It was a sunny Saturday morning. I felt energised from doing parkrun first thing, but there was also a weariness from busy week.
I’d told myself that Saturday would be a “chill” day and I was ready for a relaxing few hours at home in my comfies.
But I wasn’t exactly sure what I was actually going to do to relax. Top of my list was choosing a juicy novel or doing some yoga nidra.
But I was also really excited to get stuck into some of my online university lectures. And led by this spark of interest, that’s what I did – tucked up on the sofa with a cup of tea.
For some reason, this got me dreaming about holiday plans. And so after I’d finished watching the lectures, had taken some notes and had another cup of tea I started doing some research for our summer holiday – checking out flights, air bnb accommodation, possible itininerys – getting lost down the rabbit hole of excited planning – dreaming of blue skies, sea and green topped mountains – as well as the practicalities of finding dates that would work with both of our schedules and accommodation that would fit with our budget.
Almost three hours had passed by this point and it was time for me get ready to meet a good friend for a dog walk.
I noticed that I didn’t feel as nourished or mentally rested as I’d hoped or planned to be after a lazy few hours. And I realised that although I’d spent this time doing things I enjoyed and was excited about – these activities are now what I’ve named “productive rest”.
These activities could definitely be classed as “me time” – which we all need in order feel our best.
And they also enable us to be productive at the same time. Which can often be a positive – as making progress towards future goals is recognised as being vital for wellbeing, performance and psychological resilience.
But if our rest time is always productive, that’s when we might find we are likely to be running on empty more often than we’d like or even heading towards burnout.
In a world where there’s never enough time, our rest and relaxation can become eaten up by getting things done – and for me this is often at the cost of my own wellbeing and stress levels.
But I’ve noticed that simply being aware of this middle space between work and home tasks and rest or “me time” can be enough. This awareness lets me be mindful of how I choose to spend my down-time. It’s allowed me to make different choices. For example, I now notice if I’m choosing “productive rest” when I really need proper time to rest and relax, and can make different choices if I wish to. It’s not that productive rest is a “bad” thing – it’s just that it isn’t the only type of rest that we need.
Like many things in life, I don’t think there are hard and fast rules here about how much of each type of rest we need.
Experience shows me that this is individual, and that it ebbs and flows over time. There are nuances and grey areas even between “productive rest” and restorative rest – what I sometimes call “proper rest”.
I think the crux the matter is how you feel about your down time and if it supports you to feel rested or not.
And if it isn’t currently supporting you to feel sufficiently rested and restored physically, mentally and emotionally, you might want to experiment and explore a slightly different approach, so you can find more balance and wellbeing in your day to day.
If you notice that more of your rest is “productive” than restorative, then you might like to consider the following reflection prompts:
How do you feel about your balance of restorative rest and productive rest?
- What is restorative and what is productive rest for you? It might be helpful to make a list.
- Where are the grey areas between these two?
- What is your relationship to these types of rest?
- What comes up if you are finding the idea of restorative rest challenging?
- How could you offer yourself some compassionate encouragement to explore making more time for restorative rest?
If you’re interested in an alternative approach to the different types of rest we need, you might also enjoy this post, based on the seven types of rest identified by Dr Saundra Dalton-Smith.
If you recognise that your work-productivity-life balance is skewed far too much towards to the work and productivity side of things, and you’d like some support in unravelling all the factors underneath this so you can find a way to be kinder to yourself, cut yourself some slack and take back control of your wellbeing (even when you’ve got a lot on your plate), then coaching with me could help.