Downtime Is Not a Waste of Time » Mind Tools Blog
downtime is not a waste of time

Downtime Is Not a Waste of Time

May 13, 2016


Some people just seem unable to switch off. They see downtime as a waste of time, and any interruption or delay to their increasingly urgent and growing list of assignments causes them anxiety and stress. To them, “multi-tasking” is not a dirty word but a badge of honor.

Their behavior goes way beyond the normal response to the pressures of having to complete competing tasks in a limited amount of time. For most people, an empty slot in the diary, or a completed To-Do List, can bring welcome relief. It’s bonus downtime – a chance to unwind, decompress, have a stretch, and maybe a stroll to a coffee shop. But for others, that blank space in the diary screams, “Why aren’t you doing something?! What key task are you missing? Don’t let the bosses see that you aren’t working!”

Such anxiety and behavior has been dubbed “hurry sickness.” As our article, How to Beat Hurry Sickness shows, it’s something that affects huge numbers of managers. Cardiologists Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman, who coined the phrase, described hurry sickness as “a continuous struggle and unremitting attempt to accomplish or achieve more and more things or participate in more and more events in less and less time.” And the bottom line is, it’s extremely unhealthy. Stress can be a killer.

Performing under reasonable pressure can lead to excellent work, as we explain in our article, The Inverted-U Model. But individuals with hurry sickness bring wholly unnecessary pressure upon themselves. They take on too much, get stressed when they don’t have time to do it all, and chances are the activities they are getting all flustered about are not even hugely important anyway.

Prioritization and other time management strategies and techniques can only help to a limited degree. Taking on too much means just that – there is no workable schedule for “too much.” Overcoming hurry sickness requires a fundamental shift in thinking and behavior.

You have to realize that the world won’t stop turning if you take a breather and slow down. Don’t automatically accept every job that comes your way – you can learn how to say “Yes” to the Person, “No” to the Task.

There are only 24 hours in a day, and all of us only have a limited number of days. By all means work hard, but work smart. Don’t see downtime in terms of potentially lost productivity, see it as an opportunity to connect with people and build relationships. Take time out to “smell the flowers.” Consider the words of American journalist Sydney J. Harris, “The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”

One thought on “Downtime Is Not a Waste of Time

  1. Rebel wrote:

    I often have bad bouts of hurry sickness and all it does, is to stress me out! Thanks for the timely blog post. I have to learn to slow down more, focus on the task at hand, and I think in the end I will get more things done.

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