How many of you feel that you really should be working harder? At the same time, how many of you wish you had more time to have fun and enjoy yourself? How do you solve this paradox?
Solving this problem can be difficult. Sometimes really motivating goals and a tight schedule can leave us feeling burnt out and drained. On the other hand, spending most of your time on leisure and fun activities often means you don’t end up getting anything done. It would be nice to live in a world where we only need to do what we want to do, but that isn’t realistic.
So how can we achieve a balance between work and leisure that will allow you to get a maximum amount of work done without feeling burnt out or drained? At the same time, how can we really get the most out of our leisure time without being completely unproductive and lazy?
The first step to this is in improving the quality of the activities we currently spend for both work and leisure. By increasing the quality of these activities, we can get a lot more out of them using less time. I discussed the essence of this philosophy in this article  about doing what is important.
Many of our activities are simply not important in terms of either being productive, or allowing us to enjoy ourselves. Too many people watch television shows they have little interest in. Why? Because they don’t want to do work and they don’t have any better leisure activities that they truly enjoy. Spending some time to really connect with what is important in any situation will allow us to rid ourselves of these time wasters and put it back into things that are truly enjoyable or productive (or both!).
The second issue to solving this problem is energy. Having the time to do things simply isn’t enough. Certain tasks require a lot of our focus and energy, usually these tasks are also the same tasks we find most enjoyable or are the most productive. By taking steps to increase our energy levels, through proper diet and exercise, it is easier to focus on these tasks rather than waste time.
This issue of energy levels often extends to work. Whenever I am working hard on a programming problem, it can be easy to feel temporarily drained or low on mental energy. A lot of other programmers I know would take this as a sign that they need a break, so they decide to browse the web or check their e-mail inbox.
Don’t do this! When you are low on energy because you have spent too long focusing on a tough problem, take a break, but take a real break. Whenever I need to recharge, I take off five or ten minutes and grab a piece of fruit. I then eat the piece of fruit, sit back with my eyes closed and take some deep breaths. This type of break allows you to regain some energy and clear your mind so you can get back to work. Taking a break by browsing the web or checking your e-mail only wastes time and distracts you.
By working intelligently, taking actual breaks when you need them instead of just distractions, it will be easier to cut down on the amount of time you spend working. This is because you will be working when you need to work. By cutting down the amount you work, you can increase the amount of time you have to enjoy yourself.
The third issue to resolve is in separating your work and leisure time. When you have really motivating goals or a project that make constant demands of your time, it is easy to sacrifice leisure time to continue working. In these cases you feel burnt out and begin to resent the amount of work you have to do.
My solution to this is to guarantee yourself certain blocks of time to leisure. This way you can give yourself plenty of time to enjoy yourself. This allows you to work incredibly hard and really push yourself when you are working, because you know that, no matter what, your work won’t creep into your leisure time.
If you resent working, you won’t do it. It is very easy to resent working if you feel that it is cutting into your leisure time. By ensuring your work and leisure time stay separate it is easier to work when you need to and enjoy yourself when you need to.
I’ve made it a habit to always give myself one day off per week. While it often impossible to completely devote my day to leisure, by giving myself one day off per week from my major projects, I can ensure I will be able to work at my peak for the other six.
The key is to have balance. If you start to burn out or feel drained, you know that you need to find a way to increase the amount of leisure time you have. If you aren’t getting anywhere with your goals or projects, you know you need to take steps to become more productive when you are working.
There are really three parts to balancing work and leisure.
The first is simply to increase the quality of your activities. By working more productively, and spending your leisure time on truly relaxing or enjoyable activities, it is easier to find the time to do both satisfactorily.
The second part is to monitor and take control of your energy levels. When you begin to feel drained by a difficult problem at work, take breaks that will really help you take control of your energy levels. Taking proper physical care of your body through diet and exercise is the next step. With more energy, it is easier to increase the quality of our activities.
The third part is to ensure that one area of our life doesn’t cannibalize the others. Because there is often a great deal of need and urgency attached to work, it is easy for it to eat away at the leisure time we need to function. In these cases it is often best to guarantee ourselves a certain amount of leisure time in advance.
Achieving the balance between work and leisure can be difficult. Understanding that it is not only nice to achieve balance, but absolutely necessary for both our productivity and enjoyment is the first step. Hopefully you can now find your own balance between work and leisure.