Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Downtime

I’ve had a lot of downtime for the past year. I was let go from a job at the end of 2008 and began 2009 in a temp position. When I started back in school and the temp job ended, my husband encouraged me to just focus on school instead of going to another job. Then I got pregnant and we moved (new area + bulging preggo belly = not too many job prospects), so one thing after another has kept me with the laptop close by and our cat as my most common companion.

I miss work. I miss it terribly. Because of this, I keep myself busy all day by waging war on the world. I complain about things. I read articles all over the web. I comment on blogs and interact on social networking sites. I crochet. I listen to podcasts over and over and over to make sure that I absorbed every last word (from the scientific, Skeptics Guide, to the informative, every show on NPR, to the awesome and silly, Sasha’s Den of Iniquity and The Geologic Podcast).

I know I’m insanely lucky to have as much free time as I do, and honestly I’m really glad that I’ve had so much through my pregnancy as a way to kind of chill the hell out until I’m called upon for the next 18 years. Not everyone gets that opportunity. But everyone has some downtime that they need to fill.

How do you fill your downtime? Do you lean towards relaxation or productivity?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.


Chelsea is the proud mama of an amazing toddler-aged girl. She works in the retail industry while vehemently disliking mankind and, every once in a while, her bottled-up emotions explode into WordPress as a lengthy, ranty, almost violent blog. These will be your favorite Chelsea moments. Follow Chelsea on Twitter: chelseaepp.

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  1. Games, games, games. I have an Xbox, a Wii, a PS3, a DS, and an iPhone, and all or any of them can be called upon for ten minutes quick shooting at something or an entire weekend of RPG madness.

    Of course, these days I don’t get much time for extended stretches of gaming, but downtime is very important to me as I have a tendency to overwork then crash and burn. I’m trying very hard to give myself two hours in the evening and as much of Saturdays as I can. That said, I love working so it really doesn’t feel like I’m losing anything if I have to spend a Saturday night working on a project, I’m fortunate enough to have some pretty amazing clients and there’s a huge amount of crossover between my personal interests and my business.

    My other downtime joy is reading, and since discovering the iPhone app Stanza, I’ve been able to read loads more because I don’t have to carry a book anywhere. I just whip out my phone on the train or on the toilet, and read a couple of pages of retro sci fi (so much great free out-of-copyright stuff on there).

  2. i have to have so much downtime that isn’t productive in a day. playing a computer game or tv or reading or just sitting and talking. I’ve always been amazed by those people who worked 8-5 jobs, went to class full time all night, got home at 8:30-9, did homework until midnight and got up and did it all again the next day. I struggled to balance 30 hours a week of work in college with my classes.
    However when i get productive it seems to be the want of something i can’t have, when i lived in apartments, the only time i ever had the strong urge to vacuum was after midnight :)

  3. @Tracy King: Oh yes, we have all of those consoles except for PS3 (but we do have a PSP). Jason plays them more than I do lately. I keep meaning to start a new Wii game (I purposely bought Paper Mario for when we moved in August & haven’t started it yet) but I get so sucked into the computer that it just hasn’t happened with the exception of random activity on the WiiFit.

    @intimeoflilacs: I did balance working full time with full time classes for a while. It was a horrible pain in the ass and somehow I’ve never had better grades than when I was doing that. I guess the extra discipline? Also, the other night I had the strongest urge to vacuum at 12:30am, so I know how you feel. :)

    @Sam Ogden: If it were nicer out I would do that! Right now, however, I have to bundle up to go outside because of the wind chill. Once spring comes, though, I’ll be taking advantage of how close we live to a huge park.

  4. I’ve been on an almost manically productive streak for the last few years. I’ve set some habits just to keep from going completely mental. I’ve learned if I don’t schedule downtime it just doesn’t happen. My wife and I watch an hour of TV together three days a week or so, and have a quiet breakfast together every Wednesday and Sunday morning. Every other month or so we’ll take a couple of days without any gadgets of any description and hit a B&B. The rest of the time I’m coding or writing, and if I’m too tired for that I cook or clean, and if I’m too tired for that I sleep. I think it’s some sort of weird mid-life crisis, but I’m getting tons done so that’s okay.

  5. I need TONS of downtime and always have. It’s weird, really, how important it is to me to have a certain amount of time to do almost nothing.

    I mean, I lose ~10 hrs a day to work/commuting, and another 30-60 mins to cook dinner… that doesn’t leave a ton of time to do constructive stuff. Nor does it leave me with sufficient energy to do more than sit around.

    And, while I love to do things with friends and go to Boston Skeptics events or what have you, doing that stuff more than a couple days in a row will lead to me crashing pretty hard.

    Eventually it comes back to me, sitting on a couch, watching TV or stuff from Netflix (typically alone, though my roommate and I both watch loads of TV, so that works too).

    Sometimes I feel guilty about doing that almost every day, and feel like maybe I should do something more productive at least ONCE a week. If I believed in New Years resolutions, well, maybe that’d be mine. But my need for downtime would break it quicker than you could spit.

  6. I kind of hit both ends of the spectrum. I try to keep myself busy (work, playing in 2 or 3 bands), but on nights where I have no obligations I am very likely to just lay around with a beer and watch downloaded TV shows, especially now that my city is freezing cold and going out at night can be unpleasant.

    This summer I was unemployed, though, and had a lot more free time. I biked around town, went to the beach, played music 5 or 6 times a week when possible, and went out a lot. It was still way too much down time. I was sleeping in too late and getting lazier.

    I much prefer being busy… I think it allows me to enjoy the lazy nights more.

  7. I think what’s more interesting is my wife. She retired a few years back because we didn’t need her salary any more. No kids, no cats, and no major time commitments. Just her and massive amounts of free time to write novels. I’ve never truly believed in the tyranny of the blank page before, but now I do. Large amounts of unstructured time are a mixed blessing at best.

  8. @Chelsea:

    Yeah, I have actaully had to take winter into consideration this year. Normally, I stay bronzed over from the sun pretty much year round, but we’ve had some seasonal weather. Mostly rain, but a lot of cold, too. Come late Feb though, it’ll be game on again.

  9. I engage in hilarious commentary on life with my fellow skeptics on FB and Twitter, and help Maria with her Skepchick tell all book by emailing the Skepchicks ALL THE FUCKING TIME.

    I’m sure I’m not annoying. And in a few months when I’m sleep deprived and delusional, you’ll all love me even more.

    I miss having a job.

  10. I generally combine downtime and productive time. I get bored VERY easily, so if I sit, I have to read or I’ll just fall asleep. It’s nothing new for me. It’s been that way for me since my 20’s, at least. I carry a book or two constantly, so even if I get stuck in a line (a “queue” for Rebecca), I can get some reading done.

    I used to play computer games, but sadly my reflexes have slowed down and I now know why they say a fighter pilot’s career ends at around 40. Most e-fighter pilots can eat me for lunch without effort.

  11. Lots of games. I’m currently in 3 tabletop RPG games, with an option on a fourth, plus I play a lot of Dungeons and Dragons On-line (on Sarlona, if you play), Fallout 3, and a number of old computer games (the Quest for Glory series, from Sierra in the late 80s, early 90s, is the best adventure series EVER).

    I also read a lot… but that’s actually part work, since I get to review books for work.

  12. I love downtime. I love watching really cheesy shows on HGTV, like Disaster DIY. Yet as a fully employed mother of 3, I find myself leaping up to do something productive during commercials. Like vaccuuming. I also love DIY projects that involve destruction. I think a reno company could make money charging adults to attack walls with sledgehammers.

    My video game skills are primitive. I sucked at Pong in the 70’s; progression has been non existent despite youngest child’s efforts to teach me Super Mario Bros – for Wii and the old NES. And the personal trainers on my fitness softwear are way too cheery. I think someone should program an insulting one – another business opportunity! Destruction and insults! For downtime!

  13. I absolutely can not sit still and just watch tv. When I have the tv on, I either play computer games, knit, or do puzzles (like sudoku or crosswords). I also spend a lot of time reading. When I go into a bookstore to buy 1 book, I end up walking out with 10 books. One of the reasons I quite my book club (other than crappy books) is because I had to buy a book monthly so I was acquiring them much faster than I could read them.

  14. My job is usually an all or nothing affair. I may be out of town, living in hotels or some equivalent bunking situation, working 7 days a week and 16 hour days, or I may (as now) be unemployed kicking around the house for a month. It’s very unpredictable. When I get a prolonged period of downtime I spend the first few days or week just enjoying the ability to sit around in the morning drinking coffee reading news on the computer, looking things up, and reading books. After that initial period I start running every day, making lists of projects that I’ve left undone for the previous year or so, and making sure that all the yearly things I need for work like physicals, certifications, etc. are all updated. I usually go through a cooking phase, where I make something new or interesting to me every night, and there is the endless experimenting with cocktails. I just bought some Applejack yesterday, and was making stone fences. Today I’m going to make a diamondback, and see where that leads.

  15. Down time means golf (good weather =outside) or projects around the house, reading and cooking, and the winter weather means its my movie season.

    @Sam Ogden: Sunday evening it was about 62 degrees and I was outside at the BBQ in short sleeves. Apparently all the crap weather in the rest of the country means warm in the northwest, even warmer than Florida !!

  16. @davew: Cooking has become a huge part of my downtime. I learned to bake from scratch and have improved my regular cooking skills immensely. Jason loves it!

    @Expatria: I’ve always tried to make up for business by just staying up later for “free time”. It doesn’t work well after a few days.

    @Elyse: You and I have very similar schedules! Except you already have a little person running around without pants and I would imagine 2 large dogs make a bigger mess than 1 fat cat.

    @teragram42: My WiiFit DID insult me! It doesn’t have an option for pregnancy, so when I didn’t get on it until after 20 weeks and I’d put on almost 15 pounds, it made a groaning sound and forced my Mii to plump up. I have no problem with weight gain, and would be ok with not losing all of the baby weight. It was just maddening that a video game reacted like that!

    @catgirl: I almost never sit and just watch tv or movies. If my husband and I are having snuggly-couchtime we’ll just watch, but if we’re sitting around and just happen to have it on, chances are I’m either crocheting or on the computer and he’s playing Xbox.

    @James Fox: I know, what the hell is up with the weather?! This past weekend it was colder by more than 10 degrees in Florida than here in Philadelphia. End times, man. They’re nigh.

  17. I need down time — or rather, alone time — otherwise I go nuts. If I don’t get at least one day a week to go directly home from work and do a whole lot of nothin’ (surf the ‘net, watch episode after episode of Criminal Minds, take a bath, read, whatever), I tend to get really grumpy. I also prefer to have Sundays all to myself, so I can do a bit of cleaning and vegging.

    I work full time, though, and do quite a bit of volunteering in my free time, and I have a pretty active social life, so I think it’s okay for me to be lazy sometimes.

    I do need to get back into volunteering. After the non-profit I volunteered for fizzled late last year, I just haven’t had the motivation to start anew. I think I’m just worn out from the hustle and bustle of the holidays.

    It’s weird. I’m really social, outgoing, and extroverted, but like introverts, if I don’t get enough alone/down time to balance it out, I get really, really worn out. It’s a very delicate balance sometimes.

    Thankfully, my best friends have an awesome house that is like my second home, so that helps some, but it’s still not *quite* the same as being in my own apartment, alone, with no one to bother me. Awww, sweet bliss!

  18. @Chelsea:

    I used to be able to stay up late without issue and make up for working all day. But over the last year or so this has gotten harder and harder. I’m gettin’ too old for this shit :-P


    See, I agree. It can be very tough to just sit and watch something. However, I also found that by doing ANYTHING else while the TV is on, my attention gets fractured and I’ll miss most of what I’m watching.

    If I try to watch a movie with my computer in the room with me, I’ll be checking my email, looking things up on IMDb or Wikipedia, using Twitter. Hell, when I still played WoW I’d do that while paying lip service to whatever I was watching.

    As a film buff, this became inexcusable. Now, I try VERY hard to focus on what’s on the TV. It’s tough, but ultimately rewarding. Especially when you consider that all day long I’m working, navigating about 6 tabs of web content, and listening to podcasts… it’s nice to focus on ONE thing for a change ;)

  19. You know, living in Arizona, I should really take advantage of our awesome winter weather, and spend more time outside, but I live smack-dab in the middle of the city, so sometimes it’s hard — it just doesn’t really occur to me. There are a few parks that aren’t too far, but I’m not sure what I’d do there, by myself. I guess I could find a mountain to hike, but I don’t really like doing that by myself either.

    But come summer, I always regret not taking advantage of our nice winter weather. Because there is no way I will be hiking in 110+ degree weather.

    Our summers are like most people’s winters: You stay inside as much as possible. Unless you’re swimming.

  20. I read an awful lot, both nonfiction and fiction. I tend to prefer nonfiction — history, science, philosophy, sociology/social criticism — but I have been reading an increasing amount of fiction this year.

    I play PC games, often while listening to podcasts: sandbox games like GTA allow me to drive around the map while listening to Skeptic’s Guide or so on.

    I also write a good bit — book reviews, game logs, and history/philosophy musings.

  21. SLEEEEEEP, nah – my work and study habits are pretty insane so I crash @the end of the year. Sci fi novels are good (go asimov and pf Hamilton), but lately I’ve been playnig a bit of COD4 Multiplayer. Of course exercise is also essential.

  22. This is a subject that really hits home. When my illness got bad enough that I had to stop working, it was a blow that I still haven’t recovered from. Last year I started my blog and later began working with Grassroots Skeptics, ways for me to keep active and engaged. I also read constantly on the Web — I have great books awaiting me but there’s so much awesome skepticism and science to read about online that I’m endlessly distracted.

    And then there are the usual pastimes: crosswords, videogames, movies & TV, and cross-stitching. (By the way, I need more skeptic friends on Xbox & Steam!)

    So I fully identify with that cabin fever. I can’t really think of myself as lucky for having all this downtime because I so much more want to be back teaching, writing curricula and lesson plans, and finishing my thesis. It actually bugs the hell out of me when people comment how lucky I am that I can just lie around all day. Guess what: when you’re 36 and it might be for the rest of your life, that is just no fun.

    However, the bright side is the massive amount of education on skepticism I’ve been able to get since I stopped working. I am very grateful and happy for that.

  23. I spend my time playing Phoenix Wright games these days (if someone wouldn’t have broken in to my house and stolen my Wii, grr…), reading anything I can get my hands on, blogging on my irritations, playing the piano, doing some math, or taking mindless pictures of everything that interests me.

  24. Playing video games while listening to podcasts (like SGU) is where it’s at!

    @marilove: I too have problems not knowing what to do outside during this time of the year, though I always regret not doing anything when the blazing heat of summer rolls in.

    I live in the middle of Tempe right next to ASU, so the crowded streets and regular drunken crowds of noisy students usually make me want to stay indoors.

    Hiking is about the only good thing I’ve found to do outdoors in the Phoenix area. I just grab my friends and make them come along with me. Camelback has a lot of nice trails, but they’re often crowded this time of year. I recently hiked South Mountain and found a lot of neat ravines, and if you can get as far north as cavecreek/carefree (my hometown, north of scottsdale), it’s quite beautiful. Black Mountain, in particular, is pretty sweet to hike.

    If you really have ballz, my friend goes Skydiving about halfway between Phoenix and Tucson.

  25. @marilove: But come summer, I always regret not taking advantage of our nice winter weather. Because there is no way I will be hiking in 110+ degree weather.

    Hm. I never thought about this before. In winter I do less outside more because of lack of light than lack of temperature. In the summer the weather is nicer and the days are longer and I’m outside lots. I guess for me living in a place with fairly brutal winters is worth it for the charmingly cool summers. I confess there was more accident in this than planning.

    I’m also happy to be out of Kansas where both the winters and the summers sucked.

  26. I was laid off from April 1st (HA HA) until mid-July when I got my old job back. At first I gamed a lot…then I shopped (which I NEVER do. I bought shoes, what the hell!), I cried, I searched for jobs, and then I finally picked up knitting. THAT helped. I felt like I was doing something productive.

    My first rule of being unemployed? Put pants every day of the week.

    After I got my old job back, I left that job early october, got married on Oct 10th, went on my honeymoon, moved into my new house, and then started my new job October 30th. So I think I filled that time pretty well! :)

  27. I usually spend my downtime blogging, reading blogs or hanging out on Twitter which is interspersed with watching a bit of TV or reading some books.
    I really wish I had more downtime so I could get more done.

  28. Hmm, what is this “downtime” of which you speak? It sounds wonderful. ;)

    Joking aside, I do get a little. My internet time isn’t even really my downtime, since that’s also my job and I’m usually doing freelance work while I play on Twitter, etc. Reading and watching movies are my two main non-work or non-internet activities.

  29. @tempestbrewer:
    “My first rule of being unemployed? Put pants every day of the week. ”

    Wow… so many tales of the unemployed. In my previous job I worked in bed with “whatever” on whenever I could. Now that I’m suckin’ the gubmint tit, I try to dress better and get out more, ironically.

  30. im a senior in high school but other than that I am currently unemployed. Yeah, and not by choice, either. No one will hire someone under 18 in my area. I’ve worked in a full time job before, but because i’m 3 months under voting age they won’t hire me? The age of consent is only 16 (PA hicks) but I can’t get a job.
    So i vent all of my non money making frustrations with a good ole replay of mass effect.
    Gaming takes away the sad of joblessness.

  31. My down time used to consist of getting away from base, finding a college town with no Marines around, getting drunk, running into some other Marines, fighting said Marines for ruining my night by acting like Marines. Waking up to rinse & repeat until libo was over. Return to base, get phone calls from my junior Marines who are locked up in Actionville, or the Ki’s depending on which year it was and bailing them out if I was in a good mood when not deployed.

    Now my down time is spent with 12 hours of school, or sitting outside with my telescope even though I can’t see much( thank you Philly and the suburbs), with the occasional video game thrown in.

  32. I have to leave the urban behind for forests and rivers. If I don’t visit the great outdoors regularly, I get to the point of misanthropy.

  33. funny, chelsea, i was actually pondering asking a very similar question for my next a.i. :D

    we’re on our way home from 3 weeks on the road, and i’m probably going home to at least another 1-3 months of unemployment. i have so many ambitions and projects to work on, but i am notoriously bad at self discipline. all it takes is for me to get comfortable in the papasan and start listening to podcasts and playing solitaire, and before i know what’s happened the entire day has slipped away from me.

    i love downtime. i love doing nothing. at least while i’m doing it. then later, when i have no downtime, i regret not using it more wisely.

    so this time, i’ve pledged to myself that i will establish good habits, and a daily work schedule, and try not to fall back into my old rut. i guess we’ll see how that works out.

  34. Right now, I work full-time with close to an hour commute, and I’m in library school, so when school’s in session, I don’t have much in the way of down time. I have taken to multitasking, having entertainment running in 1 window while I do work in another. I know the studies say this decreases effectiveness, but it seems to be working for me so far.

  35. I did downtime substantially, in the first half of last year. Unemployment meant that I had the time to drive myself crazy with boredom. But it did mean I stayed updated with blogs, podcasts etc. Now that I’m gainfully employed I’ve let that stuff slip.

    I do have one day off a week besides the weekend, so it’s not too bad – but still not enough. My main timesink at the moment is novel writing, and gaming. If you’re looking for a new Wii game, I can highly recommend Okami – it’s not only engrossing and very well written, but absolutely godsdamned Gorgeous.

  36. I left a very hostile work environment in May 2009 and haven’t worked since. Jobs are scarce around here unless you work part-time for minimum wage; my unemployment pays better.

    I’ve spent my time reading (currently have 23 books from library); knitting, crocheting, embroidery, sewing; research on the web; learning to cook better; playing online games; working out; fighting off the effects of perimenopause; and a lot of navel gazing.

    My unemployment ends in May and, hopefully, I’ll have a job before it does. If not, I have enough long-term savings that I can tap to carry me through another year. But, like you, I’d rather be working at a good job somewhere. The walls are starting to close in on me.

  37. @tempestbrewer:

    My first rule of being unemployed? Put pants every day of the week.

    It’s funny that you bring this up because my definition of a truly relaxing day is one where I never change out of my pajamas.

  38. @sporefrog: I didn’t get a car until August of 2008, and before that I relied exclusively on my feet and public transportation (for 8 years). I was outside a lot, and walked a LOT as it was, and didn’t really have any way to get to any hiking areas anyway on a regular basis, so I never did any of that kind of stuff.

    Now that I have a car, I just don’t think about it. I’m so used to living in the city and doing everything in the city, I sometimes forget that there’s a huge desert and tons of mountains not far from me.

    I’d like to make it to Sedona more often, but I don’t really have the gas money for that right now.

    I live in Central Phoenix, so I’m not far from South Mountain. I spend a LOT of time in North Phoenix visiting my besties, though, and there are some great trails to walk (not necessarily hike) that I should take advantage of more. They have two dogs and have been meaning to get out more themselves, so I’m hoping to tag along with them sometimes.

    I grew up in Parker, which is on the AZ/CA border (if anyone has driven the I-10 to California, just get off at Quartszite and drive about 40 minutes North on the 95, and you’ll hit Parker!). I visit as often as I can. I really should take some time when I visit next to walk and take pictures — it’s gorgeous. During the summer we usually spend all of our time on the Colorado River, and sometimes head to Lake Havasu. LOTS of places to explore, places I haven’t been to since I was a kid. The scenery is freakin’ amazing.

    @davew: We have plenty of light during the winter, and it’s just so much more pleasant. Summers for the majority of Arizona — especially where I grew up, which is worse than Phoenix — are brutal. Unless you’re in the water, or make a trip to Flagstaff (which is much cooler), you’re not outside. I was lucky that I grew up on the Colorado River — which was always cold even during the summer. Lemme tell ya, jumping into a ~70 degree river when it’s 120 out is good times.

  39. I crave lots of downtime, but I suck at it. Heck, I’ve trouble being productive during work hours if I’m not motivated.

    The couple of months between getting my severance package and going back to uni four years ago I did practically nothing.

    Maybe if I bought a cricket…

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