What to do on a day off from work to recharge your energy, focus, and motivation

Everyone loves a day off (or two). Unfortunately, few of us actually take advantage of them. In fact, studies show most people only send 40% less email on holiday Mondays compared with regular ones.

Despite this, the benefits of taking time off can’t be underestimated. People who create a proper work-life balance experience less work-related fatigue, lower rates of procrastination, and even better mental and physical health.

As British Psychologist Sandi Mann explains, idle time away from work “literally makes us more creative, better at problem-solving, and better at coming up with creative ideas.”

We’ve written in the past about how to leave work at work and disconnect at the end of the workday. But what about what to do on a day off? Are there specific activities that will help recharge your energy, focus, and motivation?

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Why a day off can be just as good (or better) than a 2-week vacation to recharge

Day off - vacation

When it comes to downtime, you might think quantity beats quality. A 2-week vacation seems like it would be more beneficial than just a day off from the office, right?

While this is the case some of the time, long vacations can actually be just as stressful as your workday. As time management expert Elizabeth Grace Saunders writes:

“A lot of people feel exhausted just thinking about planning a vacation—not just navigating personal commitments and school breaks, but deciding how to delegate major projects or put work on hold, just so they can have a stress-free holiday.”

Unfortunately, you might feel the same way about a day off.

When you’re overworked or on the brink of burnout, it can be hard to imagine doing anything with your limited time off. You’re more likely to binge-watch Netflix or flip through your phone in an effort to “turn off your brain” than engage with something more active. But this isn’t helping you in the long-run.

While passive activities like binge-watching feel good in the moment, they don’t help you recharge for the day to come. Click To Tweet

Studies have found that things like binge-watching TV can make you feel more anxious, stressed, and impact your sleep (which we all know has serious consequences for your focus and productivity).

It may seem counterintuitive, but the best way to get the most from a day off and feel rested and restored for coming back to work is to do more with your time, not less.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Do nothing (on purpose)

Day off - relax

Wait. Didn’t we just say that we need to be active and not passive in order to recharge during a day off?

We sure did. But too many of us equate doing something with being busy.

We don’t need to fill every moment of our lives—both at work and at home—being productive. In fact, doing so can have dangerous consequences.

By keeping ourselves constantly busy, we’re rewiring our brains to reject idleness and daydreaming—the cornerstones of creative thinking. Instead, we need to reclaim doing nothing. The Dutch have a word for this called niksen, which roughly means being purposefully idle.

As Olga Mecking writes in The New York Times:

“The idea of niksen is to take conscious, considered time and energy to do activities like gazing out of a window or sitting motionless. The less-enlightened might call such activities ‘lazy’ or ‘wasteful.’ Again: nonsense.”

Engaging in niksen can help you be more creative (as we mentioned above), but it can also make you more productive and focused when you return to work as you’ve had time to get out of your head, disconnect, and see the bigger picture.

Unfortunately, switching from your busy life to a state of purposeful idleness is no small task. If you’re having trouble focusing on nothing, try these tips:

  • Start small. Think of this as a new workout routine. Start with small sessions and take the time to build up your endurance.
  • Change your environment. Your environment is a huge driver of your actions. To help you do nothing, keep your devices out of reach (or out of the room) and re-orient your furniture away from the TV and out a window.
  • Trick your mind into being idle. If you’re struggling to even start, try open-ended toys or games like kinetic sand that promote idleness.

Above all, be unapologetic about your idle time. It’s easy to feel guilty about “doing nothing” but the benefits are there.

Engage in “Deliberate Rest”

day off - deliberate rest

One of the best ways to be purposeful with your day off is to engage in what author and futurist Alex Soojun-Kim Pang calls Deliberate Rest. Simply put, Deliberate Rest means engaging with restful activities that are often vigorous and mentally engaging.

As Alex explains in his Deliberate Rest Manifesto:

“Deliberate rest helps you recover from the stresses and exhaustion of the day, allows new experiences and lessons to settle in your memory, and gives your subconscious mind space to keep working.”

Sounds good. But what does this look like in practice?

Deliberate rest activities are mentally taxing yet help you relax and recharge as they focus on something tangential (or completely unrelated) to your work. For example, Winston Churchill and Victor Hugo painted while Leo Tolstoy played chess.

As Flannery O’Connor writes in Mystery and Manners:

“I know a good many fiction writers who paint, not because they’re any good at painting, but because it helps their writing. It forces them to look at things.

Unfortunately, where this often falls apart is when your rest-activity and work share the same environment.

Let’s say you like to relax by writing fiction or editing personal photos. But when you open your laptop you’re instantly greeted with all those work to-dos staring back at you. You need a way to be mindful of how you spend your time on your computer.

One way to do this is with RescueTime’s custom Work Hours and Alerts. For example, you can get an alert on your desktop, email, or phone when you spend more than 10 minutes on email outside of your usual work hours.

This way, you can quickly see when you’re getting distracted by work instead of focusing on Deliberate Rest.

Catch up on that one thing that’s been lingering in the back of your mind

It’s hard to recharge when you’ve got something nagging at the back of your head. And while it’s important to ignore those work tasks clawing at your attention on a day off, catching up on personal tasks can help you recharge.

Most of us put off tasks that stress us out (psychologists call this self-sabotage). This makes sense. When the thought of something causes anxiety and fear, you’re probably going to procrastinate on it.

Unfortunately, this avoidance kicks off a cycle of procrastination that just causes more stress (we call it the Procrastination Doom Loop). Instead, committing to crossing one of them off of your to-do list on a day off can improve your overall well-being.

Whether you’ve been putting off answering an email, calling a friend, writing up your personal budget, or anything else, a day off is a great time to catch up.

How the RescueTime team uses a day off to recharge our energy, focus, and motivation

At RescueTime, we work hard to make sure everyone has the time off they need to recharge. Whether that means booking an extended trip, taking a long weekend, or working flexible hours during the week.

Here are just a few ways the RescueTime team likes to make the most of a day off:

“The more I unplug, the better: riding a bike or going to the pool (or beach, if I’m on vacation), watching a good movie, reading a good book. Basically, anything that keeps me away from my computer.” – Hank Gay, Senior software engineer

“Jog, walk dog, have a beer, do some gardening, do some hands on creative work (yes, basically get away from the computer, though sometimes I do enjoy a game on the computer or photo processing).” – Mark Wolgemuth, COO

“I go do something fun with my kids, play golf or catch up on things like yard work (which I can listen to podcasts or ebooks while doing).” – JP Myers, VP of Research

“My ideal recharge day includes baking in the sun 1-4, exploring a new area via biking, walking, jogging for the majority of the day and then having a tasty meal and drinks with friends, family, or my boyfriend.” – Madison Lukaczyk, Data engineer

“I would hike/camp a lot more if I was somewhere welcoming those activities, but I tend to binge watch tv, go sim-racing (not lately) or work on games. A rare beach day here or there, or a cookout with neighbors. Being outdoors and disconnected is the most recharging.” – Tim Beaudet, Developer

To recharge on a day off, be purposeful with how you spend it

We all love some time off. But the best days aren’t just ones spent vegging on the couch. If you want to make the most of your day off, enjoy relaxing, and still feel recharged to come back to work with energy and motivation you need to be purposeful in what you do (even if that’s nothing).

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Jory MacKay

Jory MacKay is a writer, content marketer, and editor of the RescueTime blog.

2 comments

  1. Another great article from Jory Mackay. I always like reading your articles and this one is good enough to read as many times as possible. I am felling refreshed already!

  2. Terrific advice on how to take just one-day off work to relax, recharge, revitalize. I like your advice to “keep your devices out of reach” so as not to be distracted. Of course it sounds like your RescueTime app will help with that as well.

    My advice to add is to plan a vacation day just like a normal (longer) vacation. That means deciding what to do on your day off by planning one or more scheduled activities. That way it’s on your calendar and you can anticipate and get excited about taking a day off; even it’s mostly being idle and pursuing creative hobbies. I agree it doesn’t matter what you do as long as it’s your choice on what you need to be happy and productive.

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