In our work-obsessed culture, we tend to think of taking time off as a necessity--something we must do to recharge our batteries so we can go back to being productive. But leisure is valuable in its own right. It helps us expand our creativity and take our work to the next level. It also allows us to live fuller and more meaningful lives.

That's the message five TED speakers have to offer on the absolute importance of taking time off. Take a few minutes to watch them and learn why--no matter how much you love your work or how important it is--the time you take off is every bit as important. And here's how to spend it:

1. Try going on sabbatical--it can actually boost your business.

What would happen to your business if you closed your doors for a year while you went on sabbatical to an exotic locale? Perhaps it would actually benefit. At least that's how things work for Stefan Sagmeister, a designer best known for creating album covers for the Rolling Stones, David Byrne, and other famous musicians.

Every seven years, he closes his business down while he and his staff take a year's sabbatical, most recently to Bali. In this engaging talk, he explains his decision to take one year off every seven years to work purely on his own projects. The purpose was to shake off staleness, but he says, "Financially, seen over the long term, it was actually successful. Because of the improved quality, we could ask for higher prices."

Most of us can't imagine taking a year off our paying work to devote solely to projects that interest us. But Sagmeister makes it seem like an experiment worth trying.

2. Spend 10 minutes every day doing nothing.

And that means no texting, no checking your email, no video games, TV watching, or reading, says mindfulness expert Andy Puddicombe, who describes the benefits of 10 mindful minutes of doing nothing but observing your thoughts in his talk that takes only nine--he illustrates his points by juggling while he delivers them.

3. Take things more slowly.

We live in a culture obsessed with rapidity, where dialing is replaced by speed dialing, reading by speed reading, and dating by speed dating, says journalist Carl Honore in an engaging talk. "Sometimes it takes a wake-up call to alert us to the fact that we're hurrying through our lives instead of actually living them; that we're living the fast life instead of the good life," he says. For him, that wake-up call was reading to his son at bedtime and being so accustomed to rushing that he found himself speed reading The Cat in the Hat--much to his son's annoyance.

That experience got him to try taking at least some things slowly--to get in touch with what he calls his "inner tortoise." "My default mode is no longer to be a rush-aholic," he explains. "And the upshot is that I actually feel a lot happier and healthier; I feel like I'm living my life rather than just racing through it. And perhaps the most important measure of the success of this is that I feel that my relationships are a lot deeper, richer, stronger."

Maybe we should all give a little slowness a try.

4. Take the time to feel beauty.

Beauty is something we feel, not something we understand, explains product designer Richard Seymour, and he walks us through some examples of beautiful objects and how what we know about them changes our perceptions. And that even folding a T-shirt can be a beautiful and enjoyable thing if you know how to do it really, really well.

5. Make sure to balance work with play and love.

What can we learn from the lives of the greatest presidents? Presidential biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin relates one simple lesson in her thoughtful talk: that the greatest lives are those that find a balance among the elements work, play, and love. "To pursue one realm to the disregard of the other is to open oneself to ultimate sadness in older age," she warns. "Whereas to pursue all three with equal dedication is to make possible a life filled not only with achievement but with serenity."

Abraham Lincoln achieved this balance beautifully despite being the only president to have to deal with a civil war. Lyndon Johnson on the other hand sadly failed, as Goodwin learned while helping him work on his memoirs. Retired from public life, he had wealth, achievement to look back on, and a loving and devoted family. Nevertheless, the absence of work seemed to leave a hole in his heart that nothing could fill. He defiantly resumed smoking after 15 years, despite knowing that he had a heart condition and it could endanger his life. He died four years after leaving office.

Published on: May 25, 2015
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