First Hand — How to use downtime to fully recharge
The holidays have officially arrived! It’s the time of year when we’re supposed to rest, relax and reflect on the year gone by. So in a bid to practice what we preach, we’ll be switching off over the Christmas break. Fully switching off and stepping back, however, is easier said than done. Which is why we’ve rounded up the best ways to spend your time with some excellent suggestions from the creatives we’ve spoken to over the past year. Time to read, recharge, repeat!
For many of our interviewees, the physical act of writing or drawing on paper was incredibly valuable as part of a mind-clearing exercise. In our interview with Algy Batten, founder of The Art of Ping Pong and former designer, he shared how meditation first-thing is vital, and even more beneficial when blended with a short burst of Morning Pages. For those less familiar with Morning Pages, it’s a method that involves, in his words: “continuously writing your stream of consciousness for five minutes. It’s good for clearing your mind and bringing things to the foreground that worry you. It’s like free therapy.”
Freelance creative Anna Charity also emphasised the effects of this practice; “Moving your hand across a page feels free and liberating, and I always make a conscious effort to formulate an idea through these means before I switch on the computer.”
“[Writing your thoughts down] is good for clearing your mind and bringing things to the foreground that worry you.”
Calligraphy also scored big for its therapeutic benefits, as calligrapher Angelo Meola explained how he finds the process spiritual and relaxing: “Stress is the last thing I would associate with calligraphy – and it often helps to clear the mind as you can focus on just making your marks on the paper.”
Similarly, London-based freelance illustrator Dominic Kesterton told us how he finds that the satisfying act of drawing triggers a “ping of joy”. And when we asked the renowned designer and illustrator Christoph Niemann his tips for fully switching off from work (as part of our Instagram Hotline), he advised to “just draw, or play the piano.”
As we all know, exercise isn’t just transformative for our bodies, it’s incredibly beneficial for our minds, too. This is something London-based artist Alice Tye confirmed, when she described how daily exercise has become essential “to balance out the stress and anxiety of freelancing” and counterbalance the eight hours spent sitting at her desk. Meanwhile, Matt ‘Mills’ Miller, co-founder of digital design studio ustwo, shared his reasons for running on a daily basis: “[In order to] prepare and create a fortress around you, get fit.”
Further activities could involve taking up Taekwondo, like Nafisa Bakker, CEO and co-founder of Amaliah, who explained how the classes have helped build confidence, and demonstrated the value of “resilience and showing up – regardless of whether you’ll give 100% in that session.” For others, it could be as simple as taking your dog for a walk – as was the case for illustrator Conor Nolan. Conor told us how the addition of his pet, Bert, forced him to take time away from his day job and helped reignite his inspiration: “It became a really valuable part of my day. When you’re busy and caught up or overwhelmed, it can be really beneficial to plan in some separation time.”
This is perhaps one of the most obvious things to do, but also one of the hardest. Tori West, founder and editor of independent intersectional feminist publication BRICKS, wrote about the ups and downs of freelancing – particularly when it comes to financing and making it through the slower months. Not long ago, she shared an Instagram post of herself working at her zero-contract cleaning job, with bright yellow Marigold gloves in tow.
Not only was this moment a strong reminder of the ways that many of us choose to only publicise the polished parts of our careers, it also presented an example of how an unrelated side job can positively impact our mental health. “I find cleaning so therapeutic, I often clean my house if I feel too stressed out with work, then come back to it after I’ve calmed down,” she said. “[It] has also helped me get off my phone; for my two-hour sessions, I’m not worrying about deadlines, re-checking emails or taking calls.”
“Outside of work hours, work email and notifications should be minimised or switched off entirely.”
In a similar vein, Bruce Daisly, vice president of Twitter, spoke to us about the increasingly demanding nature of work, particularly when it comes to taking work home and not properly switching off from the day. He founded The New York Manifesto with Sue Todd to combat this and set out eight rules to follow – including the so-called Digital Sabbath, where “outside of work hours, work email and notifications should be minimised or switched off entirely.”
Not forgetting Jon Cockley, co-founder of artist agency Handsome Frank, who recognised the direct link between social media and mental health. He advised to “keep things pro and have two separate profiles – one for work and one for play.”
Doing something new and exciting – perhaps something unimaginable – can also help to alleviate stress and make you feel that much more nourished after a break away from work. Creative freelancer James Parker recommends maintaining hobbies, and told us how he turned to stand-up comedy in order to take time away from his content creation job: “Social media isn’t good for your health. Trust me. Going to try and get to a place where I don’t need to be switched on everyday.”
Freelance writer Kate Hollowood also gave us an insight into how to survive the dreaded freelance lull – something we can all learn from while we head into the Christmas break. It’s true that the quieter months can be daunting. But use this time proactively and get your “teeth stuck into a personal project”, as it can be “more fun than procrastinating in your pyjamas all day,” and can also prove extremely beneficial to your readiness to work again, once things get busier.
Be honest: More often than not will you arrive at an event, a show, or even just a casual catch-up with a friend, just in the nick of time. You might think that this is the most productive way to manage your calendar, but it’s certainly not the most calming. Rob Walker, writer, journalist and author of The Art of Noticing, encouraged us to slow down and flex those observational muscles.
He takes inspiration from artist Marina Abramović, best known for her performance The Artist is Present, where she sat across from patrons one at a time in MOMA. “The Abramović Method workshops include activities such as a period of silently regarding another attendee or walking incredibly slowly across a room. Other exercises involve drinking a glass of water with such deliberation and concentration that it takes as long as twenty minutes; spending a full ten minutes writing out your name a single time and counting every grain in a huge pile of rice.”
“Arrive early, and do nothing. Observe the world; think about the person you’re about to see.”
These examples all link back to Abramović’s Goldberg performance, where attendees to the performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations were asked to arrive thirty minutes before the show and sit silently in the venue, wearing noise-cancelling headphones. Rob suggested that we all try recreating the spirit of Abramović’s Goldberg in regular life: “Arrive early, and do nothing. Observe the world; think about the person you’re about to see; cleanse your mental palate of other obligations or distractions.”
It can be easy to get caught up in a cycle of trying to squeeze the most out of your days – feeling underwhelmed and annoyed at yourself if you have, by your own standards, underachieved creatively. For Ben Juwono, supervising director at Disney Television Animation, until recently this feeling had started to creep into his free time, too; “If I wasn’t drawing, I’d feel guilty; but when I did draw it didn’t bring me any joy,” he said. He explained how this stems from a judgement coming from inside: “It’s just us putting pressure on ourselves – you also have the freedom to enjoy other things.”
Bunny Kinney, editorial director at Dazed Media Group, told us how these down periods are all about perspective. “Take a few deep breaths,” he said, and shared a reminder that in a few days, weeks or months, this exact moment of “whatever’s causing me stress” won’t matter much anymore. Sharing this view is freelance writer Anoushka Khandwala, who wrote about post-graduate depression and how to break through this difficult period – something that can also be applied during the holidays. “Limiting time on social media and embracing the physical by going out for walks, meeting a friend for coffee, or reading books, can often help put your anxieties into perspective.”
Last but not least is the importance of sleep. The most vital factor in determining whether you’re going to be grouchy, irritable, less able to make decisions or analyse what might be going wrong – because let’s face it, we’ve all experienced the daze of having only had a few hours’ sleep. Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, declared that sleep is not just essential for our health and wellbeing, but it actually helps us reach our goals. She even published a book on the topic, The Sleep Revolution. The take away? It’s a proven fact that we should be getting a healthy dose of seven to nine hours’ sleep a night. So make sure you factor this into equation over the holidays too.
Supporting this approach is Craig Ballantyne’s Formula to Get More Done, a system that helps you to “get to bed on time, sleep better and wake up the next morning well-rested and ready for battle”, as he wrote on his website, Early To Rise. The method goes something like this: Stop drinking caffeine 10 hours before bed; No eating or consuming alcohol three hours before bed; No more work two hours before bed; No screen time one hour before bed – all to optimise the quality of rest you get once you fall to sleep.
And there you have it. A healthy reminder of the ways in which we can all make the most of our downtime, allowing us to prosper, feel refreshed, inspired and energised for the return to work in the new year.
More from us in 2020 – see you next year!
Since it’s the end of the year, we’d also like to take the opportunity to show our huge appreciation for our partners, who make everything we do possible. A massive thank you to our brand partners: the Paul Smith Foundation, G . F Smith, Sky Creative Agency, Google; and our agency partners: Colophon Foundry, Shutterstock, giffgaff, Anyways, The Academy, Ogilvy, ustwo, Amplify and Kaleido Grafik.