Is your philosophy “I don’t work to live, I live to work”? Do your friends and family call you a perfectionist, a workaholic, or an over-achiever? We get it! Sometimes when you love what you do it feels as though you might never stop. Or maybe you’re on a different page with work, but still can’t seem to leave it at the office or keep it from seeping into your whole world—nothing is more frustrating than looking at an already full calendar and telling yourself “this vacation/night out/personal day/etc. will have to wait.” We live in a culture that rewards booked schedules and burnt candles for the sake of productivity—but we’re here to remind you about the beauty and necessity of free time. What if we told you that indulging your free time could actually boost your productivity?

Start Small

Find stopping points during your work day:

Do you ever have that last minute stroke of genius and think, I’ll just push through lunch! Turns out you’re denying yourself an opportunity for greater productivity. Stopping to rest while you still have energy and when you know exactly what your next move is can greatly benefit your work when you return. Stepping away to focus on something else (like scheduled meal breaks!) gives your mind time to buffer and reflect on what you’ll be coming back to without the stress and pressure of forcing yourself to figure it out right then and there. Like Aristotle, and more importantly, Mary Poppins, said, “A job begun is half done.” Starting strong is the most important part!

Just how often should you be taking breaks during your work day? Several studies suggest taking a break after one hour of work. Others like the Pomodoro Technique suggest breaking work into 25 minute intervals and taking 3-5 minute breaks in between. Try using an app like Toggl or Pomodor to encourage stepping away from your work throughout the day.

Know how you’re spending your time:

You can learn a lot about what you value in life from how you spend you time. Are you investing in areas that you care about or are they getting swept aside for the same tasks, week after week, that never seem to subside? Are you even getting any free time in your schedule? Similar to how you spend your money, the best way to know is to keep an account of exactly where your time goes. Be specific! Track exactly how much time you’re spending on different aspects of your life within a day, a week, maybe even a month (the Toggl app, mentioned above, is a great tool for this!). Once you have your data you’ll be able to take a step back and decide whether or not you’re spending wisely or if you maybe need to consider a creating a new budget.

The Big Picture

Delegate, delegate, delegate:

It can be scary to entrust someone else with tasks and responsibilities you’ve always done—especially if you have a very specific system in place already. However, if you find yourself in a place where you are no longer able to handle tasks that are time-consuming but necessary, delegating to an assistant can unlock your schedule and give you the flexibility and freedom to prioritize your to-do list.

It all comes down to priorities:

Some days your priorities will be crystal clear while other days you couldn’t define “me time” if you tried. But if you take the time to task-track you’ll probably find unimportant things on your schedule that take up a lot of time. You’ll have to ask yourself, are they really that important, or have I just gotten used to doing them? Or am I the one who needs to be doing them at all? If you can identify what you value most in your life, you’ll be able to create more specific, firm boundaries in order to give those priorities the attention they deserve, and to give yourself permission to take back your “me time.”

 

Remember, there is no such thing as the “perfect work-life balance.” The scales will continue to waver; an email will be left unread, dry-cleaning will be forgotten, and sometimes you just don’t make it to the gym. At the end of the day, what matters most on your to-do list is what matters most to you, and more often than not your best work is done when you’re rested and re-energized.