Just how much “relaxing” do I really need?

I’ve been thinking about rest lately. Having a fitful 4-month-old will do that.

Strangely, what got me thinking wasn’t the many sleepless nights. It was when we collectively conked out one Saturday and did pretty much nothing but family movies, Wii games, convenience foods, and (finally!) solid naps for everyone, including the grown-ups.

And it was good to veg out and all, but really it wasn’t that good. By the end I felt more sluggish than energized, even though it was all the “relaxation” I could cram into one day. Instead it brought into focus a question that has been bugging me for a while now: Just how much “relaxing” do I really need?

Put differently, when do I expect that I’m going to put down my phone and actually do all the life-giving but effort-requiring things I’m remembering I love but rarely do these days? Will I ever touch Latin again? Write good theology? Read actual books like a gentleman?

There’s some part of me that assumes that once I rest up and feel a little less zombie-ish I’ll start digging in on those things. And that’s probably kind of true, at least for the ones I already do sometimes, but really what’s going to make the difference is better free time routines. I want to stop being someone who defaults to smartphone-poking-while-“watching”-Netflix in my free moments.

A few early discoveries on this path:

  • Most of the entertainment I consume doesn’t particularly rejuvenate me. Books are probably the exception, for whatever reason.
  • Constant stimulation isn’t necessary. It’s rare for me to be without a book or a show or a background podcast these days, and I’m finding just sitting quietly is actually quite nice. Boredom isn’t as scary as I thought.
  • Walks are brilliant. This one I’ve known all along. It’s fresh air and low-key exercise and, if you’re with someone, good company and a chance to talk. I’m trying to take a walk or two a day, and it’s lovely. Sitting on the porch reading a book for 20 minutes is also remarkably refreshing.
  • Walks and quiet time also help me figure out what I actually want to do (and when and how). Figuring this out is (unsurprisingly, in retrospect) a key step in the transition from vague aspirations to real life changes.
  • Finishing looming background tasks is more restful than avoiding them, even if they’re scary and ambiguous. We faced a couple big complicated tasks head-on (after weeks to months avoiding) and, while they made for a tricky weekend each, we feel so much relief and freedom now that in my book it’s totally worth it.

One way I’m applying that last one, incidentally, is to shorten my books-in-progress list. I’m generally in the middle of, say, eight books at a time (which is probably not industry best practice anyway). Instead of a page of this and a page of that, I’ve started plowing through one book at a time (or one fiction and one non-fiction) until it’s done, and I’m now down to maybe four books in progress instead of eight or ten. It’s been surprisingly freeing. I hadn’t realized how much brainspace books-in-progress take.

What about you? What have you found truly restful and life-giving?





  1. Totally agree. Multi-tasking is over-rated and it feels great to complete the to-do list instead of dreading it.

    If I’m stuck in a tired mindset for the day and can’t work up the words during some evening writing time, I find a walk with my voice memo active very helpful.


      1. So far just voice recording, no dictation. Sometimes while walking the neighborhood I stop, transfixed on the sidewalk outside of a random house and start “typing” some scene/story ideas on my phone. And I probably look like I’m stalking someone in the process.

        It’s nice to get away from the distractions of the house and the computer.

        Had less success walking on a trail. Kept thinking that I’m alone and I’m letting my mind wander. Kinda stupid, in case some animal decides to start tracking me.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ha ha! Nice.

        I’m trying to figure out how to improve my speaking-out-loud composition skills. For some reason I have a lot more trouble getting in the groove with dictation and similar–maybe that’s why I’m a writer–but if I’m in conversation and un-self-consciously engaged with a topic I can get verbose, coherent, and even eloquent, and I feel like if I could just crack the nut of how to get into that mode for story composition, not just topic discussion, I could massively accelerate my output.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I think I can understand. I’m not sure if I could ever get to be like Garrett B. Robinson. He can walk and talk while recording video without worry for bystanders around. Or, at least, he makes it look easy.

        If I think others are watching/listening, I lose track of my focus. Driving in the car and talking to myself seems to work. I used to prep myself for a 30 minute transit ride in the San Francisco Bay Area with a 10 minute car ride where I could set the scene of where I had left off, what I was going to do in the next scene, character motivations, etc. Haven’t had a commute set up like that for a while, though. Can’t wait for affordable, self-driving cars. Sounds like a writer’s dream.


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