Why You Need a "Deloading" Phase in Life

deloading phase

I’ve written about my morning journaling routine once before.

But my journaling–think of it as freezing thinking on paper–isn’t limited to mornings. I use it as a tool to clarify my thinking and goals, much as Kevin Kelly (one of my favorite humans) does. The paper is like a photography darkroom for my mind.

Below is a scan of a real page. Both entries are from October 2015.

The first entry (top half) is simply a list of “fun” things I felt compelled to schedule after the unexpected death of a close friend. Since I’ve ticked all of the bullets off. You’ll notice that I blurred out a few sensitive bits, and I won’t spend time on this entry in this post.

The second entry (bottom half) was written in Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco after a two-hour walk. The gestation period during walking and subsequent entry lead me to re-incorporate “deloading” phases in my life. “Deloading” is a term often used in strength and athletic training, but it’s a concept that can be applied to many areas. Let’s look at the sports definition, here from T Nation:

A back-off week, or deload, is a planned reduction in exercise volume or intensity. In collegiate strength-training circles, it’s referred to as the unloading week, and is often inserted between phases or periods. Quoting from Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning: “The purpose of this unloading week is to prepare the body for the increased demand of the next phase or period,” and to mitigate the risk of overtraining.

So, how does this relate to creativity, productivity, or quality of life?

First, I’ll give a personal outcome — In the last 12 months, I’ve used “deloading” outside of sports to decrease my anxiety at least 50% while simultaneously doubling my income.

Deloading for business, in my case, consists of strategically taking my foot off the gas. I alternate intense periods of batching similar tasks (recording podcasts, clearing the inbox, writing blog posts, handling accounting, etc.) with extended periods of — for lack of poetic description — unplugging and fucking around.  Oddly enough, I find both the batching and unplugging to free up bandwidth and be restorative.

The unplug can still be intense (here’s a personal example in Bali), but you shouldn’t be working on “work.”

Let’s dig into the journal entry, as it provides much of the reasoning.

I’ve provided the scan (click to enlarge) and transcribed the entry below it, including many additional thoughts. The journal itself (Morning Pages Workbook) I explain here:

IMG_5998_V2

Now, the transcription with revisions and additional thoughts:

– TUES – SAMOVAR @ 5:40PM –

The great “deloading” phase.

This is what I’m experiencing this afternoon, and it makes a Tuesday feel like a lazy Sunday morning. This is when the muse is most likely to visit.

I need to get back to the slack.

To the pregnant void of infinite possibilities, only possible with a lack of obligation, or at least, no compulsive reactivity. Perhaps this is only possible with the negative space to–as Kurt Vonnegut put it–fart around? To do things for the hell of it? For no damn good reason at all?

I feel that the big ideas come from these periods. It’s the silence between the notes that makes the music.

If you want to create or be anything lateral, bigger, better, or truly different, you need room to ask “what if?” without a conference call in 15 minutes.  The aha moments rarely come from the incremental inbox-clearing mentality of, “Oh, fuck… I forgot to… Please remind me to… Shouldn’t I?…I must remember to…”

That is the land of the lost, and we all become lost.

My Tuesday experience reinforced, for me, the importance of creating large uninterrupted blocks of time (a la maker’s schedule versus manager’s schedule), in which your mind can wander, ponder, and find the signal amidst the noise. If you’re lucky, it might even create a signal, or connect two signals (core ideas) that have never shaken hands before.

For me, I’ve scheduled “deloading” phases in a few ways: roughly 8am-9am daily for journaling, tea routines, etc.; 9am-1pm every Wednesday for creative output (i.e. writing, interviewing for the podcast); and “screen-free Saturdays,” when I use no laptops and only use my phone for maps and coordinating with friends via text (no apps).  Of course, I also use mini-retirements a few time a year.

“Deloading” blocks must be scheduled and defended as strongly as–actually, more strongly than–your business commitments. The former can be a force multiplier for the latter, but not vice-versa.

So, how can one throttle back the reactive living that has them following everyone’s agenda except their own?

Create slack, as no one will give it to you. This is the only way to swim forward instead of treading water.

###

Did you enjoy this? Please let me know in the comments.  I’d also love to hear of how you “deload,” if you do.

If you’d like more on my morning routines, here are five habits that help me tremendously.

As always, thanks for reading.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 500 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

Leave a Reply to Rachel Cancel reply

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration.)

181 Replies to “Why You Need a "Deloading" Phase in Life”

  1. Trusting yourself is difficult.

    I need to deload every week at least. I’m a small scale farmer and have a somewhat endless list of to-dos and sometimes when they are all present in my head at the same time, I crack under the pressure.

    But of course I wouldn’t show that outwardly. I appreciate this post as a demonstration of the cracks in the armor.

    One thing I have come to terms with in the last few years is that just as there is no one, other then your self, that can help you forward to pursue your dreams, there is also no one other then yourself who knows exactly what you need to do to manage your life and all of it’s stresses.

    I trust my inner sensei, he seems to know the path forward.

  2. You know what I like about you? Would love to meet you, but I DON’T need to. You put it all out there, and for those that are listening…it is loud and clear. It’s fun being LUCID with you Tim. Much Love, maybe see you, maybe not…time will tell. PS How is your Wood Stove treating you?!?! Is it Legit?

  3. I seem to be doing the opposite of deloading and cannot figurecout why. These are choices, no doubt. But what’s good, such as buying a house on the river ultimately adfs to my stress. And it’s just me and the dog. So there’s that.

  4. Tis better to do them on your own schedule than to burn out and be forced to… Deload as you call it. I wore myself to the bone and life has handed me a reload phase.

    I think I will use this philosophy moving forward as a way to “get back to work” in a manageable way.

    Thank you for sharing. This is such an important concept to retain sanity in this whirling world.

  5. Hi Tim,

    What a great article. The value you share has made such an impact on me throughout the last couple years, I must show my appreciation, so I’ll start here. It’s interesting that a simple practice of “deloading” can catalyze creativity in such a natural way and you make it make perfect sense. I’ve recently began to practice a similar concept but haven’t been sure of its affectiveness or how to refer to it. Now it’s clear. Thanks for once again bringing clarity to my cloudy and sometimes unclear intuitions. You do this for me more than anyone I know. Your fuckin awesome! Keep making great work.

    Quinton

  6. Tim, This is answering some of my own questions. I take off 24 hours a week from the grind and I find that my creative brain turns on even more when I step away. I step away for spiritual reasons and now I can feel less guilty because of what you have shared!

  7. Right,

    Your creativity heals you and the others.

    It’s really good to listen about this loading phase concept to prepare the body for the increased demand of the next phase. Really encouraging that decoding may be intentional or unintentional. So, you have talked about a tool of motivation for the unintentional loading phase, like someone got injured, or women in pregnancy, consider this period of recovery as the developing phase waiting and preparing themselves for the motivational move of the next phase.

  8. Hey, Tim!

    Really interesting idea – I do something similar myself by ‘vanishing’ from time to time. Calms the mind; clears the head. More recently, I suggested it as a wellness tactic to a chap who works with me. He’s suffered with a very long period of ill health, but no diagnosis. Deloading helped him – he’s a lot better physically, but his mental state is incredible! Really creative. Proof that a busy-ness culture really is counter productive.

  9. Funny you talk about deloading. I have worked this way most of my life and for many years would be like “why can’t I simply balance my life? And try to force a more regimented thought process into my work habits which simply backfired as my Aaah hah moments were fewer and farther in between. I have recently come to embrace the deloading period as much good comes from giving the opportunity to let the mind be free And puzzles get solved and new initiatives take place after. Hey thanks for all your insight I love reading your stuff!

  10. Great post! Deloading works, sometimes even unplanned, it’s as if your life makes you take the time off to get ready for something new. I am listening to your podcasts and read your books. However, is there like a step-by-step approach, which would include all these different tools? Thank you!

  11. I think of it in terms of being a sabbatical. In my case I left a stressful and dissapointing job after nine years. I needed time to just sit and write and doodle in order to let the dust settle, or clear the cob webs, or sweat it out, or whatever metaphor floats the boat. This also came after a period of losing several dear people in my life and it absolutely caused me to think about what I want to spent my time on. It was not a three hour commute and working with the public.

    A year and a half later I am still afloat and convinced I never did a more important thing. I do not know what is next but I am sure i will be fully present for it.

  12. Justification for deloading is incredibly helpful, especially when it comes to defending — and demonstrating the benefits of — mini-retirements to one’s boss. Blog posts on the latter topic would be very much appreciated.

  13. Thanks for this post and explaining it so well. I try to do this on a regular basis. To have little oasis all the time instead of one big chunk of time off, a long holiday or whatever. I find myself not even wanting a long holiday and not needing it, I love my work so much. Instead always making time to recharge in between, that is so helpful, it works wonders.

  14. Great article (TF – your output has been my most trusted / most used source of advice for years. Inspired.)

    Rob Bell’s recent podcast speaks to this same theme. I’m paraphrasing but – ‘we are designed to follow a sine curve of natural rhythms – night/day, up/down, summer/winter, etc.’ To be always on, always ‘more’ denies this natural rhythm. It’s hardly surprising that the result of such a high-octane lifestyle is often physical or mental destruction.

  15. Hi Tim, love the post. Currently in quite a lengthy deloading phase after competing in the Paralympics. At times I feel guilty that I should be doing more but when I think about the 5 years straight of travel and tournaments I just lean into my chair a little deeper and get comfy. Meanwhile I am looking forward to getting back into training and business soon. All the best, love everything you do. A

  16. Great way to spend your time Tim.

    I usually think of the time I spend like this as a “stay cation” stay home not work and do non carrier related things. Where I might go out of the way to hike somewhere new, eat somewhere different and certainly catch up on sleep. It’s a great way to take the time to do things you always wanted to do in your own city that you normally say “that will always be there, I can do it later” then later becomes never.

    Stay frosty Tim.

    2

  17. Hey man, I always appreciate the advice you give. I also love how you write it exactly how you’d say it. Without a filter, and not too serious, yet serious lol. The podcast is freaking awesome too Tim. Keep it going brother.

  18. Well said Tim! I couldn’t have said it better myself. Morning Journaling seems to provide a great deal of clarity. Going with your deloading concept, I’ve had something similar, it’s important to map things out and play with your thoughts; to reassess your goal and purpose and just figure out what you want to do at a given time! I don’t work in a high-stress business, but I’m studying chemistry and balancing life. You have to find a system that works for you!

  19. I loved this article! My best ideas come when I am away from all commitments and can let my mind wander and do its work.

    I like to start my day with scheduled downtime and I find amazing things happen when I do.

    Thank you Tim for all you do! You have a high purpose here!

  20. This is pretty great. It has dawned on me recently, (why just recently???) that, since I’ve been a self employed graphic and web designer for the past 15 years, there’s NEVER a time in my life where I can completely feel free of that ‘something’ I have to do for a client, for tax purposes, or for my business. True relaxation seems just out of reach, and it’s exhausting. I’m going to build in some deloading time, thank you!

  21. You put into words exactly what my husband and I are experiencing right now!

    In the early part of last year, we felt like we were stagnant. We had all of these ideas floating around, but no connections being made between them, no time to riff, no time for the “muse to visit” as you say. So we took off. We left our home town and temporarily moved across the country. We were craving that SPACE. It was a big jump and IT HAS WORKED! Why? We’ve decreased our obligations significantly. That part of your post resonated with me.. huge. We are working remotely (big thanks to 4HWW!), so we do have some obligations obviously, but we’re doing things on our schedule way more often than we were before.

    My creativity is pumping, my motivation is back, I’m working out more, taking care of myself, my business is getting back on track, I feel HAPPIER, less stressed, less anxious, etc., etc., the list goes on. I’m now a true believer in “deloading” – thanks so much for articulating what my husband and I have been feeling. We are MASSIVE fans of yours. I’m finishing up Chris Hadfield’s book and then going to dive nose deep into Tools of Titans. MUCH LOVE!!!!!

  22. I’ve taken mini-retirements for the past 10 years, although I’d never heard it referred to this way. When I finish teaching this April, I’m about to take another 4 months off. And you’re so right! Those are the times that I’m most creative and open to learning and creating! Love your work!

  23. i like how you’ve got fasting in your ‘fun’ stuff. i try to incorporate fasting into my worklife, but then there’s no way I could call that ‘ deloading’ as well. I could deload and fast at a weekend but then I’d feel like I was missing out on time to eat nice food and unwind.

    as someone pointed out tho, burnout is real and it sucks. so I really like the concept of actviely taking off the foot off the pedal, but with passive / rewarding habits.

  24. Great article. It’s the first thing I read upon waking and the perfect length to inspire me but not make me feel like I’m pissiing away my morning reading and not doing. Nice picture, too, all glowy and refreshing.

  25. First of all, thanks for a great post. You reminded me why it is important to “deload “.

    I usually go do some light exercise outside in nature like walking sometimes combining it with running or swimming. And then for some time just sit and enjoy the nature and weather. Those relaxed moments are worth gold to me.

    It’s a easy and cheap way to put away stress and worries. I also get the feeling that no problem is unmanageable. It also good for creative thinking.

    If I want creative input I listen to a audio book.

    If I come up with a good idea I try to write it down or share my insights with a friend at a later point.

  26. all of my best ‘work’ has been done by simply ignoring the pressures of time and giving my full attention to the task in hand. Conversely I concider my least productive time to when I have seemingly relentless demands on my time.

    I have always had the ability to walk away or remove myself from all the pressures and block time out for head-space but it has been at points of high intensity or overload. I go surfing when I need to but aside from holidays, it has not occurred to me to schedule time to fart about. Like all good ideas, it seems obvious when you hear it. I like the stuff that actually affects change. Thank you.

  27. I love this concept, and can truly see how it could be a force multiplier…. I’m also interested in your note about “Cal Pauli” hopefully we will hear a Podcast with him soon

  28. Thank you Tim.since the beginning i have been following you and openly admitting that you helped me quit my 9 year gov job 7 years ago with my 3 kids and wife.

    Deloading was when i drove to alaska 45 days camping with 3 kids and Rebecca. My vision was made clear. Had mp3 podcasts i saved over the years. My #1 is you and rick rubin in the icebath and sauna along with so many good ones. I have not.heard any in so mamy months. Even my daughter getting in ivy league with scholarship is partially because you bla bla.bla and.finally a few.of.your audience gets it.and.wakes the fuck up and understand their real value vs what the rat race expects them to be.

  29. Completely agree, and I try to incorporate deloading into daily life as well. A nap in the early afternoon sets me up to good stuff from 2-5ish. Some time stretching around 8PM and I’m good for another two hours of productive output after my son goes to bed.

  30. Hi Tim,

    After reading this I realised that I need to schedule my deloading times indeed. I have a few dailies ones I defend naturally. Like my lunches where I walk through my home town in stead of eating with my coworkers (Ill socialise with them when I’m not working/mini deloads and on the floor.

    Do you think I should batch deloading with cheatdays or use another evening/day in the week for that?

  31. Hello Tim! This EXACTLY what I have been thinking about for myself doing this year! Also spending time talking to God within my heart in knowing the next steps to move forward. This is very peaceful. Thank you for reminding me to take my retreat!

  32. I just starting doing this. I take walks once or twice a day, at first thinking about what is stressing me out, then clearing my head, and then thinking about what I really want in the day. Once or twice a month, I carve out time in a space where I leave all technology behind and have just pen and paper. This article gave me a few new ideas that will help me choose what is going to accomplish my goals instead of everyone elses goals

  33. Loved your “deload” article.

    I deload on planes, instead of working -when it’s possible- I like to read and the ideas start coming so I write and write…

  34. I am also a writer on paper person, and have always been a journaling person and one to create silence in order for ideas to bounce off, walking and nature also work wonders to me. My deloading time is always in the morning, sometimes hours as I have a flexible schedule. funnily, I also find that ideas come very often at 5.30-6.30 am . I don’t use alarm clock for years and always wake up 6.30 -7 naturally but if something is brewing it can light up a little earlier. I like very much your idea of a stress free day and will try to implement it for myself as I feel I am using too much laptop time and in a way that I think is more addictive than anything 🙂

  35. Nice article Tim. I second with you that we all need a deloading phase, the techniques and tips you shared are as always really helpful.

    Doing brain dump in a journal is a blessing, it frees so much energy of the brain. I have also started journalling on regular basis, already started noticing the benefits.

    Thank for sharing valuable insights from your life experiences, they are helping many 👍

  36. Very motivating words Tim. It eliminates this guilt feeling I have to retreat 10 mn every morning in the office to write down my thoughts and feelings before being taken over by the flow of work.

  37. I really enjoyed this. I’ve been paddling across an ocean forever. I finally took vacation time to get a energy reading done and search my soul. I like to have a more structured de-load schedule to avoid burn outs. Thank you for sharing this.

  38. It was amazing timing for me to see this today, realizing that the down time I had been writing ag sin st and punishing myself for was exactly what I needed.

    Just like your talk in Austin – I am grateful

  39. Yep, I finally came to this conclusion after going strong for years! I feel so much better about my life now that I’ve slowed down and have time to daydream. I can’t say I came to this awareness without burnout but it doesn’t matter, it makes me that much more interesting and easy to relate to. Thanks for sharing Tim and making this the key to real productive living!

  40. I have a running list of questions for you since I first came across your podcast years ago! One of them is the organization of your journals and if you combined different genres(health, business, wisdom, travels)

    I find deloading essential for allowing your mind to open up “real estate” for the important downloads yet to come. In my attempt to emphasize its importance, i explain it as when an airplane loses air pressure. You are instructed to put your mask on first prior to helping others; otherwise, you’re useless if you become unconscious. The same goes for self preservation, you need to preserve your mind, body, soul and spirit before you can begin the journey of giving away parts yourself to your business, family, friends, etc.

  41. Aspiring to a great old age, we need rest, we need to sleep, and then use the energy to be even more active. A change can be as good as a rest – thanks for the deloading ideas – and all the activity ideas.

  42. Deloading, I like it. I’ve heard before that being bored ignites creativity. Deloading has a more positive sound to it. Scheduled deloading, will try it for sure.

  43. Brilliant article. I do a mini reload after every coaching call with a client or mastermind group. I take the time to reflect on what I just coached /advised them on and extract the things that I need to apply to my own life. And at the moment it is exactly this…to deload.

    When I started out as an entrepreneur I was actually pretty good at this…but I’ve let it slide. Sometimes we have to trust that by taking this time we will not be missing out, we won’t be lazy we are just as you say refuelling. So it’s actually better than ploughing ahead and continuing to work at a less impactful rate.

    Thanks for the great reminder Tim.

  44. This is a concept I am unfamiliar with in a business sense, but clearly need to incorporate it into my routine. Juggling a 9-5 while trying to start up a side hustle has proved difficult, time is tough to come by. But I think these deloading phases are a necessity. I am familiar with and have utilized the deloading concept in regards to sport, back in my college days. Looking forward to incorporating this into my day to day. Great read, per usual!

    Cheers

  45. Thanks, Tim, for reminding me of the nurturing nature of emptiness. How often do we condemn ourselves for not having ideas, insights, or peace of mind, whereas exactly such a thought – handled gently – leads us on a good path? Maybe i should introduce a tea-time, too.

  46. I love to “deload” like this either very late at night or very early in the morning, when everyone else is sleeping. It feels like sacred, stolen, creative time. I also want to advocate dedicating time to read and reflect on our morning pages and creative writings at least once a year to harness our own lessons. Thanks for sharing Tim!

  47. Dear Tim,

    I just picked up your book again the 4 hour work week, which I purchased 6 years ago. You are truly inspiring and I wanted to share my gratitude for your thoughtful articles.

    Cheers from Berlin

    Michael

  48. Hi Tim, I greatly admire your help to others both near and far. I have listened to your podcast and equate your wisdom to that of Tony Robbins, when I listened to his Power Within. Recently I read some of the stress experiences of SERGIO CALTAGIRONE at Activeresponse.org and think you’d find his story worthy of an interview for your fans.

    Live Long and Prosper 🙂

    Cheers

    Rob Scharf, Ottawa, Canada

  49. I absolutely need to be in nature, off grid, in a wild place, to deload. I have a 9-5 and while I image a lot of you would consider that part time my ‘time wheel’ is full with exercise, seeing friends and family and trying to pursue hobbies. The only part of that time wheel I am willing to reduce to make room for down time is work, but I asked for a 4 day week and was refused.

    Deloading is critical for everyone, 9-5 office workers, factory workers, taxi drivers. Everyone commenting on here seems to be extremely high functioning, a lot owning their own business. I think it would be great if everyone who owned a business and saw the benefits of deloading/switching off could enable that for their employees.

  50. Hi Tim, I am currently reading your 4-hour work week book & found your blog. I find a lot of informative tips I can take along my entrepreneur journey.

    Thank you for sharing this valuable insight. Deloading makes absolute sense & believe we all need some deloading to be sufficient!

  51. Hi Tim

    I loved the Inc. article about you and also this blog post! Before I start my next job in a tech-startup I’m going to work on a farm in the Swiss mountains and try to use the free time – if I have any – to meditate and write and not use my phone.