Unstructured Time: Why we should embrace it

The Core > Health and wellbeing > Unstructured time: Why we should embrace it

Published: 4/12/2019
By Catherine Rutland, Clinical Director

Denplan Clinical Director Catherine Rutland reflects on unstructured time and how we shouldn't take it for granted.

I have recently done something I have never trusted myself to do before. I took a week off work back in October and didn’t go away. Historically I have always made sure I had a holiday booked as I know myself too well! I had very few plans and was determined I would not get tempted to get out my work laptop and just have a sneaky look at a few emails. I really thought I would give in.


There is a lot written about ‘allowing’ yourself unstructured time, especially with Christmas coming up. In practice, your time is so structured and can often feel like a relentless challenge. Outside of work there can also be a feeling of making the most of the time you are not working and cramming in exercise, friends, family and chores. You see it everywhere, almost like a cult of ‘you have to be busy otherwise you must be wasting your life’. Passing this lifestyle onto our children, feeling we have to keep them entertained, has been shown to be damaging to them. Apparently, it is good to be bored.


Technology doesn’t help. My mum always told us as children that when she said she was bored as a child my grandfather would tell her to go and read the atlas. Her boredom was turned into a lifelong desire to see all those countries she had spotted in the atlas, and she’s still doing an amazing job of getting to so many places off the beaten track. Boredom allowed her brain to be free. The easy access most children have to technology in some cases will mean their brain never gets that free time, that imaginative time that is so important.


I strongly believe it is the same for us as adults. When did you last just allow yourself to be?


I find that for me the problem is, if I don’t make sure I have that unstructured time, my brain makes everything going on disproportionate. Anything that is a bit more challenging, or hasn’t quite gone as I wanted takes on a hold.


At extremes what I have often seen with dentists who are struggling is that they absolutely refuse to give themselves time. On reflection I know there have been points in my life I have been like this, almost not daring to stop and pause as you will then actually have to deal with the fallout or actually be brave and face up to what is going on in your life. It almost feels easier to keep busy and maybe it will go away. It won’t. You will either burn yourself out or have a breakdown and certainly scare the people around you who really care for you.


Over the last few years I have built more and more time into my life that is unstructured. I have seen the benefits to myself and therefore to those I love around me. I am quite comfortable to say, when asked what I am doing at the weekend, ‘absolutely nothing planned’ and not feel like that makes me a social outcast! What is always interesting is the number of people who say something along the lines of ‘that sounds like bliss’.


That doesn’t mean that there aren’t huge chunks of my week that can feel like a whirlwind! However, I deal with that whirlwind so much better.


If you are reading this thinking, but I don’t have time, my view would be, take control of your time. If it is in practice look at how your appointment book is managed. Is it working as you want, who is controlling it, you, reception or your patients? The same applies to your home life, who is controlling it, you, your children, your partner, the dog?!


My ‘staycation’ in October surprised me or maybe I surprised myself. I planned very little in and took each day as it came, acted based around what the weather was like and how I felt. I didn’t switch my work laptop on, and I’ll try not to over Christmas as well.


On the Sunday evening before going back to work, I realised there were actually quite a lot of things I had intended to do before the week started that I hadn’t got round to! They weren’t things I would have procrastinated on, I just had got so used to not pushing myself to fill my time that the week had just flown by.


With Christmas coming up, now is the perfect time to allow yourself some unstructured time. You will be surprised what it does for you.

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