The Practice of Truly Enjoying Time Off

If you struggle to let go of 'being productive' and enjoy downtime, you might need to work on it
By Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta is the author of six books and the writer of Zen Habits, a blog with over 2 million subscribers. Visit ZenHabits.net
July 12, 2021 Updated: July 12, 2021

So I took the whole month of June off, just as I did in December.

It wasn’t easy to take this month off. I had to make arrangements, sell it to my team and clients, get a bunch of work and content done ahead of time, and really stand my ground when people asked for my time. But I was clear that I wanted this time off. During this month, we had family get-togethers, a family trip, an anniversary getaway, and plenty of relaxing and physical activity.

I took December off, too, and that was a powerful experience for me. What I found is that I am not used to taking time off, and tend to be either in a work-hard-nonstop mode … or in a kind of malaise where I don’t feel like doing anything and am not fully enjoying life. It’s almost as if life has trained me not to enjoy time off!

So this month I’m practicing.

I’m practicing fully enjoying this space. Not just so I can enjoy vacation but so that I can enjoy the times during non-vacation when I decide not to work, like weekends and evenings and family quality time and time with friends. I would love to have a different experience of these spaces, really fully appreciating them.

So I’m practicing. Practicing fully enjoying this time off—which sounds like it should be easy, but it isn’t always so!

Here’s what I’ve been learning:

Set clear boundaries.

A lot of times, our work lives spill into our personal lives so that we’re checking email or messages while spending time with family, or we’re out on a walk and making calls. This isn’t wrong, but it doesn’t allow for full enjoyment of the time off. So it can help if we set an intentional boundary: “I’m cutting off at 6 p.m.,” or “I don’t work on weekends except for 30 minutes of email in the morning.” I’ve decided to take Junes and Decembers off (inspired by work with my coach), and so when I’ve entered the month off, it’s very clear to me that this is non-work space. That doesn’t mean I can’t ever do work, but I’ve entered into this time intentionally.

Fully embrace it.

Often we will do something but not be 100 percent into it; we feel guilty, our mind is somewhere else, we feel we should be doing other things. That’s how I often experience my time off, like I should be doing something else. This month, I’ve been practicing choosing to fully embrace the time off. I’ve been giving myself full permission and fully empowering myself to take the time off. I don’t always succeed, but it’s a practice. See if you can fully choose to embrace it and let go of the guilt.

Slow down.

Our lives are spent rushing from one task to the next, one message to the next, with little space for breathing. What would it be like if we could slow down, at least in our time off, and really let ourselves unwind? (We can bring that same kind of mindset to work as well—but this article isn’t about that.) So slow down, decompress, and start to breathe.

Be in the moment.

Our minds will naturally start thinking about so many things we’re not doing. This is why we rarely let ourselves have intentional space for ourselves, because we’re stressed about what isn’t getting done. What helps me is to bring my attention to something in the present moment. I take note of what the trees look like outside my window, how the air feels on my skin, what my breath and body feel like. The more I can do this, the more I can fully enjoy this time.

Practice full appreciation.

We’re often looking for reasons to not like something—all the reasons this situation or person isn’t right. What if we could fully appreciate this moment, each person, every activity, just as they are? See the beauty and joy contained in every moment? See the incredible heart in every person? We can practice this during our time off (and during work).

Let out the energy.

Stress and frustration and anxiety can build up in us, like unreleased energy. I’ve found it helpful to do things that spend this energy, like a long walk, a swim, or some work around the house. This spends the energy that I’ve been storing so that I can be fully free of it and really be present for the world.

Allow yourself play.

Time off can be about doing nothing and slowing down, but it can also be about fun, adventure, and laughter. These are amazing experiences we don’t always allow ourselves to have. So why not give yourself full permission? In just about any activity, you can make it into play, you can experience joy, and you can have an uplifting experience.

I have to admit, this stuff can be a challenge to me. I didn’t always feel joy during my month off. I had my struggles. But I absolutely practiced with all of the above, and it was a beautiful experience. I encourage you to try it in any free time you have!

Leo Babauta is the author of six books and the writer of Zen Habits, a blog with over 2 million subscribers. Visit ZenHabits.net.

Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta
Leo Babauta is the author of six books and the writer of Zen Habits, a blog with over 2 million subscribers. Visit ZenHabits.net