The Focus Course

Restoring Margin Through Quality Leisure

Last week, we looked at how to restore margin through decision making. This week, we’re going to look at restoring margin through leisure.

Though a great deal of margin is lost or restored through the decisions we make, there is still further opportunity for margin in the types of activities we engage in. We may clear a block of time on our schedule for personal downtime, but the way that we spend that time will dramatically impact the degree to which margin is restored.

In other words, just because you cleared your schedule doesn’t equate to a life with margin. You can have free time and make your mental fatigue worse depending on the types of activities engaged during that free time.

When it comes to restoring margin in our downtime, not all activities are created equal.

Not all Activities are Created Equal

When it comes to the sorts of activities we engage in the cracks of our day, or evenings and weekends, I think we could all agree that not all are created equally. Meaning, what they do for our mental or emotional state is not the same.

(To be fair, before pulling out my phone for a good ol’ fashion scroll sesh I don’t usually ask myself, “What does my emotional self need today?”)

I don’t just mean the obvious contrast of scrolling social feeds verses reading a book. We know we probably shouldn’t look at our phone as much as we do. And yet we still do.

But let me say this in the most non-condescending way, this feels like common sense. And yet, we still choose the thing we know is not going to lead to feeling truly refreshed most of the time.

We know that if a majority of our diet consists of fast food and sugary snacks, we’ll probably gain weight and not be in the best physical health. If continued long enough, it may even lead to severe health complications.

But why is it we don’t think about our mental diet the same way?

A lively face-to-face conversation is a vastly different experience than passively observing snapshots of the daily lives of hundreds of internet strangers. There is something substantive about a conversation that cannot be attained through “likes” and “comments.” One is a well-balanced meal and the other is an ice cream Sunday in its place.

Do I eat ice cream? Yes. Should I eat it for every meal? No.

Why are we surprised by our emotional state if most of what we jam into the in-between moments of our life is the equivalent of junk food?

I’m not advocating for a monastic life, but simply a life by design rather than default.

When it comes to restoring margin emotionally, mentally, and creatively, the way we spend our in-between moments is especially important. Super scientific formula for restoring margin — less bad and more good.

Cut Draining Activities

So what are the things that nuke your energy?

They may feel good in the moment, but don’t leave you feeling exactly content when finished.

Here are some clues…

  • Feel more tired than before
  • Feelings of remorse or regret
  • Didn’t leave you with fond memories
  • Didn’t require much effort

Just identify one or two of these activities for now. You don’t have to do anything except acknowledge the fact that engaging in this activity is having the opposite effect on your margin capacity that you probably want.

Add Restorative Activities

So, what are the things that you find energize you or at least leave you feeling content?

Some clues…

  • You are excited to engage
  • You feel rejuvenated after
  • You look forward to doing it again
  • Always glad you invested the time/energy to do this thing
  • Created fond memories

Try to go beyond the standard list here of reading a book or exercising. Those count, but surely there are other restorative activities you can engage in beyond these. These things don’t need to be monumental or Instagrammable. Simple things that have a general positive effect vs. draining you.

Here are a few simple practices that work for me.

  • Sitting on our back deck (leaving my phone inside)
  • Watering our garden
  • Drinking a glass of water
  • A walk in nature
  • Making a fire
  • Getting the mail
  • Cutting the grass
  • Juggling a soccer ball

Now, some of these require more energy than others. But seriously, five minutes on my back deck drinking a glass of water has a much more positive affect than checking my feeds again.

Restorative activities are unique to each of us personally. These are things that speak to you and in which you find joy.

Instead Of

This doesn’t need to be overly complex.

Less bad, more good. Remember?

Take one of your draining activities and, for a week, replace it with ANYTHING from your list of restorative activities.

Just one week, and only focus on one of the draining habits.

Write up something like this to remind yourself.

This week instead of Instagram

I will…

  • Journal one sentence
  • Read one paragraph
  • Sit in silence for one minute
  • Juggle a soccer ball
  • Drink a glass of water
  • Get the mail
  • Call a friend
  • Look at my pictures

Free-Time Exercise (Extra Credit)

As a parent of three young boys, my wife and I scarcely get free time for ourselves. And when we do finally get a break, it can be a challenge to decide what to actually do. (You mean, I can do ANYTHING I WANT without a child asking me endless questions or suddenly screaming at the top of their lungs? 😭) The decision overwhelm can be real. But whether you’re a parent or not, you’ll still benefit from this.

If you’re feeling extra motivated, fill it out repeatedly for the different durations of time.

* * *

Next time I have [timeframe] (30 minutes, one hour, half a day, full day, weekend, week) of uninterrupted free time, the thing that will be most restful or restorative is…

I won’t want to do this thing because it’s easier to just (draining activity).

But I know if I take the minimal energy to do (restorative activity or activities), I will feel ______________ as a result.

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