Your Brain on Downtime: Tips for Top Performance


With our overflowing calendars and daily to-do lists, the first thing on the cutting block can be our ever-fleeting downtime. But the failure to rest and recharge our brains can lead to anxiety, depression and burnout.

Here’s what happens. We look at our schedule and start thinking:

  •    “Maybe I could just go to the gym once this week.”
  •    “Looks like I’ll be starting that meditation practice tomorrow.”
  •    “I’ve still got these charts to finish. I better blow off dinner with the girls.”

Just so you know, we’re not fooling ourselves. 

Not even a little bit.  Here’s why:

There’s a point in your day where your brain gets overloaded, and it’s screaming at you to stop. Meditation teacher and neuroscience junkie, Michael Taft, calls this the “brain being full” condition – what happens when your brain has taken in enough stimulation and needs downtime.  Tweet: Busyness makes us less productive and more stressed.

Our extra efforts to get more done without a break don’t improve productivity. Instead, it lowers our performance levels and usually leads to overwhelm and burnout.

Ferris Jabr has looked at the research and here’s what he says: “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.”

Ferris Jabr picquote

When you stop to take a walk, go to the gym, meditate for 10 minutes… you are actually being productive. Why should you encourage these activities? Because if your brain isn’t getting what it needs, it won’t function at its peak performance.

Sometimes we all need a good timeout.

What’s stopping us? Using your downtime to achieve rejuvenation requires conscious effort. Watching your favorite TV show for thirty minutes tonight may do it. But spinning your wheels channel surfing for a couple hours? Not so much. Gretchen Rubin cautions us to be mindful, even when we watch TV.

By starting these simple habits now, you begin training your brain to reduce anxiety and decrease the risk of burnout:

  • Make your morning count. The first hour of the day can allow time for a short meditation, a quick stretch, reading a novel. Don’t have an hour? Twenty minutes — even ten — can make or break some days.
  • Be in the moment. Stop to look out the window and really see the leaves on the trees, the sun hitting the branches.
  • Let time work for you. Don’t be a slave to the clock. Set the timer and allow yourself an extra ten minutes before bed to just chill. Sit and think about what you’re grateful for that day. Breathe.

We’re all busy.

And most things — the laundry, the dictation, the email — can wait.

Devote yourself to finding and keeping downtime in your schedule, and not only are you doing your brain and high performing self a favor, but your soul will also come along for the ride.

Please share with us how you find downtime in your day in the space below.



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2 thoughts on “Your Brain on Downtime: Tips for Top Performance

  1. Jane Zendarski

    When I walk my dog, sometimes she sits and observes for a time. So I stop with her and look around and take deep breaths until she is ready to move.


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