How To Use Relaxation To Enhance Your Productivity

The Need For Leisure Time With Balance

Woman relaxing with phone for stress management.
Leisure time is a great stress reliever. Here's how to use it in moderation. Sofie Delauw/Cultura/Getty Images

Some research shows that people tend to require more leisure time when they are stressed. (Read about that research here.) This extra bit of relaxation is used to boost the drop in mood that can come with excess stress, and the resulting lift in mood can bring a decrease in stress and a increase in productivity and balance.  So a reasonable amount of leisure time can be a good way to relieve stress and become more productive.

The main issue with using leisure time for stress relief is that we only have a set amount of time in the day, and this time is valuable.   Increasing leisure time can feel counterproductive for busy people (which probably includes most people in need of stress relief).  There's a  danger of spending too much time relaxing and thereby increasing the pressure busy people face as a result--there's less time to get things done, so back comes the stress.  

Here's how you can use leisure time for stress relief while maintaining balance; here's how to relax enough to feel energized and still have enough time to be productive once the stress is managed.

Be Aware Of Your Needs

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There are two things that can help you to relax without throwing you into full procrastination mode: knowing what your goals are for your leisure time, and having a list in your head to meet these goals.  Do you simply need a break from work because you're becoming mentally fatigued?  Or do you need to get yourself into a better mood?  (See this article on positive affect to know what this is a good idea.)  If you are aware of what your needs are, you'll know when they've been met.  Most of us benefit from doing something that gets us into a good mood, and if that's what you need, you can find ideas for mood-boosters here.  If you just need a quick mental break, read on--that's addressed next in this article.

Find Fast-Acting Pick-Me-Ups

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 One important key to fitting leisure time into a busy schedule is to find leisure activities that meet your needs in a short amount of time.  It may seem counter-intuitive to "rush" through leisure time--isn't the whole point that you get to relax and forget about rushing for a while?  However, if watching a half-hour comedy can give you an adequate sense of relaxation to meet your needs, it's important to think of doing this instead of seeing a movie.  (And if watching a few funny videos online can give you enough of a break, isn't this even better?)  Finding quicker leisure activities that work for you--and keeping them in mind for when you need them--leaves you with more time left over to do everything else that needs doing.  

Here are some quick-acting pick-me-up activities.  You can use them to start your list, and add to them as you find more activities you enjoy.

  • Take a quick walk.
  • Look at a funny video or two online.
  • Call a friend for a few minutes.
  • Dance to a few songs.
  • Do a sudoku puzzle.
  • Ask a kid to share their favorite joke.
  • Have a coffee break.
  • Write in a gratitude journal.
  • Meditate for a few minutes.

Motivate Yourself In Positive Ways

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Sometimes you have the urge to take a break but you need to get back on -task and stay there as soon as you can.  If you've taken a break and need to get back to being productive, it helps to find self-motivation before you jump back into your day.  Getting in touch with your inner motivation can also help you to avoid feeling depleted at the mere thought of facing the day's challenges, and delving into procrastination mode.  But rather than beating yourself up for wanting to relax, or trying to motivate yourself with fear, here are some gentle ways to get yourself engaged in the idea of doing what needs to be done.

            Review your accomplishments.  When you think of the successes you've had already, you can find yourself wanting to do more.  If you take a minute to think about all that you've gotten done already, you can get yourself more excited about creating more of these accomplishments.

            Thing about what you’ll gain when you’re done.  Why is it important for you to get back to your challenges?  What do you gain?  If you remind yourself of the rewards that come with getting yourself back on-track, it'll be easier to motivate yourself to cut the leisure time shorter so you can truly enjoy the rewards that come from being done. 

            Promise yourself rewards when you finish.  If these built-in rewards aren't enough to get you motivated to close your social media pages and get back to work, you may benefit from coming up with something extra.  For example, I used to reward myself for going to the gym by letting myself get new clothes after a certain amount of visits until the workouts themselves felt like enough of a reward.  Here's a list of life's pleasures you can promise yourself for motivation if you need ideas to get yourself started.

Maintain Regular Resilience-Building Habits

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How would you feel if you could make yourself less reactive to stress in general? When your stress levels are lower overall, you are less likely to need as much leisure time to balance out those stressful days--your stress levels will already be somewhat managed.  Fortunately, it is possible to build resilience toward stress--certain habits really do make us less reactive to it over time.  Maintaining some of these habits can take time, but not as much as you'd think, and they bring other benefits as well.  Here are some of the best ways to build resilience.

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