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Why You Should Plan to Do Nothing This Summer

You deserve a break. Take it this summer and get more work done, too.

Key points

  • Scheduling fun times this summer will help alleviate guilt and increase productivity.
  • Planning to do nothing can make one feel more rested, spontaneous, and creative.
  • Setting boundaries around TV and social media newsfeeds can protect one's downtime from becoming mechanisms for avoidance or coping.
Itamar Grinberg/Wikimedia
Source: Itamar Grinberg/Wikimedia

Imagine floating in refreshing water. Buoyant. Free. Only the sound of the waves. You feel at peace. The troubles of the world are at bay, the travails of a year in the pandemic behind you. If you knew you were safe to revel in this experience without fear of being washed out to sea, you would be able to enjoy it better. Planning to do some nothing over the summer is like that: It will sanction yourself to indulgence and much-needed restoration while ensuring the work will still get done.

Memorial Day signaled the start of summer, when having sunlight until way past dinnertime brings with it the possibility of doing more "after work" or just in general. Even if you are not an academic or educator with more flexibility to work at different times during summer as students are on vacation, you probably still have greater flexibility in your own schedules due to more vacation days and opportunities.

How do you capitalize on summer? How do you get a break and still get work done? Here are some things to keep in mind.

All work and no play ...

Worse than making Jack a dull boy (or a crazed one if you remember The Shining), not making play a part of your scheduling can have dangerous consequences.

For most of us, there is always a lot to be done. Even if you are not juggling multiple jobs and responsibilities, your to-do lists can be long. Having many deadlines makes us want to work continuously to get it all done. When we are not in the mood to work, and when we procrastinate, we make the mistake of trying to keep at it and end up not getting anything done.

Instead, schedule in play. Decide to take some time off. This will keep away the guilt you experience when you ignore work while at work. If your plan includes work and play, you give your mind and body the break it needs.

See what you feel like doing

Vacation time and downtime can be rejuvenating even when you do not have a lot planned. COVID-19 restricted travel but even as the world opens up for the vaccinated, going somewhere or doing something does not have to be the hallmark of rest.

Try blocking out time to do nothing. See what you do feel like doing. See what you resonate with. When we give ourselves the opportunity to be free of distractions such as social media or even an elaborate set of activities, we may spontaneously realize that our creativity increases. New ideas will form. With the wear and tear of a year-plus in the pandemic, we can all do with some true downtime.

If sitting and enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of nature sounds boring, select something you have always wanted to read — and do nothing other than that. (Try a book on paper for a true separation from technology, which may help even more.)

Binge a little (not a lot)

We all cope differently. Some of us eat more when we are stressed. Some of us eat less. Some of us sleep more, others less. Whereas a significant disruption of eating and sleeping patterns can be indicative of a mental health issue that should be addressed by your doctor, summer may be a great time to catch up with some extra sleep (and perhaps more of your favorite foods paired with a corresponding increase in outdoor physical activity).

Summers can also be a good time to binge-watch television shows that you otherwise do not have the time for. While a little of this can be satisfying and pleasurable, if it is your only plan for the summer and a method of coping, it is easy to dive into the alternative reality of the medium and not get to other activities. Be cognizant of how much time you spend in fun pursuits and set your own boundaries. This may also be important when you take little media breaks.

Catch yourself

Ever feel like a quick break from work and decide that a peep at a newsfeed cannot hurt? You may decide that you can stay on your computer or turn to your phone for a little check on how many likes you got or what is trending. Soon, you are scrolling wildly. Before you know it, an hour has passed and you no longer feel like doing the work you took a break from.

This is easy to explain. Scrolling is more pleasurable than the work you are avoiding, and it keeps you from thinking about it, too. Even if you do not want to use an app to monitor and restrict your social media use, get into the habit of catching yourself in extended scrolls—and perhaps take a stroll instead. Make a habit of having a visible clock nearby. Go old school if you have to with an analog. Then get into the practice of checking it when you are checking social media. Even better, set a little alarm to ration your time away from work.

The reality is that we all need a break. Too few of us face this reality and instead try to soldier on with all we have to do. This often leads to health issues and significant drops in productivity. Let’s not forget that it could also bring on guilt, irritability, and worse. While scheduling is great, we often only schedule in "work" and fail to give priority to family, friends, and ourselves. Planning your summer now, setting clear times to cut back (and to cut loose), while also setting a clear agenda of what you want to get done, will be more satisfying.

More from Regan A. R. Gurung Ph.D.
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