Forty hours of work every week can feel like a significant chunk of time, but there are still plenty of hours when you’re neither sleeping nor working that you fill with tasks on your to-do list. What if you made a little extra effort to similarly carve out time outside of the office for creative outlets—fulfilling activities that give you goals to work toward?
The benefits would be countless. Not only would it prevent burnout from the daily grind, but it would also give you an opportunity to fill a need you might be searching for. Studies have found that the biggest factor in our joy and satisfaction is a sense of progress in something that has meaning for you.
How to avoid feeling stagnant
In an insightful piece for the New York Times, organizational psychologist Adam Grant discusses the effects of “languishing,” which he defines as “a sense of stagnation and emptiness.” He writes, “It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield.” Many of us have felt this way at one point or another. When we fail to experience a sense of progress and accomplishment at work, it’s typical to feel discouraged or unmotivated. But that doesn’t mean we can’t find that meaning in outside ambitions!
An excellent way to combat (or prevent) a feeling of stagnancy is to carve out time every day for a passion project, a meaningful conversation, or a personal goal, Grant advises. “Try starting with small wins, like the tiny triumph of figuring out a whodunit or the rush of playing a seven-letter word.”
Having personal goals gives you the chance to experience progress outside of the professional realm. It also helps you keep perspective on those days when work doesn't go well, moderating your ups and downs and giving you a healthy separation between work and your identity. Engaging in activities outside of the 9 to 5 reminds you that you’re more than your title, you have other skills and values to offer and to revel in, and you can find meaning and achievement outside of your LinkedIn profile.
The widespread renewal of playing classic board games and building puzzles during the pandemic echoes these insights. Most everyone appreciates chipping away at a goal or a new skill, reaching bite-sized wins, and seeing tangible results.
Plus, finding an activity to decompress with that is still productive (unlike Netflix binges, which have their place) aids in cultivating a well-balanced life. This contributes to greater peace and stability, both professionally and personally. Researchers have even studied the effect of leisure pursuits on overall health, concluding that people with hobbies had better physical health, more sleep, lower stress, greater happiness, more friends, and improved work performance.
Still, it can be daunting to narrow in on which pastimes to start pursuing, or which activities to take part in more fully or more frequently. As you consider possible activities, I recommend zeroing in on the following factors: your time, budget, personality, and interests. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Reclaim a childhood pastime.
We delight in so many things as children that we tend to neglect as we move into adolescence. Pick up a Scrabble board, a puzzle, or some old-school scrapbooking supplies. Go on exploratory nature walks. Buy a bike to take around the neighborhood. Continue a collection you may have outgrown—stamps, postcards, pins, and so on.
One perk to recalling past hobbies is that most childhood pastimes don’t involve a screen, and with today’s high levels of Zoom fatigue, those of us who use computers for work could certainly use the break.
Scope out local events and groups.
On Meetup and Facebook, you can find groups for almost every possible interest, from wine to books to sports teams. Once you’ve found a group of people with whom you have something in common, see if anyone hosts events in your local area. If not, consider becoming the person who starts the group or hosts the meetup. Every new initiative needs that one person to say “yes” and make it happen.
Your local newspapers and magazines are also a great way to find local events and groups, like farmer’s markets, cultural festivals, book clubs, and recreational sports leagues.
Identify your strengths.
One way to think about your pastimes is to reflect on what you’re good at, or which skills you’d like to refine and improve. This will give you a solid framework to work with, especially if you’re in an area with fewer group options.
Have you always wanted to be more handy with home renovations? Take a few classes to amp up your knowledge. Are you an excellent baker? Start an Instagram account to post about your baked goods or invite your neighbors over to teach them the basics. Passionate about financial literacy? Volunteer with an organization that equips people with budgeting tools.
Revisit your bucket list.
Always wanted to write a novel, run a 5K, or learn German? Don’t wait any longer. Make the time to engage in an activity you’ve always wanted to try or work toward a goal you’ve had in the back of your mind for years.
Take note of your bite-sized accomplishments and progress in a wall calendar or Post-it notes on your fridge. It will help you look forward to these activities and marvel at your progress. Most importantly, you won’t regret acting on long-held dreams.
Making time for meaningful leisure is a distinguishing factor in your overall well-being, happiness, and fulfillment. If you sometimes lack passion, progress or a sense of purpose at work, consider these steps to find it outside the office. Reserve the time to explore what makes you you, reconnect with old pastime pleasures, and connect with others over shared interests. Try an activity and see how it feels—if you’re uplifted and motivated, you’ve found a winner. Best of all, there are no cons to trying.