productivity tips

5 Ways To Make Time For Yourself Without Feeling Guilty About It

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”- English proverb

It just drains all of life’s enjoyment.

You just want to relax and watch a good movie but you feel guilty about claiming two full hours out of the day.  Or maybe you want to curl up and read the latest issue of Cosmopolitan magazine, or maybe you feel like enjoying a long nap?

You’re not alone.

You squeeze everything out of every living minute; you’re speed-crazed, time-obsessed, tech-dependent, and a productivity freak.

To complicate matters, you’re flooded with time management techniques to help you be more productive every day of your life.

But having some down-time (whatever that means for you) is not a waste, even though you might think it is.  Having nothing to do for a while is the ultimate luxury of our modern days.

Let’s first assume you work hard most of the time and you deserve a break once in a while.

Your problem is you think you can’t afford to take time off.  Hence, the feeling of guilt when you do.

As a result, you keep putting off a simple and effective reward for your efforts – Me time.

Less is more is a notion that simplicity and clarity lead to better architecture, design, fashion and yes, productivity.

Try practicing one of these mind shifters to enjoy more guilt-free Me time:

1. Think of down-time as an investment

 An electrical car needs a couple of hours to recharge after use.  Your mind and body are the same – they need to be refueled and energized to go back into drive mode.

Think over the long run – you want to conserve and even compound your energy by investing small amounts of time in Me time on a regular basis.

In any act of creativity, be it in arts or business, taking a step back from what you’re doing to letting your creative juices do their work is the best advice.

In her book, The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp suggests the nifty trick of always stopping when you still have some energy left.  “Don’t drive yourself to the point of being totally spent.  Try to stop while you have a few drops left in the tank, and use that fuel to build a bridge to the next day”

2.  Let go of the to-do list for a week

Trust yourself to work on the most important tasks for your business and allow yourself to experience seven days without a constant reminder of what’s still left to do.

If you have a crazy case of hamster-wheel brain because you’re always thinking of what to do next, you’ll find even more benefits in training your mind to let go of the to-do list.

For some, yoga and meditation help.  For others, various restorative activity make them appreciate the present moment.

By being less obsessed with checking off the items on your list, you’re helping your mind focus on the true top priorities.

3. Make a conscious effort to block a day off with nothing on your schedule

Instead, put fun time on your calendar.

I wouldn’t think you necessarily need a list of fun activities to do.  What you do need is a way to trick yourself to do these activities.   So pencil them in your calendar well in advance. Then don’t move them under any condition.

4. Take pride in what you’ve completed

Give yourself a nudge for work well done.

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” Voltaire

If you’re a perfectionist, revisit 3 Rules to Help You Fight the Tyranny of Perfection

5. Let go – Hang around small kids or adults who haven’t grown up

Play a board game.

Tell a story.

Play outside.

Read a children’s book.


Challenge your assumptions about what being more productive means.

  • What if wasting time was good for your mental health and balance?
  • What if down time was a long forgotten thing of childhood you just needed to relearn?
  • What if your assumption on productivity was wrong?

Imagine yourself relaxing because you know that later on you will be fully engaged when you get back to work.

Imagine yourself enjoying your time off knowing full well you will be super-charged with energy while working.

Everyone needs a pick-me-up sometimes and you don’t need to feel guilty about it.

These five tips will help you play with the counter-intuitive idea of “wasting time” to make more time.

While you’re at it, share with me your ideas on how you enjoy guilt-free downtime.

C’mon, let’s start a wave of energy by sharing our ideas on how to “waste time” joyfully and guilt-free!

Laure Cohen coaches managers on how to stay focused on their priorities  while keeping their sanity. Find out more on how to stand out from the crowd  in record time in her blog Tweet her @laurecoh. 

33 Responses to 5 Ways To Make Time For Yourself Without Feeling Guilty About It

  1. Nice post Laure. I have been practicing setting up my day by exercising, then meditating, and then getting ready for the day. I’m trying investing time in myself early because it doesn’t seem to happen if I let it wait until the evening. I will say, my habit is to jump up and get to work immediately, but I’m having to train myself to get my mind straight first, then moving into my work day focused.

  2. Laure Cohen says:

    I like your comment about investing time in yourself early in the day or else it doesn’t seem to happen. What strikes me is that it’s not how long you set aside for yourself as much as the mindfulness you’re able to put in that time, the focus – without feeling guilty- you go a long way. Thanks Michael for dropping by!

  3. Dan Erickson says:

    Great ideas for making down-time. I consciously take every other weekend as down time where I just let everything go and do something relaxing and fun.

  4. Laure Cohen says:

    Thanks Dan. Some people say it takes lots of discipline to take weekends off but the way you put it – and it’s the truth – it’s an investment for your week ahead. For some it’s harder to draw the line between weekdays and weekends but there’s still a way to train your mind to think differently about downtime. Thanks for your comment!

  5. Laure Cohen says:

    ooooops: For those of you curious about what I do in life – here’s my Bio ( my fault – I forgot to send it with my post :(

    Laure Cohen coaches managers on how to stay focused on their priorities while keeping their sanity.

    Find out more on how to stand out from the crowd in record time in her blog Tweet her @laurecoh.

  6. Rynessa Cutting says:

    I actually have the opposite problem with the same results; I have no problem taking time to myself. I then guilt myself into doing something productive while relaxing. For example, whenever I’m watching TV I’m doing work or I’m exercising. This way i feel like I’m accomplishing something, however small.

  7. This is exactly the article I needed, Laure. I’ve been struggling with giving myself downtime because I always feel like I should be working! Even during my vacation this weekend, I felt guilty for not typing something up while in the car. I absolutely love that quote by Twyla Tharp. Thinking of it that way makes it much easier to relax.

  8. Laure Cohen says:

    Your comment is very accurate: we are constantly reminded that multitasking is the norm. Looking at it from a different perspective, it might be better for our energy level and creativity to do just one thing and enjoy it. I’ll agree that doing a yoga pose while watching TV might bring you renewed focus. So as always, tweak the advice till it works well for you! Thanks again for dropping in.
    And since I forgot to add my bio, please join me at my upcoming blog:

  9. Laure Cohen says:

    Hi Vincent! If I may give you additional rational to relax, it’s proven fact that your mind is always working in the background. Writers know they need to break away from their work to come back with a fresh mind. If you train your mind to think differently about downtime, the guilt factor might fade away. Let me know and thanks for commenting. Since I forgot to add my bio, please join me at my upcoming blog:

  10. “An electrical car needs a couple of hours to recharge after use. Your mind and body are the same – they need to be refueled and energized to go back into drive mode.” YESS!! When I force myself to relax and enjoy a few hours I am amazed at the productivity of the rest of my day. It helps to keep me focused and excited about the future.

  11. Laure Cohen says:

    It was Earth Day on Monday so the comparison was timely. Thanks for commenting. You’re right that something as enjoyable as relaxing does take some discipline. Isn’t that counterintuitive? I forgot to write in my Bio so if you want to join my upcoming blog, it’s

  12. Laure Cohen says:

    What did I just say? My bio is up there now! Thanks for dropping by.

  13. Michael, I’m with you. If I don’t do my “me stuff” first thing in the morning, it often doesn’t get done!

  14. Hi Laure, these are great suggestions. Some of them are really tough for me to implement consistently, but this isn’t about perfection, right? :)

    I am a runner, and I enjoy the parallel of “me time” and rest days from training. A lot of runners think that the more they run and train, the better they will be, and many often inhibit performance or get injured because they didn’t take the time to rest and let their muscles rebuild. The same is true for our busy, productive selves. If we don’t take the time to recharge, we never really run on full strength, and we’re not as effective/productive as we would have been had we just slowed down a little.

    I see rest days and critical to the long-term goals of my training, and it helps to see “me time” as a necessary component to productivity. It helps take away the guilt and makes it part of the process to be our best.


  15. Laure Cohen says:

    Love your parallel with sports and running. And again, perfectionism is often a roadblock towards leading a fuller life. Thanks for your comment Cecilia and keep running and resting!

  16. Leanne_Regalla says:

    Downtime is definitely a worthwhile investment for me. I’ve learned through experience.

    I try to let myself be lazy for at least a little while everyday, and esp. on Sundays. It really does help me be much more energetic and productive during the week. I find my sweet spots for getting work done, times for physical but not mentally tough stuff, and just enjoyable things. It took a while to get into the habit but it definitely works.

    Good post! Thanks!

  17. Piers says:

    Thanks, great article. I need to try and allocate down time myself really..

    You can also make a clear distinction between work and play by actually *going to work* As in, 1 hour solid, productive work vs. half a day, procrastinating, achieving little and guilty tripping yourself.

  18. Morgan Decker says:

    I am recently just discovering what down time means, and I like it. I tend to say yes to every opportunity that comes my way, until I’m completely overwhelmed and drowning in work. As the summer is approaching, classes are ending, and the weather is beautiful, I’m finally learning to take a step back from everything breathe and enjoy life. It is hard to give yourself accredited free time when you are always working because you can mistake it for being lazy, but that isn’t the case! Everyone needs a mental vacation every once in a while!

  19. Debbie says:

    Good tips here Laure and i do agree with you. We all need our time off. For me I watch 2 little grand kids one day a week. love the interaction with them. One is 3 and the other 6 months. As for the to-do-lists. I don’t make one. I have always used my mind to remember what I need to do. That way maybe I can keep that memory longer. LOL I go over at night in my head what I need to do the next day. Then i am set and ready to go in the morning.
    In the evenings I always take a few hours to unwind before bed. Maybe watch a silly movie or a favorite TV show.
    Love the post and have a great week end.

  20. Joe Agyeman says:

    great tips – ThanksLaura

  21. Wendy Cooley says:

    After recently coming down sick. I believe due to my own over loading, working full-time and starting a business. Although I am a great “teacher” when it comes to self care I realized I was not doing what I was teaching. I have been doing visualization and really enjoyed the part of your writing about imagining taking time off and enjoying myself. Great idea! I look forward to the day of being able to take 7 days off and commit to some restorative activity!

  22. Laure Cohen says:

    Thanks Wendy! You make me aware of yet another way to enjoy downtime. Have you noticed that when you’re sick in bed for a few days, your mind somehow rests as well? Now when I come down sick, I see it as a way to rest body and soul. The additional bonus is that it’s also less upsetting to be forced to be idle. Hope you get to your restorative activity soon. Thanks for your comments.

  23. Laure Cohen says:

    Hey Debbie, you remind me of the great Victor Hugo who wrote Les Misérables as well as a book called The Art of Being a Grandfather. Reading your comment, I’m sure you’ve mastered pretty much all the tips in my post and that you have many of your own. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and thanks for dropping by.

  24. Laure Cohen says:

    Hi Morgan! You remind me so much of myself… a few years ago. You’re right on with your comment about mistaking down time with being lazy. The busier you are the better you need to train your mind to enjoy down time when it’s time for it. Thanks for your helpful comment. And enjoy the summer!

  25. Laure Cohen says:

    I agree with you Piers. It’s almost counter intuitive to force yourself to block time off but once you get into the habit of doing it, you start taking that time off guilt free. It’s quite amazing how we need to trick our mind into doing things for our own good, isn’t it? Thanks for dropping by and commenting.

  26. Laure Cohen says:

    Thanks for dropping by Leanne. There’s a word in your comment that strikes me as being key to learning how to take and enjoy downtime – it’s Habit. Who would guess but allowing ourselves to take downtime takes practice! Thanks for sharing your experience Leanne.

  27. Neave LeBlanc says:

    You alluded to being in the present moment. What makes this so difficult is that when we grab those few minutes for ourselves, we spend them listening to our mind’s chatter rather than focusing on something as simple as our breathing. If we manage to ignore the brain babble, we actually reap the benefits from our quiet time. Just posted about this as well. Thanks for sharing.

  28. Laure Cohen says:

    Neave, following your train of thought I’d say practice makes perfect. It is difficult to ignore the brain babble that’s why activities such as yoga, meditation and simply breathing are very helpful to find almost instant peace of mind while enjoying downtime. Thank you for dropping by!

  29. djian says:

    lA minus suggestion to enjoy downtime: instead of taking one’s shower “en vitesse” thinking of all the next things that have to be done, let’s concentrate on the contact with warm water and the perfume of a sophisticated soap!

  30. Laure Cohen says:

    I love this one! Didn’t Archimède make a discovery in a public bath? I can just imagine writing a new post on “How to spark your creativity taking a shower”. It’s one of those mindless activities that resets the brain. Thanks for commenting and giving us another perpective on downtime!

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