How I Make Time & Space to Wind Down on a Busy Day


A few weeks ago, I shared a photo of a jigsaw puzzle on Instagram Stories with the caption “Today has been a fairly stressful day so time to unwind with a favorite puzzle and an audiobook.”

Within minutes of posting, I got a comment that said “You should do a post on allowing time/space in your stressful day to let yourself unwind. It’s something I still can’t grasp mentally without guilt. Def an inner goal of mine.”

I couldn’t stop thinking about this message and I opened a question box to see if this was a common feeling and what was getting in the way of people feeling like they had the time and space to unwind.

Here’s how I think about wind down time, and then I’ll jump into some of the questions.

Most importantly, I’m a human and not a robot. I’m not built for non-stop productivity AND I’m allowed to enjoy my life and build space and time into my life for regular enjoyment and relaxation. This isn’t lazy or silly – it’s fundamental to my big-picture goal of having a happy, low stress life.

Of course there are days or weeks when I really have to full-out sprint to get everything done, but I’m very committed to making sure that on an on-going basis, my life has room for fun and happiness.

winding down

For me, some of those relaxation and enjoyment items look like:

  • Doing jigsaw puzzles while listening to an audiobook
  • Reading in bed before I go to sleep
  • Skiing with friends or with my family
  • Playing pickleball with Ella or with friends
  • Listening to an audiobook while I play a game on my phone
  • Taking a nap when I need one
  • Going for a walk around the neighborhood

At the end of the day, I know that I can’t work or be productive around the clock and trying to do so is just a quick road to burnout or being less efficient and more unhappy.

Also, one of the questions I ask myself continually about many topics is “is this working out for me?” If you’re constantly stressed, irritable and unhappy, but feel like you can’t take any time to yourself without feeling guilty about 20 minutes to unwind . . . is that situation really working out very well for you or any of the people you live or work with?

I’m very solution-oriented so when I can see that the current cycle of go-go-go is hurting me and the people I love and the things I’m trying to get done, it’s obvious to me that a different system is worth trying.

Here are some of the questions that came in about this wind down time:

Is it a daily practice or just when it’s particularly stressful?
Some of both! I try to make sure I have wind down time pretty much every day but it looks different every day depending on what’s going on. And if my day or week is feeling especially stressful, I’ll be extra mindful about making a little time to decompress.

What time of day and how often per day?
Two of my biggest times of day for a little unwind are in the afternoon once my kids get home from school and things are starting to slow down for a bit and then after they’re in bed.

Do you have a time frame or set a time limit?
No, not usually. There is usually a pretty natural time limit – I go to bed at basically the same time every day so I won’t usually read or do a puzzle or whatever past that. I don’t have strict rules around this kind of wind down time because it’s not meant to be another stressful, highly regulated part of my life. I already have enough of those things!

Do you always do the same thing, or just pick one of a few go-to activities?
I have a few wind down activities (I listed some above!) and I go for whatever works for that moment or speaks to me.

How to talk to your kids about needing time/space for this?
I’ve been doing this basically all their lives, so it’s very usual to all of us for me to say “I need about 15 minutes to clear my mind and settle down.” We also talk about how they need time in the morning before school to get ready and not feel rushed or stressed or how they want time between dinner and bedtime to play together or how it feels really good after school to have free play, and I want them to see that adults need and deserve that same kind of space! I’m very much NOT about being a martyr mom and I don’t want my girls to grow up thinking that it’s their job to sacrifice everything for their partner, kids or work.

How do you decide you’re done for the day? There’s always more to do!
One of the things I remind myself of is that there will NEVER be an end to the household chores or the work that can be done. I’m the only one who can decide when it’s enough – no one else is going to decide for me. Also, I think it can be easy to feel like if you let yourself do something for fun, you’ll never again be productive or get anything done. The best way to combat that is to PROVE to yourself that this is not true. You can sit down and do a puzzle for 20 minutes or read a book for 15 minutes or take a 30 minute nap and then still get on with what needs to be done!

What would you say to someone who thinks that doing things for fun is unproductive?
That person is living a sad life and I would NOT take life advice from someone who said something like that. I prioritize a happy, joyful life and fun is a major part of that. I wouldn’t want my children to feel like anything that’s not productive is a waste of time and I want to model to them a full, rich life that’s made up of both productivity and joy.

How to reach for the book over the online game?
Read books that are more fun! If the only books you’ll let yourself read are non-fiction parenting books or dense classics, I don’t blame you a bit for choosing an online game instead! Here are some funny, lighthearted books that I’ve loved! Also, you can do both – read for 10 or 15 minutes and then play on online game. Or listen to an audiobook while you play an online game if it’s a game that lets you listen at the same time!

Do you see benefits in productivity/happiness later in the day?
Absolutely! Pushing yourself past the point of exhaustion is like trying to make a car run on an empty tank of gas. It’s just not going to work very well and DEFINITELY not for very long, plus you’ll probably just cause more long-term damage than help. It’s generally not very hard for me to prioritize taking a nap or a 15 minute walk or working on a puzzle when I know that it’ll help me work faster and with more clarity later in the day or the next day.

How to do it when house still cluttered! I love the idea but can’t seem to relax within the mess. 
I totally get this because I also HATE clutter.  A few things that help me – one, I’ll set a timer for 10 minutes and do as much as I can in that time before I unwind. It’s easy for cleaning up to stretch into taking up every available moment, and having a timer forces me to focus and do the most impactful things as quickly as possible (and listening to an audiobook can make it more enjoyable). I’ve also started putting my kids in charge of cleaning up the living room/dining room/kitchen area while I make dinner. I give them total ownership and say “I want everything put away. You are very capable and can get it as clean as I can!” and they have done a surprisingly great job! Or, I clean up one space (say my bedroom) and then unwind in there so I’m not seeing the rest of the mess, knowing I can deal with it tomorrow when I’m more energetic.

How to decide when to stop… I live by my to-do list and find it hard to drop anything for the day. 
Try being more thoughtful about what actually deserves to be on your to-do list. Pick the most important 3-5 things and focus on those instead of adding 25 things of varying importance to your to-do list. What absolutely has to be done today and what can be done tomorrow instead?

How do I let myself slow down on stressful days without being frustrated with myself?
Would you be angry at your child if they had a big test at school and then swim team practice and then wanted 20 minutes at home to snuggle up on the couch with a blanket and listen to an audiobook? Probably not! It’s definitely a skill to learn to give yourself grace and the more you practice it, the better you’ll be at it. I love the phrase my friend Miranda uses about “mothering yourself.” Thinking about how I would treat my children after a stressful day or how I’d encourage a friend to unwind helps me think about giving myself the same loving treatment.

What do you “Let Go” and what do you still finish to make tomorrow better?
When I’m really feeling stressed and saying to my husband, “I HAVE TOO MUCH TO DO!!!” he’ll say, “let’s walk through everything that absolutely HAS to be done today.” It’s easy for me to build it up in my head to this massive to-do list when really when I take a step back, it’s one or two things that need to be done and they’re not as bad as I’m making them out to be in my mind. For me, almost every work thing can wait until the next day. Errands can wait. The main things I personally almost never let slide are getting a good night’s sleep, getting ready for bed (washing my face and brushing my teeth), and tidying up the house before bed because it’s so unpleasant for me to start the day with a mess.

How to fight the mindset that I can’t rest until I’ve accomplished a certain amount?
Practice! Start with 5 minutes of rest or unwinding (whatever that looks like for you!) and let your brain see that the world won’t end. Once your brain gets more comfy with that, you can start adding on a little time (and also, you may be surprised to see that when your brain and body sees that you’re going to give it some time to unwind each day, it’s often easier to accomplish more during the busy times of the day because it knows there is something to look forward to and a finish line. When you’re just forcing yourself to go-go-go non-stop, your brain and body often wants to hold back energy and motivation so you don’t burn out entirely).

How to know when you’ve done enough to justify relaxing?
I don’t have to justify it. I’m a human, not a robot, and my body and brain and soul need relaxation to function. Just like I don’t have to justify eating meals or getting sleep!

Is it possible to unwind when your children are not in bed yet? How?
Yes! I like unwinding activities that my children can participate in (like all of us picking our own book to read individually) or working on a puzzle together or going on a walk or going to the park so they can play while I read. Like almost anything, kids get better at holding space for you to unwind with practice!

How to keep that commitment to yourself when others you care about have urgent needs?
I don’t know what the urgent needs you’re dealing with are, so it’s hard to be very specific, but your needs are urgent too! You cannot continue to serve those around you if you’re running on absolute empty and YOU are the only person who can prioritize your own needs and make sure you get the things you need to keep going.

Have you always been able to do this? I have 4 kids and 2 are still very young.
Yes! This is a high priority for me in my life and I remember doing puzzles when the girls went to bed in Arizona when they were 0, 2, 4, and 6 or taking a nap when my baby was down for a nap or going to bed early or listening to an audiobook while I pushed my kids around the neighborhood in a double stroller. The secret for me is recognizing that there will ALWAYS be lots of demands on your time and if you don’t make space for that time, no one else will either.

How do you do a puzzle instead of doom scrolling and binge watching something?

I know all too well the draw of Instagram when you’re tired and worn out – it’s so hard to turn it off! For me, the best solution is to turn my phone off and plug it in in a different room so it’s not so tempting. That 30 seconds of effort means I don’t have to use my dwindling willpower to keep fighting the urge for the next 30  minutes.

What do you do when you feel like all your energy is gone for things you enjoy?
If I have no energy, that’s a huge sign to me that the thing I need the most is a good night’s sleep. I view going to bed early as a true luxuary and the greatest treat I can give myself. It’s amazing how much more energetic and happy I feel the next morning when I’ve gotten a solid 8-9 hours of sleep.

What puzzles do you have/recommend?
Some of my all-time favorites here!


Any other questions about making time and space for unwinding in your life? I’d love to help!


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  1. Thank you for such a thoughtful and helpful post! Somewhat related: how do you foster positive sibling relationships? I find that when I try to get a moment of quiet, my kids are bickering/arguing? They have such a deep love for each other, but it’s almost like bickering is a sport for them. I try to ignore it as much as I can, but it can definitely be frustrating/difficult to relax. Any tips would be fantastic! Or perhaps a whole blog post.

  2. I appreciate this reminder. As someone trying to do it all, I love the idea of a timer and sticking with the time you set for yourself to relax. And using communication with those around you to help them realize what you need. Especially modeling what that looks like for our kids is such a good practice. If they see it done, they will remember to take time for themselves to reset.

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