According to many, to do nothing has become the sole preserve of the creatively and intellectually inert. To more still, being idle is seen as something akin to wasting time.
As such, to take time for oneself has become something akin to a radical act of defiance – there’s suddenly a sense of rebellion in self-preservation.
To then give that time to someone is a gift worth of considerable worth, and one worth contemplating this week of all weeks.
It’s precisely that notion that Julie Haslam intends to espouse the virtues of through The Downtime Agenda. Though the name might seem like a curious tautology – an agenda for one’s downtime? – the ethos is a simple, important one.
The Downtime Agenda is an online gifting hub dedicated to enhancing the quality of our increasingly rare downtime. The site’s threefold tenets are undoubtedly ones of which we’re all mindful – to boost wellbeing, increase productivity and reduce stress – that it’s little wonder more aren’t attuned to its wavelength.
The idea came to her as most good ideas do – the hard way.
“I had a stress-related illness that was triggered from working like a crazy person at that time,” says Haslam, who was working in a marketing role in the automotive industry at the time she committed to achieving her lifelong dreaming of starting her own business.
“I thought, ‘How do I take what I truly am passionate about and love doing and think is important and combine that with the way I was feeling at the time with that illness. That was when it all came together for me.”
“I started advertising in Adelaide and that was less full-on, but I think [in Sydney] it’s a bit of a different ball game, and it was really full on. [Staying] back at work until 10 o’clock was my normal, and I was working on massive clients [and] they’ve got big expectations. It just seemed like the culture, it was kind of normal. You had to work hard and you had to work fast. I love that, but it does get to a point where you need to slow down. Also, I don’t necessarily think it’s the fault of the business, it can just be the pressures that we put on ourselves.”
For the corporate space in particular, an idea like Haslam’s resonates on a number of levels. The Melbourne-based Haslam, who still works as a freelance consultant for a major automotive client, reels off with ease some recent findings that coincide with the launch of her venture. According to research conducted by BeyondBlue, untreated mental health issues, stress related illness, low morale and poor staff engagement can cost Australian businesses close to $11 billion each year through absenteeism, reduced productivity and compensation claims.
A similar study conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that those employers who implement effective action to create a workplace where mental health is prioritised can expect a greater return on investment equivalent to $2.30 for every dollar spent on implementing that affirmative action.
As such, the products and experiences Haslam sells through her online store tend to be meditative, considered and undertaken with a view toward improving mental and physical health. They range from gifts designed to cultivate growth (heirloom seeds and gardening trowels; a small library of books that denote the need for time devoted to careful reading) to those that promote the undertaking of healing rituals (incense wells hand-crafted from pure brass by a 100-year-old Japanese foundry; a selection of teas to steep as a salve for various ailments induced by the modern world).
Experiences for gifting run a more considerable gamut. Courses in meditation or life coaching sit aside more traditional means of release like spa treatments. The experience of unwinding, however, is not reserved only for those activities that require one close their eyes. Interior styling courses from Megan Morton, Australia’s eminent interiors whisperer, or blending your own gin classes are also offered, as are more literal means of escape: all-inclusive camping experiences and a two night stay at an 1858 refurbished Georgian homestead in the heart of the verdant Jamberoo Valley are two recent additions to the offering.
Haslam says she has trialled the majority of experiences and products listed – her regular meditation and yoga studios are both listed – and where she hasn’t she has enlisted the expertise of likeminded contributors, many of whom are canvassed in an accompanying publication. She hopes to expand the business into specialist retreats curated by experts that both increase the site’s diversity of offering, financial accessibility and tackle head-on an increasingly prevalent concern for all Australians, including those for whom the pursuit of downtime is now an almost full-time occupation – the irony of which hasn’t escaped Haslam.
“There are really stressful days all the time because I’m juggling having an income working as a freelancer and juggling having a start-up. But I’m really passionate, and really stick to ensuring that I take time out every day. So whether that be walking the dog, or stopping for a cup of tea – and when I stop for a cup of tea I actually stop.
“I used to have my laptop out, and I’d have my breakfast there and I’d be in the car on the way to a meeting, and I don’t really do that anymore. I just stop and do one thing at a time.”
Tile and cover image: Courtesy of The Downtime Agenda