Deliberare Otium

Published: 2022-07-29

I like schedules.

I like to be able to look at my week and know exactly what I'm doing when and what I'm supposed to be working on.

This is a beneficial attribute of mine, but at the same time it’s tormenting because it makes it nearly impossible to completely relax and take time off.

For the past four weeks though, I've been able to incorporate a time of deliberate leisure and it's delightful. Here's what I do:

During July and August, the company I work for is taking Fridays off. It's very nice. Not just because you have a three day weekend, but because the work week is only four days. Instead of using that Friday as a bonus Saturday, I've been using it to leisure deliberately. For me, that means planning a very structured day of rest.

I sleep in an hour later than normal, so I'm up around 6:00 or 6:30 am.

Once I wake up, I make my coffee and read for about an hour. I then take care of my dog and head to the gym. I workout for an hour but spend extra time in the hot tub and sauna to relax and think about my week. I then shower and head to my favorite coffee shop.

I order a bagel sandwich with an extra fried egg, bacon, and no tomato aioli with an iced pour over. While I wait for my sandwich, I unpack my backpack that contains my laptop, two or three books, my notebook, and headphones. I then scroll Instapaper to catch up on anything I saved that week. Articles that look interesting I read and those that seem boring I archive. I continue reading Instapaper while I finish my scrumptious bagel.

Once I'm finished with my breakfast, I put on my headphones, listen to brown noise, and read one of the books I'm currently working through. I typically read one for an hour or so and then move on to another book to spice things up. I like to stay for 3 or 4 hours, but sometimes I get much too hungry and can't focus. Whenever my stomach comes knockin', I head home for lunch and TV. If I'm up for it, I'll make another cup of coffee and read some more, write, and do some programming until about 4 or 5. At that point, my wife and I decide what we want for dinner (usually take out on Fridays), pick a movie, open up a cold beer (sometimes), and watch away.

I love it. For me, it’s true leisure, real otium. It’s not about sleeping in, having donuts for breakfast and binge watching Stranger Things for the third time. None of that is a true act of rest, it’s just an attempt to numb the mind in hopes you forget about your problems for a while.

Instead, a day (or time period) of deliberate leisure is a day filled with things you love but things that also make you feel refreshed and productive. Personally, the days I learn the most are the days I end up feeling the most refreshed.

Creating space for this routine was hard for me when I only had Saturday and Sunday off because I had errands to run, a honey-do list, or a side project to work on. But now, Fridays act as a buffer for me and I've been able to truly rest.

This wasn't a post to make you feel like you have to have Fridays off to leisure deliberately. Instead, it was meant as an exercise to recognize what truly makes me feel "rested" and to start thinking about how I can do this on a Saturday or Sunday morning when we go back to 5-day workweeks.

To figure that out for yourself, run a thought experiment planning a day full of deliberate leisure. Next, look at the different parts of the day and think about which you value the most. Is it sleeping in? Making breakfast with your partner? Going to dinner with family or friends? Whatever it is, try to do that once every other week, if not more often.

The part I value the most is reading at the coffee shop. Whenever I’m there, time withers away and I'm no longer focused on the next thing. Luckily, nothing is stopping me from getting there right when they open (just in time for my favorite lemon-blueberry scone to come out of the oven) and reading for an hour and a half on a Saturday morning. That would be enough time for me to feel relaxed and refreshed, but not take up too much of the day.

I'm sure there's something small like that you value just as equally that could be incorporated somewhere in your weekly routine. How should we expect ourselves to work deliberately if we don't leisure deliberately?