As an athlete, I’ve always known that rest days were important. You need to build recovery days into your routine, so you don’t literally injure yourself. And obviously, you also take days off from work. But what about the rest of my life? Do you need rest days from socializing? From creativity? From cooking? From the news? From exploring the city?

It seems almost obvious and yet so unclear. In some ways of course, you need breaks from all these things! Change the routine every once in a while! But it’s hard to find ways to build it in, but some of those things are restful and don’t seem like work. Daily habits, like working out or writing, seem like things you should, as the phrase implies, do daily. And spending time with friends is always so helpful and nice, why should you prioritize time alone if you don’t have anything else to do?

So the calendar fills up. And then you might have one night unplanned, but then your friend texts to see if you want to meet up. Of course you do! And look, you have a night free!

I realized recently (and had it pointed out to me as I was trying to schedule quick Wednesday drink with a friend 3 weeks in advance) that I’ve been filling my schedule to capacity, without building in those rest days. I went weeks without sleeping past 7am; every weeknight was full with some activity; weekends were spent traveling, going to events, or doing work.

I hadn’t had an evening to just sit around, let alone time to become bored. I hadn’t spent a Tuesday catching up on Bojack Horseman. I hadn’t been able to do set aside time to be creative, or let my mind wander.

I do things I need to do to stay even-keeled—running a little, writing, playing with the cat—but I get drained nonetheless.

Now this isn’t the kind of tiredness that will result in an identifiable injury. It was fun stuff—seeing friends, going to shows, hosting dinners, preparing for a race. It was stuff I care about—exploring new places, volunteering, spending time with people I love. It can feel recharging—even when it’s not recharging you. But then you’re tired. And you’re irritated. And you’re not as good at being clever or careful or thoughtful.

This is part of why I took a long break from blogging: it was taking too much work to find the inspiration to write on top of the new projects I was embarking on all year.

I’ve always needed little time every week to be unstructured to do all those things I care about better, but it’s far too easy to forget that (as I did recently), and it’s therefore difficult to fit in.

How do you schedule unstructured time? Do you put it in the calendar and block it off? It seems antithetical. But blocking off at least a night to putz around has some fantastic effects, so I’m resolving to do it more. (and resolving to write more!)

If I need to be creative for something, and I’m struggling, it helps to solve a logic puzzle; if I need to fix a scheduling issue, it helps to go on a run and let my brain work it out on its own. I get a break, and the effort required to solve the problems is less. If I’m trying to expand my social networks, I know it helps me to have a night alone occasionally so I have the energy to reach out to people.

It’s like unstructured play: I do things like cook dinner from the miscellaneous ingredients in the house, stretch and do strength work, read a chapter of a book, write a journal note, do sketches, play solitaire, build a puzzle. The creative and receptive and physical activities help me think in different ways, help me rest from the other types of work, which in turn helps me in all the other areas of my life.

So I’m taking my rest days more seriously.

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