Why You Should Work Less and Spend More Time on Hobbies
By Gaetano DiNardi, Harvard Business Review
As professionals around the world feel increasingly pressed for time, they’re giving up on things that matter to them. A recent HBR article noted that in surveys, most people “could name several activities, such as pursuing a hobby, that they’d like to have time for.”
This is more significant than it may sound, because it isn’t just individuals who are missing out. When people don’t have time for hobbies, businesses pay a price. Hobbies can make workers substantially better at their jobs. I know this from personal experience. I’ve always loved playing the guitar and composing. But just like workers everywhere, I can fall into the trap of feeling that I have no time to engage in it. As head of demand generation for Nextiva, I have enough on my plate to keep me busy around the clock. I can easily fall into the trap of the “72-hour workweek,” which takes into account time people spend connected to work on our phones outside of official work hours.
When I crash, there’s always the temptation to do something sedentary and mindless. It’s little surprise that watching TV is by far the most popular use of leisure time in the U.S. and tops the list elsewhere as well, including Germany and England.
But by spending time on music, I boost some of my most important workplace skills.
Creativity. To stand out and compete in today’s crowded and constantly changing business environment, organizations need new, innovative ideas that will rise above the noise. I’m tasked with constantly looking for new ways to attract attention from potential buyers. But coming up with a fully original idea can be difficult when your mind is filled with targets, metrics, and deadlines.
A creative hobby pulls you out of all that. Whether you’re a musician, artist, writer, or cook, you often start with a blank canvas in your mind. You simply think: What will I create that will evoke the emotion I’m going for?
It’s no surprise that by giving yourself this mental space, and focusing on feelings, you can reawaken your creativity. Neuroscientists have found that rational thought and emotions involve different parts of the brain. For the floodgates of creativity to open, both must be in play.
Perspective. One of the trickiest tasks in the creative process is thinking through how someone else would experience your idea. But in doing creative hobbies, people think that way all the time. A potter imagines how the recipient of a vase would respond to it. A mystery novelist considers whether an unsuspecting reader will be surprised by a plot twist.
When I take a break from work to go make music, I reconnect with that perspective. I keep thinking about how someone hearing my song for the first time might respond. I do all I can to see (or hear) the world through someone else’s eyes (or ears). Then, when I resume the work project, I take that mentality with me.
Confidence. When I face a tough challenge at work and feel stymied, I can start to question whether I’ll ever figure out a successful solution. It’s easy to lose creative confidence. But after an hour of shredding on the guitar, hitting notes perfectly, I’m feeling good. I can tell that my brain was craving that kind of satisfaction. And when I face that work project again, I bring the confidence with me.
It turns out people like me have been studied. In one study, researchers found that “creative activity was positively associated with recovery experiences (i.e., mastery, control, and relaxation) and performance‐related outcomes (i.e., job creativity and extra‐role behaviors).” In fact, they wrote, “Creative activity while away from work may be a leisure activity that provides employees essential resources to perform at a high level.”
So to my fellow professionals, I highly recommend taking some time to keep up your creative hobby. It doesn’t have to be long. A study found that spending 45 minutes making art helps boost someone’s confidence and ability to complete tasks.
I also suggest you encourage your business to celebrate employees’ hobbies. Zappos puts employee artwork up on its walls and encourages people to decorate their desks in whatever ways they wish. Some businesses hold talent shows. Even employees who may not have these kinds of talents should be encouraged to do something that feels creative and fun. Some CEOs spend time on their own hobbies, setting the right example.
And when you find a little time for a creative hobby break, make it guilt free. After all, when you do this, everyone stands to gain.