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Big Ideas

The Lost Art of Free Time

After finishing a big project, you’ll be tempted to ride the momentum to the next big thing. But first, take a breather.

It was after midnight. I had just spent the day intensely focused on completing all of my book edits to return to my editor, the culmination of weeks of labor. Typically, I would be sound asleep when the clock strikes 12. But instead, due to the huge rush of excitement created by finishing such a major task, I found myself completely reorganizing a storage closet.

The next day I was exhausted. But did I stop? Oh no. I instead inched myself forward by reading a book that I had wanted to get to—but hadn’t for a while, and then checked off another item on my list by responding to a lengthy e-mail before finally giving myself permission to go to sleep.

When you come out of a major busy season or complete a massive project, it’s more important than ever to relearn the art of rest. This requires choosing to not feel guilty about wanting time to truly relax and be creative. If you don’t make a conscious choice for rest, you will find yourself always filling your time by ticking off items instead of giving yourself space to be in the moment—thinking, doodling, reading, musing, or doing whatever fills you creatively. 

If you don’t make a conscious choice for rest, you will find yourself always filling your time by ticking off items.

Not only can scheduled rest renew your joy in life, but also, make you more creative. According to the Scientific American article “Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime:”

“Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life. A wandering mind unsticks us in time so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future. Moments of respite may even be necessary to keep one’s moral compass in working order and maintain a sense of self.”

So how do we overcome the compulsion to get one more thing done and give ourselves freedom to have guilt-free creative rest? Here are a few strategies that can help:

Stay in Tune With Yourself

If you can’t think straight, start tripping over your words, have a headache, or feel agitated and annoyed at everything, it’s a sign that something is off. Instead of attempting to push through, pull back and give yourself some space. It could mean taking a nap, breathing slowly and deeply for a few minutes, going on a walk, or simply doing something you’ve wanted to do like browsing through photos you could use for your blog. Your body knows what it needs—listen to it.

Admit What You Really Want

Sometimes it can seem a little embarrassing to say that you’re not going out with your friends because you just want to sit and be. But as a creative person, you literally need this time to be mentally replenished, so you’ll need to admit to yourself what you want. And if necessary, admit that to others. It’s no different than an athlete that takes a day off after a game to recover.  If you find it too difficult to be direct, simply tell friends you have “plans” when they ask you to go out or carve out a block of time before you get home for yourself so that you’re excited to see your family when you step through the door.

As a creative person, you literally need  this time to be mentally replenished.

Protect Time in Your Week

Downtime unfortunately rarely “just happens” you have to plan for it. Decide when you will have free time where you can choose to do whatever you feel like doing in the moment. That could mean blocking out an hour at lunch every day for free flow of thought or perhaps choosing one sacred evening a week where you can kick back and do what would most restore you. Or it could simply look like staying off your phone and turning off the radio during your commute to and from work. When you set aside this time, honor it as an important meeting with yourself.

Don’t Set an Agenda

If your soul craves to be totally free in your creativity, it’s good to let it do what it feels like doing in the moment. That may be sketching, reading, or just staring into space. Let yourself do what seems right without the pressure of any tangible output. The goal is creative and mental freedom.

Be Generous With Yourself First

When you start to see open time in your schedule and you’re someone who is prone to guilt, it can be tempting to want to give it away to anyone who seems to have less time than you. This can be appropriate at certain times, but if it’s your reaction all the time, you’ll end up resentful and frustrated. The only person to blame for you over-giving is you. Give yourself the unstructured time that you need first before you give additional excess free time away.


Next time you get done a taxing task savor time and relearn the art of rest. Re-discovering how being “unproductive” at the right times is the best way to be productive overall. 

Over to You…

How do you make time for creative rest without guilt?

More Posts by Elizabeth Grace Saunders

Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the founder of Real Life E Time Coaching & Training and author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success With Less Stress and How to Invest Your Time Like Money. Find out how you can accomplish more with peace and confidence at

Comments (27)
  • Valerie Morris

    This was a great article! I just set up a jigsaw puzzle table in my office for some downtime and to give my brain a rest.

    • Elizabeth Grace Saunders

      Excellent! Sounds like some fun, creative free time.

      To your brilliance!
      Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Busy Bee

    Love this article! Like so many women though, i have a mate that only does a fraction of the cleaning and chores, but seems to enjoy his time off immensely! Being a busy working executive (over 65+ as week!) and supporting my family (mate is currently looking for work for the past year???) I know that I have needed to block out time for myself. Great Article. Guess what’s going on my calendar? Thank you!

    • BlueEyedArtist

      Sounds like you need a new mate!

    • Elizabeth Grace Saunders

      Glad you’re putting in some time for yourself.

      It sounds like it would be good to discuss allocation of responsibilities among your family members and/or hire someone to help with cleaning, chores, and errands so you can have some more downtime.

      This is an article I wrote on helping your children help around the house but provides some helpful concepts when working with any family member:

      I respectfully disagree with the other comment on finding a new mate. In my experience as a time coach, when someone in a relationship is perceived as not doing as much as the other, it’s a time for respectful communication and growth on both sides.

      In many cases, the other person wasn’t aware of the fact that they were bothering their spouse and needed direct, clear communication on expectations. Once that was given, they were willing and able to take on a more equal share.

      To your brilliance!
      Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Wilson Usman

    I usually just go to the bathroom or decide to take a shower.

  • Elizabeth Grace Saunders

    It’s true!

    It takes a great deal of courage to rest. Often trying to rest leads to you realizing you need to let go of false paradigms such as “it’s wasteful or lazy to rest.”

    We’re people, not machines. It’s essential to let go every once in a while.

    To your brilliance!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Mary

    So true what you say about ‘giving away your time to others who seem to have less time than you’. Its so easy to get sucked into this but you don’t help them, they just use up your time and they still end up with no more time than they had before. Maybe more helpful in the long run to set an example of the art of leaving time for rest?

    • Elizabeth Grace Saunders

      Absolutely! And about making good choices about priorities. So often our stress is due to saying, Yes, when we should say, No.

      To your brilliance!
      Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Julia Melymbrose

    Sometimes I get upset when my dog wants to go for a walk while I feel obligated to stay glued to my screen to finish just one more thing…
    But she always wins and once we’re out playing in the part, I realize in what a stressed and mentally depleted state I really was while sitting at my office, and feel very grateful for my four-legged break reminder. I don’t know what I would have done without her!

    • Republieka

      I’m with you on this. My Dixie (Lab/Retriever mix) was my therapist. Working in a home-office environment can get little squirrelly at times. And I’ve lost time on many occasions, but she knew when to give me a shout (bark) for a little trek through the neighborhood–three times a day. I miss her.

  • Lolita Grino De Ocampo

    God actually gave man one day each week to rest which He called Sabbath. I suspect the Ms Saunders avoided the use of the word Sabbath to avoid someone from stumbling. We need to accept that when God gave man a day of rest, that day which He called Sabbath is for man’s benefit. The article of Ms Saunders nailed the importance of resting extremely well.

  • Tom Maene

    Aren’t you afraid your “downtime hour,” turns into days.. and eventually into weeks? The hardest part of working at home is all the distraction allready. Especially working behind a computer, look i’m doing it again. I should be working now, yet I’m reading an article about taking a break and now I’m even taking the time to comment on it! Oooh, my precious time!!

    • Lily Montemayor

      This definitely has been happening to me lately, especially during the winter months. I think there’s a difference between downtime and avoiding with distractions. If I ever think I’m doing the avoidance thing I do a couple of push ups and get back to work.

  • Rahul Kumar

    Nice article.

  • Rahul Kumar

    Yeah this is fun.

  • Guille A.

    “If you can’t think straight, start tripping over your words, have a headache, or feel agitated and annoyed at everything, it’s a sign that something is off. ”
    You have just described my last week… I’ll definitely try to stop a little this weekend…
    Nice article!

  • Hatem G. Kotb

    Nice one

  • Web Outsourcing Gateway

    Sometimes, it is important to stop for a while and take a rest. Creative people always use their minds in accomplishing their jobs. And when the mind gets tired, the physical body also follows. But in using your free time, make sure you use it productively and value it as your reward from hardworking days you have spent.

    This article is helpful in making every free time productive yet enjoyable.

    • Ari Tulla

      How do you make sure you’re using your free time “productively,” and do you find that structure takes away from classifying it as “free time?”

  • clementine buttercup

    Goodness! That’s me exactly. Since the festive season I’ve been cramming as much as I can into each day. I think it reached it’s peak last night when I crammed in a late night yoga/meditation session! Will take your advice immediately!

  • Fancy Nancy

    oh my gosh this article is a life saver. I often get that head ache can’t think straight thing but think I need to keep pushing forward

  • coco

    No down time results in burn out. Often in our profession there is a belief that the ‘art’ guys and the ‘creative’ people are the only ones who need to rest and clear their minds. To be productive and renewed with ideas, everyone needs down time and brain rest. Additionally, free time does not have to be productive.

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