While I was waiting for a prescription to be filled at my local pharmacy today, I read this quote on a greeting card from Lin Yutang: “If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live.”

I love this. I’m big on making the most of my time, but the idea of quality “nothing” time is just as crucial. In fact, I think the two go together. When I work hard, relaxing is sweet.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to appreciate truly quality down time. I don’t do this perfectly, but I’ve learned it really is so important to STOP. To just relax. To just be. To not always produce.

If we don’t, we burn out, plain and simple. And if we burn out, anything from the trivial to the serious could happen—the house could really go by the wayside, making it that much harder to clean. Or, we could end up risking our health. At the very least, our home stops being a place of rest, and our work stops being something we love.

The key to downtime is quality—and by that, I mean unproductive. I mean, it needs to be truly downtime. The goal of your downtime shouldn’t be to get something done, because your wheels will continue to spin when they should be getting serviced.

How to Have Quality “Nothing” Time

It takes effort to make your down time worth the time it takes. Here are a few ways to make it more purposeful.

Photo by Jon in Knoxville

1. Schedule it in.

Sounds counterintuitive, I know, but if you’re like me, you’ll work-work-work right through any well-intentioned down time. Before you know it, your down time was “catch up” time instead.

2. Work hard when it is work time.

Like in college, you’ll enjoy your down time more when you’ve truly had a good day of quality work. I don’t mean you need to cross off your to-do list completely before you rest—that never happens. But make sure you focus on work during work time, instead of intermingling work and play. In other words, when you’re on the computer to work on your family budget and balance your accounts, don’t skim social media at the same time. Finish your work, then sit down later to skim Twitter.

3. Turn off your distractions.

Honestly, don’t read Twitter but for a minute or two during your down time—there’s so much better stuff to do. Silence your phone, shut off the laptop, and get away from the screen. You’ll feel so much better.

4. Know yourself.

If you’re an introvert, do what you can to get some alone time to refuel. If you’re an extrovert, see what you can do to grab coffee with a group of girlfriends.

5. Nurture your essential relationships.

Go on a relaxing date with your spouse. Business meetings are great when you need to discuss important family issues, but those usually don’t count as quality down time. Drinks and a board game with your husband can be just as important as a sit-down meeting where you discuss your life goals.

6. Turn off that voice that says “you MUST be productive.”

Here in the Mediterranean culture where I live, relationships are much more important than efficiency. I didn’t realize how much I rely on my being productive until I moved overseas. Even in my downtime, I work so hard that I simply forget what it means to “just be.”

Don’t worry about wasting time. Just be.

A Few Ways to Have “Nothing” Time

Photo by Daniel Lobo

• Take a nap.

• Call an old friend, and just catch up—and don’t do anything else while you’re on the phone.

• Read a book you’ve been meaning to read.

• Take a bubble bath after the kids are in bed.

• Watch a movie with your spouse, and don’t work on anything else (this is a tough one for me… I hate just sitting there).

• Grab coffee with a girlfriend.

• Listen to a podcast and go on a walk.

• Head to a bookstore-with-coffee-shop and browse just for fun.

• Learn a new craft—knit or dance for the heck of it.

• Snuggle on the couch with your spouse and reminisce about when you were dating.

• Make a cup of tea, sit out on your porch, and just… sit.

• Go on a leisurely walk, either alone or with your family, and go nowhere in particular.

When you have really good nothing time, your something time is all the better. You’ll feel recharged, you’ll appreciate your kids, and you’ll remember why you love your life in the first place. Sometimes, you just need a break from your routine.