Earlier this year, we shared a review of one of our favorite books of 2019: How To Get Away: Finding Balance In Our Overworked, Overcrowded, Always-On World by Jon Staff and Pete Davis, founders of Getaway, a tiny cabin rental company. They dedicate an entire section of their manifesto to balancing work and rest, or what they frequently refer to as leisure. We were both inspired and convicted by our misunderstanding of the purpose of leisure and our inability to embrace rest for the sake of rest.

Can you relate? Days off and vacations feel forced, as if we’re supposed to squeeze in enough “down time” to recharge and be ready to hit the ground running on our first day back. It’s even harder to embrace the elusive “unplugging” on the weekends, when we’re cramming in errands, family responsibilities, and social activities. We never truly hop off the hamster wheel, and instead treat our non-working days as simply days to prepare, well, to work (if we can stop working in the first place!).

The beloved author Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote, “Life was not intended to be simply a round of work, no matter how interesting and important that work may be.” This gets straight to the heart of leisure: whether you call it rest, downtime, vacation, or leisure, this time is intended to be wholly separate from work and have value for its own sake - even if you do find your work fulfilling.

Leisure sounds like something we all want to embrace, doesn’t it? But as always, the “how” is much more difficult. There’s no point in optimizing your workday to make time for leisure if we don’t know how to make the most of our non-working hours. Maybe you feel like you just don’t have time for the luxury of hobbies, or your social life has already fallen by the wayside. Even more likely, you don’t know how to spend more than a few minutes away from your phone, and “unplugging” sends you into a spiral of anxiety. We’re here to help! Here are a few ways you can start to incorporate true leisure into your life.

Remember that you’re not resting just so you can get back to work.

One key to resting well is understanding why you need to rest. Our culture tells us the more we work, the more we’ll succeed, but research tells us otherwise. Your brain eats up 20 percent of your energy, and downtime is critical to repair and restore your brain after a long day of work. So don’t treat rest as another opportunity to do more work in disguise - give your brain a real break by doing something purely for enjoyment, whether that’s reading a novel, creating, or walking outside.

Find a way to truly unplug.

We’ll never really rest if we’re always connected to our work. As hard as it is to turn the phone off and power down the computer, removing the dopamine hit of another dinging notification is critical to fully relax. Resting requires its own set of muscles, and many of us are way out of shape. So even if you need to remove yourself from cell service entirely, do what it takes to practice unplugging and build those leisure muscles. And don’t be afraid to be bored! Boredom activates your “default mode network,” allowing your thoughts to wander and preparing you for sharper mental activity later. As counterintuitive as it may be, scheduling time each day to let your thoughts wander may give you an unexpected edge at work.

Identify regular rhythms of rest and make rest a habit.

Our default mode tends to be working, not resting, so when you first make leisure a priority, it can feel awkward or even wasteful. It’s important to identify daily, weekly, monthly and yearly times of rest that fit your lifestyle. Then, block these times off in your calendar so you absolutely cannot schedule over them. Treat them as just as important as a client meeting or deadline, and stick with them until you regularly resting becomes second nature.

Unfortunately, our society and workplace culture make it increasingly difficult to rest. But making time for leisure for its own sake could be the key to unlocking your potential at work and preventing burnout. Give one or more of these tips a try, and let us know what you discover!