Want to have fun but feel like you’re wasting time?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans have an average of 5 hours of leisure time per day and more than 50% of this time is spent watching TV. Among the youngest populations, two and a half hours are spent on TV as opposed to only 12 minutes reading, although reading is actually a more effective method of reducing stress.
Channeling your free time towards productive activities can not only help you reduce guilt at “wasting time” (which can lead to more stress), but also filter over into your professional productivity. Studies show that leisure time can increase labor productivity. And, since many of us don’t actually have enough time to commit to solely having fun, it’s increasingly important to find ways to enjoy ourselves while being productive.
Here are some tips:
1. Make your hobbies into a side profession.
Do you enjoy writing? Or maybe scrapbooking? Almost any hobby can be made into a side profession. Thanks to the internet age, you can write for a blog, sell arts and crafts on Etsy, or take photos for a commission. If you enjoy sports, you can post instructional videos to YouTube, coach a local sports group, or join a sports community where you can meet other professionals.
Before you try turning your hobby into a profession, sit down and consider how much time you usually spend doing the hobby and how regularly you do it. Then consider how much more time and regularity you would need if it were a side job. Only open up shop if that extra time won’t take the fun of doing your hobby away from you. After all, it’s still supposed to be leisure time.
2. Mindfulness. Meditation. Mental Health.
Work is stressful. Stress can lead to heart attacks, hypertension, and a slew of other health problems, and we often use exercise or other physical means to counterbalance these problems.
What’s overlooked is the mental health cost of long-term stress.
Have you ever woken up from a nightmare about missing a test, even years after graduating from school? Or had an anxiety attack about how much work you still have to do before tomorrow?
Such stresses can lead to long-term impacts including depression and anxiety, and should be taken seriously.
During leisure time, one of the most productive things you can do is make sure to give your brain a rest, the same way you’d rest your legs if you’d been running in a marathon. Some of the best methods to do this include mindfulness or meditation; and there are several free apps for download that you can use to guide you through relaxing. (We recommend Smiling Mind.)
3. Socialize to keep your network active.
Networking sucks. Building healthy friendships sucks less. Is there an acquaintance or old high school friend you might have fun with who also works in a field you’re interested in?
During your free time, you can schedule hanging out with people you haven’t met in a while. Do new activities with them you like, such as hanging out in a bookstore or playing basketball.
Socializing can also help with de-stressing, especially if you’re an extrovert, and with improving your mental health. Studies show socializing helps reduce stress by putting things in perspective and allowing us to share our experiences.
4. Learn a new skill.
Learning a new skill can easily increase our productivity by applying to our professional lives. Important skills that you can self-teach include languages, better writing practices, or technical skills (like programming and graphics design).
There are several free online courses that teach you the basics — like Duolingo for languages or EDX courses for programming. And you can also borrow books from the library. One useful tip when finding the right book for you is looking up a college-level course on your subject of interest and seeing what book they use for it.
When trying to figure out which skill you should learn, think about what you’ve wanted to learn for a while but never had the chance to or the type of career you’re interested in and what skills apply to it. Even skills that appear useless to your particular career can not only serve as an enjoyable way to spend your free time learning, but also be extremely valuable — learning CPR could save a life and learning a new language could help you when travelling.
5. It’s all in the planning.
At the start of any free time, brainstorm your goals. For example, if you have an evening off, you might think to yourself that you want to go for a jog. Or if you have a few months off, you might want to learn Python and write a book.
You can also outline a schedule for when you plan on doing each goal. For instance, write one chapter or complete one course lesson every day. This can help make sure you stay productive instead of procrastinating.
If you’re the type of person who likes planning things on the go, you can just set broad goals and wing it. Then reassess in a few months if your free time is working for you.
Increasing your productivity can help make your free time more rewarding, give you a sense of accomplishment, and make some pretty awesome memories.
Please comment below on how you stay busy during free time. How do you make your free time both productive and enjoyable?