture. They are often driven to the other extreme of trying to avoid being “time wasters” by eating meals at desks while still sitting at computers, getting takeaway coffees to save time on the commute or being efficient at getting where they need to be, rather than sitting down and taking a break.
While we often connect breaks, time off and leisure time with being lazy, rest is actually not just relaxation. Counterintuitively, good rest is often very active.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle warned that rest is often just something we do in order to recover for more work. But that’s not what it should be.
True rest and a good use of our downtime is what Aristotle called “noble leisure”. This is defined as the highest thing we humans could aspire to, because it fills our life with meaning.
It’s the time that we spend getting fully engaged in a passion, a hobby or something else that fulfills our hearts. That could be cooking, hiking, painting or playing an instrument. But it’s not the time we spend on Netflix that makes us feel inspired and alive (even though we also sometimes need that).
What unites these activities, besides the fact that they give us a sense of meaning, is that they also tend to get us into flow states — those moments in which we are so absorbed in what we are doing that we completely lose ourselves in them. Good rest requires full detachment from work and our often busy and anxious minds. Flow states help us achieve exactly that.
Especially as creatives or problem-solvers, time off and spent outside of the office is one of the most valuable times, because that’s when we’re opening ourselves up to new ideas, daydreaming and imagining!
So with summer around the corner, we want to focus on making the most of our rest and approach it with a focus on active leisure and cultivating flow. With that in mind, downtime can become its own training in developing into a more creative and aligned version of ourselves.
1. Step away from the guilt 🌝
The first — and maybe for some the most difficult — step will be to move away from the guilt we associate with not working or participating in “visible busyness”. You know, that feeling of needing to seem busy so others feel like we’re getting good work done. If you struggle with this, remind yourself that not only do we need rest, it’s also the best way to stay productive and creative. So don’t feel guilty about “not working”. Big breakthrough ideas most often happen during downtime, when we are seemingly at rest or in a playful state of mind. They happen when we fill our lives with high-quality leisure and flow, not while checking emails or Slack.
2. Define boundaries 🗓️
It’s important to set aside time for yourself and the things you need in order to stay productive, creative and sane. Vocalize that it’s OK to take breaks and to block time out in your calendar. Try out meeting-free time periods. For example, no meetings from 12–1pm to respect people’s need for personal time for lunch or a break.
3. Create time for play 🏕️
Play can take many forms, from actual games to playing an instrument, doing sports, drawing or getting creative in your kitchen — whatever it is you do in your downtime, prioritize it!
Think about something you always wanted to do but never took the time for. What did you do as a kid that excited you? How can you re-create that today?
4. Let your mind wander 💭
Research has found that daydreaming — an inevitable effect of idleness — makes us more creative, better at problem-solving and better at coming up with creative ideas.
Give your mind permission to wander, and give yourself permission to not have any output for a while. In order to get your mind wandering, lie down and stare at the clouds or go for a walk without switching on your podcast or calling someone. Just be alone and enjoy the solitude.
5. Travel/change of scene 🌴
Travel is closely related to play. It also leaves us looking at the world with different eyes: focused on wonder, excitement and possibility. And while actual far-away travel might not be an option right now, you can always become a traveler in your own neighborhood. Try to explore a new neighborhood with your bike, take time to pause, observe and wonder, and walk down some paths you don’t usually take.
Out Of Office is a monthly newsletter and thought-platform exploring ideas and offering resources, tools & rituals to shape our work culture and the way we work and play today.
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