The Art of Taking Time off

I’ve been blogging lately about the art of mindfulness and the importance it has to the revision process. This is likely to be my last blog about this subject, and I really have nothing more to talk about except for the art of having time off.

The break is one of the most difficult for me to do. Like my father before me and probably his father too, I am a workaholic. However, I also recognize that the way to get my best work is to take some unstructured time for myself.

For those of you who are not workaholics that might sound easy enough, but it’s not all that simple for me. The problem is that I, and I believe really most people, need to find a way into relaxation. If I simply sit and watch television or go out to dinner that’s not really properly time off. After all, when my mind isn’t engaged on a new activity, it is thinking about the work I am doing. That’s not time off, it’s just inactivity during work.

It’s important then to engage in a new activity, one that engages the mind and attention completely, and for me it can be done with just about any activity as long as it is truly a project. The key is that it is a project. Even television watching can be done in this way. That’s why so many people find fantasy football so very engaging. They are completely focused on the tactic and strategy of every game. I don’t do fantasy football, but I’m guessing it has kind of the thrill I found when I was a kid and played Dungeons and Dragons, which is a game, but it is all consuming.

Now, I paint. I’m not good at it, but that doesn’t matter because it’s relaxation time. I can’t paint twenty-four hours a day, so I often will watch Netflix shows in a focused way, binge watching and discussing the shows with my wife, so we approach Cheers or the movies of Richard Linklater in the same way I approached literature as an English major. It’s the way we travel.

This is a tip that Winston Churchill gave to us in Painting as a Pastime. He was a world-class workaholic, and the countries savior and a racist and imperialist and a lot of other things, but he knew how to use his time off effectively. It’s how he got so much done, good, bad, and otherwise. Fretting and obsessing after all are two of the worst ways to deal with anything that truly matters.