For a while, the concept of “quiet quitting” was all the buzz in the U.S. media. The term may have faded from popularity, but the sentiment behind it still exists. Feeling overwhelmed and overworked, people who “quiet quit” strive to reclaim their lives. They get their jobs done but avoid going above and beyond to protect themselves from burnout.
And that’s what we do: We check out and cut back—at work and in our personal lives—when we’re feeling burned out. But slashing our schedules isn’t the solution. It’s about doing more of what fills your tank, says time management expert Laura Vanderkam, author of the recently published “Tranquility by Tuesday: 9 Ways to Calm the Chaos and Make Time for What Matters.” When we schedule a few restorative activities each week, she says, life feels more engaging and in our control. As a result, we feel more energized.
Vanderkam saw the benefits of this practice while writing “Tranquility by Tuesday.” She enlisted the help of 150 busy people and surveyed them regularly over the course of nine weeks. At the beginning of the project, participants described feeling like they didn’t have enough hours in the day to manage their lives. But each week, Vanderkam introduced them to a new time-management concept, most of them being what she calls “additive”—make time for regular physical activity, mini adventures, a club or class. Her main thesis: We become energized when we have activities to look forward to in a given week.
She then surveyed participants, capturing the way their attitudes began to shift. “People were feeling more satisfied with their time overall,” Vanderkam says. “They felt happier with how they were spending their leisure time. They felt like they were wasting less time on things that weren’t important to them.”
Here she offers four tips on how to add restorative, energizing activities to your week.
Get Real About Your Time.
Each of us has 168 hours in a given week. A full-time job claims roughly 40 hours. (When people are required to track their hours, most do not work 60 hours a week, Vanderkam notes.) If you sleep the recommended 8 hours a night, that takes another 56 hours, which leaves you with 72 non-sleeping, non-working hours in one week. “I would argue that in the vast majority of cases we can find a couple hours a week for things that genuinely make us feel excited about life,” Vanderkam says.
Note Your Joy.
“For a lot of people, the only sort of leisure they regularly have in their lives is screen-based leisure,” Vanderkam says. Binge-watching takes minimal effort, which makes it an understandable default. “But there is probably something else that you would enjoy more,” she says. “Doing the work to figure it out could have a huge payoff over time.”
To figure this out, you have to know yourself, Vanderkam says. What activities have you found absorbing and energizing in the past? She suggests thinking back to high school and college and the extracurriculars you found fun that were not driven by a sense of obligation. These might include singing in a choir, playing ultimate frisbee, taking long bike rides, or those happy Saturday afternoons volunteering at the cat shelter. You’ve found the right activity if you can’t wait to do it.
Make a Commitment.
The best activities usually take time and planning to put in place. For example, you might have to ask around to find the right quilting group, or joining a basketball league might involve a tryout. Think beyond easy self-pampering activities, like a Tuesday night bubble bath, Vanderkam advises. The bath is easily canceled when life gets busy, but you’re less likely to skip out on the doubles tennis match with your neighbor or the community choir practice.
Watch Your Progress.
There’s satisfaction in tangible progress, Vanderkam says. When you practice the guitar three times a week, you’ll likely get better. If you spend eight consecutive Tuesday evenings with your volleyball team, teamwork will get easier, making that memorable playoff victory more likely. Choosing activities that involve effort provides bigger payoffs.
“The opposite of burnout isn’t doing nothing. It’s engagement,” Vanderkam says. “Putting these things in your life will allow you to feel engaged and that energy will spill over into everything else in your life.”