11 Productive Ways To Spend Your Downtime

If you’re anything like me, when you’re done with work you’re on the hunt for productive ways to spend your downtime. No matter how exhausted I am, I try really hard to avoid doing absolutely nothing when I have free time to kill. For the most part, when I completely waste my downtime I tend to feel really guilty about it. We only have one life to live, right? Why spend all of our free moments with our butts implanted into the couch?

Being productive during downtime, though, doesn’t mean forcing ourselves to do things we won’t enjoy. If you’re someone who isn’t particularly creative, there’s no need to force yourself to attend an after-work art class. Consider the things you do enjoy, and focus on those. This article hopefully will serve to inspire you to come up with unique ways to spend your time that are molded to your personal likes and interests.

What I always like to do is start by making a to-do list for my downtime. I used to think the point of having free time was to avoid having a to-do list. However, I’ve found that — as with my job — I’m far more productive if I set out goals for myself at the start of the day. Even if an item on my downtime list is as simple as, “Read for an hour,” at least I know I’ll feel accomplished when I get to cross it off. I tend to fill my personal list with some of the items below, and perhaps you’ll enjoy some of these too.

Here are 11 examples of productive ways to spend your downtime for those looking to keep themselves busy and fulfilled.

1. Plan A Winter Party

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately: It’s so unfair that the holidays are filled to the brim with parties and gatherings, and then once we hit January, it’s all over. Yeah, in a few weeks comes Valentine’s Day and then St. Patrick’s Day, but what are we left to do in the bitter cold weeks from now until then? Why not organize a winter party? If you have ample space to host a gathering, consider using your downtime to organize something fun for you and your friends. Try making it extra special by making it invitation-official. For some inspiration, there are a lot of great winter party ideas on Celebrations.com.

2. Explore Your Neighborhood

I recently moved back to my hometown, and you’d think by age 29 I’d already have frequented every place imaginable in this area. The cool thing I’ve noticed is that I actually haven’t. I’m so used to going to the same restaurants, bars, and stores over and over that I often forget to open my eyes and see what other things are around me.

For example, I feel really strongly about shopping local and have always purchased items from the same handful of stores here. Then, one day I opened my eyes and realized there were so many other great shops right in front of me, like d.monaco designs which has awesome clothes. Totally obsessed now! I’ve also managed to check out some outdoor spots I’d never gone to, like the Edgar Felix Bike Path, a great spot for me to now visit with my dog. A great trick is to enter your town on Yelp.com and sort by what you're hoping to find — whether it's a great new restaurant to try, a cute clothing store, or a local museum. If you're specifically interested in events in your area, try Eventful.com — it's super easy to navigate and a perfect tool for finding things to do during any given week. Trust me, just when you think you don’t have anything else to see in your neighborhood, visit one of these sites or break out a map and something will pop up.

3. Read A Book

I prefer hard copy books, but if tablets are your thing, by all means do you! Reading is great for endless reasons. According to Real Simple, reading can increase intelligence, boost brainpower, make you more empathetic, and more. According to a study out of the journal PNAS, reading might even be helpful in fighting against Alzheimer’s.

4. Learn A New Skill That’ll Be Handy At Work

Think of how proud your boss will be when you take it upon yourself to learn a new skill for your job! It could be as simple as taking a course online. For example, edX.org offers a variety of online course to advance you career, all of which are instructed by professionals in the field.

If you’re someone is doesn’t fully enjoy the kinds of work you do during the 9-5, then try learning a new skill that’s unrelated to your job. Learning a new language, for instance, might be the extra bit of motivation you need to one day plan that trip to Europe you and your SO have always wanted to take.

5. Call Your Long-Distance Friend

I rarely go a day without talking to my best friend who lives a few miles from me, but it’s really easy for time to fly by without speaking to some of my friends who live many states away. It’s not that I don’t love them so much, it’s simply that I don’t feel like I have the time to sit down and catch up with them on the phone for an hour or more.

If you can relate to this, try using you down time to catch up on these calls. Try my go-to tactic and set up a “phone date.” It will be a fun way to spend your time, and you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment when you hang up knowing you’ve gotten to fully discuss the things that are happening in your friend’s life (versus just seeing her pictures on social media).

6. Prep Your Meals For The Next Day

There are many benefits of preparing your meals in advance. For one, you’ll have more time to think carefully about what you’re making, rather than rushing around the morning of, or being forced to eat a potentially high-calorie meal from the cafeteria. Also, according to Active.com, meal prepping can also help you learn portion control, as you’ll be fully in control of how much you’re packing in your lunch, versus letting the cafeteria or a restaurant determine your portion for you.

7. Join A Volunteer Group

Let’s say you know for sure that every Wednesday night your schedule is consistently free. Why not devote this time to giving back to your community? It’s a great opportunity to meet new people and to do something positive with your time. Additionally, according to Corporation For National & Community Service, there’s a strong relationship between volunteering and physical health. There you have it — volunteer is good for your soul and for your body.

8. Write A Letter To A Loved One

Not an email — I mean a real, old-school letter using a pen and a piece of paper. Your elderly relative will likely shed a tear of joy when they pull your handwritten letter out of their mailbox. I’ve done this with my Nana, and for every letter she’s called me at least five times to say how much it meant to her.

9. Organize Your Inbox

Back to the thought of email for a moment, I’m an advocate for shutting off email in my downtime when possible, however I recently bit the bullet and used my free time to organize my inbox and I couldn’t be happier. I had seriously thousands of unread emails (mostly promotional ones), but ones I sorted through everything properly I honestly felt like a new woman.

10. Learn Some New Recipes

For me this would be more like “Learn any recipes at all,” but hey — who’s keeping track! I’ve read a lot about companies like Blue Apron that deliver you recipes and fresh ingredients right to your door. According to my friends that have tried it, it’s an awesome (and simple!) way to learn new, tasty recipes.

11. Get Your Butt To The Gym

I bet you were waiting with bated breath for me to get to this one. Really though, working out is the perfect way to spend those extra hours in your week. It’s recommended by the American Heart Association that people strive to get 40 minutes of aerobic exercise in three or four times a week. If you can manage this in your free time, go for it! Also, think of how good you’ll feel when you’re walking out of the gym after an awesome workout knowing that you bettered your body instead of wasting away on the couch.

Now that you’re armed with some suggestions on ways to spend your downtime, you can start making that extra time feel as productive as possible. Remember, Drake didn’t coin “YOLO” for no reason — let’s make that most of that one shot we have!

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