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The Lost Art of Free Time

The Lost Art of Free Time
Published November 24, 2014 by Elizabeth Grace Saunders
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 about 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

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