What do you do during that time in between?  Those few minutes spent in between projects or meetings? Right before a call starts or you’re ready to work on checking that next box on your to do list? How do you fill the space while waiting for that next thing to start?

Recently I realized that my use of downtime was both consistent and unfulfilling. My standard practices would be some combination of checking my email or text messages, catching up on the latest news, and most frequently visiting a sports website to catch up on the latest hot takes and opinions of rabid Boston rapid sports like myself.

Each “session” would last no more than a few minutes but it added up. Consider if you have 10-20 such breaks a day. The cumulative downtime could be one or two hours… each day. Over the course of a year, that downtime could be the equivalent of 10-20 days!

Your own habits may include checking Instagram or Facebook. Perhaps going to Pinterest for some inspiration or stimulating your mind with Wordle, Connections or some other online game. Many may try to use this time to squeeze in the checking of one more box on their list.

Breaks in between things are important. They help us reset. Gather ourselves and help us prepare to tackle the next challenge or energize us to move on or clear our mind for creative thinking.

If that’s what your downtime habits do for you, then congrats – sounds like it’s a good use of your time.

For me, however, that was not the case.

A friend of mine once asked “Do you ever notice the difference between the looks on people’s faces when they enter a McDonalds and when they leave?”

That’s how I typically felt after these breaks. Some anticipation for something that will satisfy an immediate hunger followed by a feeling somewhere in between dissatisfaction and disgust in myself.

So last week, I went in a different direction. While I still did a quick check of my messages, I tuned out the news and sports fixation completely. I filled that time instead in different ways. When working at my local library, after finishing a piece of writing, I closed my computer and just stared out at the majestic Palisades for a few minutes.  Another time, I just took several deep breaths. I played with my dog for a few minutes one day, and one another reached out to a friend whose father had recently passed to see how she was doing. Once I just paused and listened to a song on Spotify, like I really listened to it. Another time, I picked up my guitar for five minutes. Most often I would get up and just walk around for a few minutes.

The term downtime was first used in 1928. Its early usage was associated more with systems and machines. Those periods where a system or assembly line went down – which if you come to think of, makes perfect sense.

When applied to a person, the term doesn’t seem to sit quite as well for me. My previous use of downtime was actually making me feel down. I was missing an incredible opportunity to have that time make me feel better. Not by trying to be more productive but allowing me to be more present.

However you choose to use your own downtime this week, I hope it lifts you up.

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