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What to do when you have nothing to do

So you find yourself having an opening in your calendar. How strange...

Idle moments can feel overwhelming. This is especially true when you live in New York City. I often feel pressured to keep a full professional and social calendar. Where does that pressure come from? Myself? My friends? Society?

Busyness can seem glamorous. It isn’t easy to create space to recharge in a culture that describes constant productivity and busyness as a measurement of success. However, rest is crucial to our productivity. I always say, we need to take time to "fill up our cup" first so that we can pour into the cups of others.

Our free time often gets swallowed by making other social plans, falling down a social media rabbit hole, or being unable to disconnect from work. Our inability to “just be” stops us from being able to recharge.

Here are some tips on how to create and spend your free time.

Build in things that you love

To begin, recognize you are a multifaceted person with aspirations, values, and strengths. It can be extremely beneficial to take the time to reflect and recognize aspects of yourself beyond your profession. For example, I am a daughter, sister, friend, coach, runner, golfer, and nacho enthusiast.

You can use your free time to explore activities that you enjoy or want to invest time in. It's helpful to have a variety of options to gauge when you have higher and lower energy. For example, I love to walk and run, play golf, and read. I'd love to get better at tennis and pickle ball and do more creative arts-based activities. I've found that just reflecting and making a list of things I enjoy or want to learn helps me in the moment when I am faced with nothing to do.

Some ideas to get started:

  • Go for a walk

  • Read a book or article

  • Listen to music or a podcast

  • Cook a meal with a new recipe

  • Enjoy a meal with a friend

  • Create something with your hands

  • Try a new wellness modality (meditation, QiGong, yoga)

  • Reflect your thoughts in a journal

  • Visit a museum or gallery

  • Try a new sport

  • Call a loved one

  • Take a nap

If you need a day to rest without doing activities, give yourself the freedom to take that time to restore your energy.

Lean into rest

Believe it or not, sometimes you just need to stop moving. This is something I struggle with during the day especially. Snuggle up with a good book, listen to a podcast, or watch a show and allow your body and mind to take a break. Rest includes a leisurely shower or bath, meditating, or taking a nap.

Think through the logistics

Just like you schedule meetings, workouts, and social plans, you can also preserve your downtime. Using the structures you use for other tasks will allow you to actually follow through. This could mean blocking off your calendar, setting a reminder in your phone, writing in your planner, or asking a friend to be your accountability partner. Ideally, you can get in the habit of consistently honoring downtime.

Give yourself grace

Taking time for ourselves can be hard because we've embraced the mentality that we're successful if we are busy and stressed. Change requires shifting our mindset that caring for ourselves and slowing down allow us to be our happiest and healthiest selves.

Become more aware of your negative self-talk, guilt, or criticism, and learn to reframe your perspective. Let go of your negative thoughts and instead adopt the habit of validating yourself and appreciating your intuition. Remember that there is only one expert on who you are and that is yourself.

Set clear boundaries with people (this includes friends, significant others, and family). Say “yes” to those things you want to do and know it's okay to say “no” to those things that will cause you stress and make you feel resentful. Let go of the pressure to be the person who does everything. No one can do everything well!

View this time as an experiment and allow yourself to try a different approach if it doesn't go perfectly well the first time. Gain confidence in taking the time and space to fill up your cup, invest in your well-being and allow yourself to step into the most authentic, best version of yourself.

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