Monday, September 17, 2007

Five Tips for Using Unstructured Time

Gwen Bell had a nice post yesterday that got me to thinking about how I have changed my relationship to unstructured time.

I have very strong pusher subpersonality -- it's goal is to keep me busy all of the time so that I don't have any free time to be introspective. It's a kind of firefighter, a sub whose purpose is to keep me away from my inner struggles or pain (especially when managers fail to do their job in this regard).

In the past (until I did some good therapy a couple of years ago), my tendency when I had free, unstructured time was to find some way to fill it up -- blogging, reading, more work, whatever. Even meditation was a way that I could fill my time and feel productive -- which is what the pusher seeks, a sense of being productive, as well as the avoidance of any inner pain.

For the last year or so, since the end my relationship with Kira, I have worked consciously to not always feel driven to be productive. It's good to watch sports, a DVD, or even dumbass television. I'm not less of a person because I am not always doing something that is totally productive. In learning to make this kind of space in my life, where unstructured time can just be unstructured, I have become a lot more relaxed and a lot less driven.

It's a fine line to walk. It gets easy to be lazy instead of simply relaxing. It's easy to watch television all the time instead of reading. When my workload is light, by intention, it's much harder to WANT to pick up new work when needed. I get accustomed to not working so much and it feels good. So I have to be self-aware that I am not being lazy (another of my subs, which is generally a disowned self, an exile).

However, we should NEVER simply refuse to do inner work if it is calling us, or if we have some serious issues to work on, but neither should it be our entire lives away from work -- we need downtime.

My point is that for those of us who have a pusher subpersonality that is dominant, we need to learn to make some space in our lives for unstructured time -- time to relax. Here are a few tips that I find useful.

* Try to make an hour each day when you don't HAVE to do anything. Most of us can do this, even if we have hectic jobs or family obligations. Evenings tend to be the best for this, or for those who, like me, are morning people, an early hour is a good way to start the day.

* Take a walk. This isn't exercise, it's time to be alone and, preferably, in nature. Being in nature is a great way to recharge and gain perspective. It calms the body and relaxes the mind.

* Play with your pets. If you have cats or dogs, they will appreciate the attention and you'll be able to enjoy some quality time with beings who truly appreciate you. Playing with pets reduces blood pressure and can be a valuable tool in fighting depression.

* Read a good book. This should be something that is fun, not necessarily educational. Science fiction, romance, westerns, or any other fiction books that aren't especially challenging are good for this. Not only is it a great escape from daily stress, but reading fiction gives us practice in taking others' perspectives, a valuable exercise.

* If at all possible, make weekends a no-work space. Spend time alone, with friends, with family, or doing anything that you enjoy -- listening to music, going out for lunch, having a cup of coffee -- but that isn't necessarily productive. We all need time to unwind and be away from work.

It's easy to feel pushed to do even those things we enjoy (reading for knowledge, working out, or anything else that feels like a drive rather than fun). If we are driven to do something, chances are it isn't real healthy for us to be doing it. It has become a compulsion.

Make space for some unstructured time and learn how to relax. It's done wonders for me.


Anonymous said...

Great advice. I needed it. You are amazing.

william harryman said...

Hi Susie -- Thanks, and glad to help.