The Introvert's Dilemma (and How to Solve It)

Downtime is fine. But when does it go too far?

Posted Mar 02, 2016

Welcome to "I’ll Tell You What," an occasional feature in which I answer introverts' questions about life as an introvert. If you have a question, send it to

Today's question came via Facebook, and it's one I've thought about for myself:

Because so much of what I need to get done gets pushed to a back burner because of my need for "downtime," I sometimes wonder if I'm just plain lazy! Do any other introverts feel that way?! -- Just Plain Lazy?

Source: racorn/Shutterstock

I’m not a fan of the word “lazy.” It’s pejorative, and I believe that if you scratch the surface of lazy more often than not you’ll find another reason for, let's say, a lack of vigorous activity.

But otherwise, I get it. I don’t know how many other introverts feel this way, but I know I have. And I’ve been taking stock to figure out why.

I’d like to start with my boilerplate response to questions like this: Do you think you have a problem? Do you think the amount of downtime you’re taking is obstructive? Is your need for downtime keeping you from doing stuff that’s important either practically (cleaning the house) or emotionally (maintaining key friendships, pursuing a hobby)? Or is your need for downtime just giving you a perfectly acceptable excuse not to do things you don’t want to do? Is this something you genuinely worry about it? Or is it just an occasional passing concern? Is the downtime thing keeping you from doing things you think are important, or things that other people think are important?

Or, as Dr. Phil would say, “How’s it workin’ for ya?”

If you feel like you’re managing your life pretty well around your downtime, if you aren’t lying on the couch while your house crumbles around you, if loved ones aren’t sending angry texts wondering if you’ve died or left the country, you’re fine. Fuhgeddaboudit and enjoy the couch.

However, if you feel like your downtime is causing you to neglect good stuff and good people, maybe you should think about why you need so much.

First, though, let’s distinguish between downtime and solitude: They are not one and the same. After all, one can get a tremendous amount accomplished in solitude, provided you have energy left after everything else in your life. What is “downtime” to you? Is it only downtime if you’re sitting in a comfortable chair and staring at a screen? Or is downtime hiking? Is it reading? Is it drawing or throwing pots or gardening? Most introverts need a measure of solitude to feel their best, but they can be active and accomplishing things even in solitude—or perhaps more accurately, especially in solitude.

Now, if there are things you wish you were doing with your leisure time but always seem to neglect, perhaps it’s time to step back from your life. Figure out what energy leaks you can plug in order to have something left for the things that you never seem to get around to.

For example:

Evaluate your workday. Are you going out to lunch with coworkers every day? What if you did that just a couple of times a week and chilled alone other days? Does your job entail a lot of phone work? Can you designate certain days or hours for that? Can you leave one day a week free of meetings and just hunker down at your desk? Any way you can conserve energy on the job means you’ll have more for your leisure time.

Recalibrate your social life. Are you saying “yes” to too many invitations? Are you passively waiting for invitations to come your way so that you end up doing a lot of extrovert-y things that are more draining than nourishing? Try deciding for yourself what you want to do with your time, and extending invitations to people who will enjoy those things. Still social, less exhausting.

Combine downtime and must-dos. This requires some mental reframing. If you have a hectic home life, can you treat a trip to the supermarket as a little "me" time? How about plugging into music while you do yard work? Or dishes? (I find washing dishes meditative.) What must-do activities can you turn into a time for introvertish woolgathering?

Get offline. I only recently realized how much of my energy was leaking into cyberspace. For the most part, introverts love the Internet. It seems custom-made for us: Lots of people we don’t have to talk to, stuff to read, pictures and videos to look at—all at our fingertips and we don’t even have to put on pants. But I highly recommend looking yourself straight in the eye and asking: Am I pissing away perfectly good time and energy on time-lapse cooking videos?

Recently the swell podcast “Note to Self” launched what they call “Infomagical” to help their listeners with the information overload crushing us thanks to the Internet. Infomagical is five days of challenges to help you become more discerning about how much you cram into your brain each day. For example, the first day’s challenge is to single-task, all day. (I loved that one.) Another challenge was “Avoid a meme”—to ignore any online meme, article, video or anything else that doesn’t directly relate to a goal you’ve set for yourself.

I did all five challenges and found the experience transformational. (It's also free.) Honestly, I had no idea how much I taxed my brain every day with drivel and distraction. I was just wasting time and energy. Do you know how much energy multitasking burns? A lot.

Being an introvert is neither a reason nor an excuse for not fully inhabiting your life as you want to live it. So if you’re satisfied with a life of copious downtime, then there’s no problem: Enjoy the couch. But if not, rather than berating yourself for laziness, figure out if you’re misdirecting your energy and how to fix that.

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