Productivity at work is something we are all constantly trying to master, but what about while we aren’t at work? What are some productive things to do in our free time? And no, we don’t count that new Netflix series as productive. We’re talking things that are scientifically proven to better your life, make you happy, and give you a little boost of positivity in all areas of your life. Sounds good, right?
Now, being productive outside of work shouldn’t be about getting more done in less time. Yes, figuring out a way to deep clean your entire home in under 30 minutes would be super productive, but it might not exactly make you happy. Unless, of course, cleaning brings you joy, in which case, sweep on. (…and maybe make a stop at our place.)
11 Productive Things to do When You’re Not at Work
Here’s a list of 11 productive things to do while you’re not working that will make you happier, healthier, and more balanced.
First up on our list of productive things to do is meditation. We already know that meditation has huge benefits. Like improving your mood, lessening depressive symptoms, alleviating stress, sharpening your memory, and boosting your job performance. So it’s a worthy habit to build when you’re at the office—or away from it.
Research shows that a few short meditation sessions a week are all you need to reap the benefits. For example, just 25 minutes of meditation (done three times per week) may make tasks feel less stressful, according to recent research.
Another bonus? Meditating doesn’t take much time, energy, or equipment. If you’re struggling to start or keep going, try a guided meditation app. They can help you form a streak, track your progress, and keep it rolling.
It’s a proven fact: People who exercise regularly are happier. Regular exercise refreshes your mind, gets your blood flowing, keeps you alert when you need to be, and helps you sleep better at night. And that’s not all. A regular exercise routine that you not only enjoy but look forward to can be a productive way to get the rest of your life into shape too.
Maybe you’re not into exercise as a stress-reliever, but care a lot about your in-office efficiency. There are pluses here too. Research has proven that healthy and active employees are more productive employees. So implement your own wellness program by making movement a priority in your off-time. Added perk? It’s a great way to burn off a little steam.
3. Take a class
Why not spend your free time learning something new or tapping into something you haven’t done in a long time—like art, music, coding, 16th-century literature? There are so many adult classes for both newbies and experts that you’re bound to find something that pulls you in. If you’re struggling to figure out your interests, think back to when you were little. What brought you pure joy as a kid?
This isn’t a baseless urge for a new hobby either. Learning new skills has been proven to increase mental well-being by improving self-esteem, adding to your sense of purpose, and bringing more social connection into your days. In short, it’s a way to make friends as an adult. And we all know that’s hard.
Remember when you wrote all your deepest secrets in a journal and protected it fiercely from any prying eyes? Just us? Turns out that journaling habit can boost your mental health.
The adult way to journal doesn’t include divulging your secret crushes (or it can, we don’t judge), but instead focuses on writing down the things that you are most grateful for. Research has shown that daily or even weekly gratitude journaling can increase your mood and optimism, plus improve your sleep.
Now, that’s one of those productive things to do that can benefit both your free time and your time on the clock.
Volunteering makes our list of productive things to do because it packs a double punch—both the giver and the receiver benefit.
A review of recent research has proven the long-term benefits of regular volunteering from increased happiness and sense of community to improved self-esteem and emotional stability. One study showed that older individuals who volunteer 100 hours a year are healthier and less likely to experience depression.
To find opportunities in your area that fit your interests and the community’s needs, check out Volunteer Match. It’s never been easier to lend a hand.
6. Explore your town
We know traveling and immersing ourselves in new cultures can be a productive experience. But what if you don’t have the time (or budget) for extensive world travel? Try taking the time to explore your own backyard. Learn about your town’s history, visit a few local museums, even take part in a touristy activity like a walking tour.
Getting to know the world around you can give you a sense of pride and community, which has been proven to improve well-being.
Try out some of these tips from National Geographic to see your home turf through new eyes.
When was the last time you read for pleasure? It might be one of the most productive things to do with your free time.
Picking up a good book forces you to stop, relax, and focus on a new world for a bit. It can also improve your vocabulary and writing skills, which are important for success in any field. Some research even suggests that regular brain stimulation from reading or other intellectual activities can stave off Alzheimer’s.
To find a new read, check out Recommend Me a Book, which will generate a passage from a random book for you to sample. If you like it, reveal the title and get going. If not, skip it and see what else is out there. It’s a great way to discover new literature.
Networking can be about more than just making business connections. Instead, look at networking opportunities as chances to build lasting relationships with people who have similar interests. Those relationships can help you in your career, allow you to help others with their careers, or even just give you self-confidence and happiness.
9. Spend time with loved ones
If making new connections can have a positive effect on your mood and well-being, then spending time with the people who know and love you best works wonders for you. Research suggests that spending time with loved ones can lengthen your life (and theirs), reduce stress, and is a huge indicator of overall happiness. And that’s according to 80 years of research in the Harvard Study of Adult Development.
Not that we needed an excuse to spend more time with our people, but now we definitely have one.
10. Dig into the things you love
As we said before, learning something new can be an extremely productive thing to do, but don’t stop there. Take that class and turn it into a regular part of your routine. There’s nothing more productive than doing something you love. Plus there are people out there who are into the same stuff. Find them. Love them.
There are big bonuses of doing things for the joy of them, explains writer Jaya Saxena in the New York Times:
Yes, studies have shown that having a hobby can make you more productive at work, but hobbies can also remind you that work isn’t everything.”
11. Walk or hike
If you’re still not sure if any of these productive things to do will work for you, try simply getting outside. Go for a walk around your neighborhood or, better yet, find a new trail and take a hike. We know that getting your body moving can be extremely productive, but doing so outside can have additional benefits beyond just the fresh air and the dose of vitamin D.
Several studies suggest that exercising outdoors benefits mental well-being more than the same type of exercise inside.
To sum it all up…
In case you forgot, a big part of productivity is happiness, so think hard about what brings you joy. And then spend more of your free time doing that. After all, when you’re enjoying your free time, you’re probably enjoying other parts of your life too. And we think that’s the whole point.
Your turn: What tops your list of productive things to do in your free time? Let us know in the comments below.
Ready to take that productivity to work? Check out our post on being successful in the workplace.
Author: Kelly Heitz
Kelly Heitz is a freelance writer and social media guru. When she’s not scrolling through her Instagram feed, you can find her outside—usually hiking, painting, or patio drinking.