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106.1 The River

Defending Downtime

By Cindi Alpert, 106.1 The River

Like Bruno Mars says in The Lazy Song, “Today I don’t feel like doing anything, I just wanna lay in my bed. Don’t feel like pickin’ up my phone, so leave a message at the tone cuz today I swear I’m not doin’ anything.” I used to think who does that? Must be nice.

Recently I lost my stepmother to pancreatic cancer and flew to Florida to be with my father during this difficult time. After spending time with Pops, he expressed to me that he and my stepmom, Joan, had wanted to travel more and that it was crazy that they used to always put it off because there was never a good time to go. He went on to say how short sighted it was to think that way, and that life’s just too short.

Just those few simple sentences struck a chord with me. I realized that I have been doing the same thing. Between work and family and everything in between, there’s just never a good time. I don’t just mean travel. I’m talking about taking time for myself to relax, to play a game, read a book or just run around the yard with my daughter catching fire flies. It has occurred to me that I have been so self absorbed in the day-to-day running of the business, that I forgot about me.

As many working women with families will agree, we are pulled in so many directions. I’ll be the first to admit that most of the time we bring it on ourselves. We try to be superheroes and take on the world, but eventually we are so stressed that we feel like we are going to explode. It was that kind of “Ah ha” moment that Ebenezer Scrooge experienced when the last ghost left his house.

Although I didn’t run up and down the streets in my nightgown throwing money around, I did take a moment to pull out a novel and just start reading. I cannot remember the last time I took the time to put down the iPhone, turn off the TV and read a novel for pleasure without feeling any guilt. I suppose it took spending a week in a retirement community in Florida with nothing to do but lounge by the pool and think about things to really get this concept through my head.

An article I read a few years ago published in the Harvard Business Review demonstrates that time off can have a larger positive effect on an individual and organizational productivity than longer hours on the job. They looked at the effects of something they called “predictable time off” on the employees of an international consulting firm comprised of consultants, bankers, lawyers and IT professionals. During designated periods, even some periods of high work demand, employees were required to take time off. Employees had to take at least one day off in the middle of the work week regardless of the pressure of their jobs. Initially the consultants and supervisors were uncomfortable with the situation and resisted the changes, but the test studies showed an overwhelming positive effect on productivity, communication, a greater respect for other colleagues and an overall healthier balance between work and family. I’m not exactly in a position to take such measures, nor am I at the point in my career and in my business that I can offer four day work weeks, but the article does make you stop and think.

So instead of hoping and wishing that downtime will miraculously appear or that I may be forced to take it, being a super over-achiever, type A personality, mission driven, control freak from New Jersey, I cannot help but to schedule it. That way I will know that it is on the calendar and it’s part of the plan.

So, if you are looking for me today, I will be the girl in the Stetson, with a novel in my hand, by the pool sipping a Mai Tai and listening to Bruno Mars on the radio. It’s a start, anyway.

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