The term “downtime” was originally used to describe periods of inactivity in a factory usually as a result of a malfunction. Today, the term is often associated with problems with telecommunication or outages. However, there is an additional definition of the term downtime which is directly relevant to us:
Downtime —a time of reduced activity or inactivity, or a period of time when one is not working or engaged in a planned activity.
In our busy worlds our brains are often preoccupied with work, commitments, planning and lists of have-tos. What is becoming increasingly clear is there is a significant need for giving our brains a break from the constant barrage of information. A number of studies have shown that downtime is vital to our brain health without it we risk mental fatigue, memory issues and less than optimal brain functioning.
Downtime allows us the ability to see life as a whole and not just a series of activities. It replenishes the brain’s ability to store information and attend to details, encourages creativity, allows the mind to learn from the past and allows us mental energy to plan for the future. When we have downtime we can make sense of events, resolve problems, and reflect on the world.
So how do we glean the benefits of downtime?
- Spend time outside daily. Nature and sunshine do wonders for the mind.
- Practice meditation and mindfulness. Apps that are useful include Stop, Breathe & Think.
- Blink. When we blink, the circuits we use to direct attention go quiet, and other circuits such as the Default Mode Network (DMN) wake up. Science is now looking at the connection of blinking to memory consolidation.
- Exercise routinely.
- Make a clear distinction between work and downtime and to the extent possible don’t mix the two.