As a busy working mom, I often forget about the importance of downtime. On a good day, I wake up for fajr and get a morning cup of coffee while the rest of the house is getting back to bed. This quiet time allows me to reflect on many aspects of my life. I am able to sit with myself and that warm cup of morning fuel while contemplating how our family life is and how I would like it to be. What is working? What isn’t? What needs to be prioritized? I have the opportunity to adopt minor changes to our daily and weekly routines that help us grow together. I also have the chance to reassess my work and school load. But most importantly, it allows me time to mentally, emotionally, and physically prepare for the day (sometimes week) ahead. On a really, really good day, I can have a few minutes of reflection after every prayer.
Our daily lives in Western society have us believing that we must always be on the go. In a way, this is necessary. We must be the best that we can be in our personal and professional lives. The Prophet Muhammed, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“Allah loves that whenever any of you do something, perfect it.”
Make sure that you and our children are involved in attaining beneficial knowledge, knowledge of the Quran and sunnah, physical activities, family time, homework, and so on. As long as we are engaging in productive and beneficial activity, we are making progress, as individuals, as families, as communities, and as an ummah.
There is another element that is necessary in your daily routine, too. That is downtime. It is absolutely necessary if we want to achieve all these things and more. Downtime is defined as a time of reduced activity or inactivity. Downtime is a way to rest. It is a way to prevent ourselves from wearing down and becoming exhausted or overexerted physically, mentally, and emotionally. Downtime is so important to our minds to keep ourselves refreshed and to keep ourselves connected with our loved ones and our Creator.
Just like your body, your brain needs a rest now and then. Research has found that taking breaks can improve your mood, boost your performance, and increase your ability to concentrate and pay attention. When you don’t give your mind a chance to pause and refresh, it doesn’t work as efficiently. You might also be more likely to experience burnout and the health problems that go hand-in-hand with chronic stress.
Keep in mind that having downtime does not mean completely checking out. When we aren’t focused on processing information some regions of the brain become more active. The best known of those brain areas is the default mode network (DMN). The DMN seems to play an important role when we’re focusing attention inward, rather than focusing on the external world. It has been linked to ethics, memories, creativity, and how we define our sense of self. SubhanAllah, all glory is to Allah, an example of this in the sunnah of Prophet Muhammed, peace and blessings be upon him, was when he would seek solace in the Cave of Hira.
Ways to Practice Downtime
There are a number of ways to incorporate downtime into your daily life. Here are four for you to try.
1. Disconnect from distractions.
This world is full of distractions that can keep us from focusing on our purpose in life – to worship Allah. So how can we disconnect?
- Set boundaries. When we are not on the clock at work, then we should not have to reply to work-related phone calls, emails, or other forms of communication.
- Set times for worship. Organize your day around the salat and, if you are a work, take your break to pray the obligatory prayer on time.
- Unplug your phone. Technology is our biggest distraction in this day and age. There are settings that can be placed on your devices that only allow certain contacts to connect with you if your phone is on silent.
2. Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness is to be aware of yourself and be present in your surroundings. When we allow ourselves to be present in the present we are able to fulfill and accomplish so much. Whether it is being mindful of those in our presence or being mindful in our actions (worship, work, rest) we attain a sense of accomplishment. Slow down. Taking the time to give each task the attention it deserves can help us achieve the downtime we need. Don’t rush while eating, drinking, praying, speaking, listening, and so forth. This is part of mindfulness.
Whether you are taking the time to read the Holy Quran or the biography of our beloved Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, or the compilation of his sayings this gives us time and opportunity to reflect on what is important in this life and next. If you can’t commit to reading then listen to the Quran (while driving, while working, cleaning). Reading other types of literature can also provide relaxation (just realize they will not provide the double bonus of offering spiritual inspiration!).
4. Take a vacation!
Whether it is a mini getaway or a long one or a mix of both, making time to get away from the daily hustle and bustles of this life really helps reset and reenergize the body, mind, and soul.
Taking occasional breaks and achieving some downtime can help one be more productive and more efficient moving forward. It can also help us perfect all of our work (work, worship, family time) to the best of our abilities.
Miriam Mohamed is a mother to seven children and a granny to two cats! She loves trying new things and learning cool facts. She has taught in an Islamic school setting, has experience assisting children with special needs, and enjoys volunteering and being a part of the community. Miriam lives in Chicago with her beautiful flowering cherry tree and big family.