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Deep Leisure Comes with Surprising Performance Benefits

Creative Hobbies Can Boost Performance

From the CONCERN: EAP Resilience Library

Creative Hobbies Can Boost Performance

Evolving communication and productivity technologies enable us to connect and engage with our work in ways we couldn’t have dreamt of even ten years ago.  These tools make it easier for us to dedicate more time to work connection, and statistics show that we’ve embraced that immersion wholeheartedly.

  • 50% of salaried workers average more than 50 hours of work per week
  • 55% of workers don’t use all their time off

While passion and dedication to our work are admirable, it’s important to remember that disconnecting and recharging are also important for ongoing productivity and resilience.

We’ve written before about how taking breaks and time off can promote mental and physical wellbeing. Insufficient downtime can lead to fatigue, decreased productivity, diminished life satisfaction, and even more severe health consequences, such as depression.

Another consequence of too little downtime is that it can cause our creativity engines to slow down or stop working altogether. When that happens, happiness can also suffer.

Considering how hard we’re all working, it counts as a small victory when we do manage to disconnect from work for an evening, weekend, or vacation. Research suggests that we might be able to further increase the benefits of these small wins by focusing on the way we spend our downtime.

Serious Talk about Light Leisure

Behavioral science tells us that all leisure activities aren’t necessarily created equal. And that, by being more mindful of how we spend time off, we can help maximize the benefits of the breaks we do take.

In short, it’s time to get serious about downtime. To begin, here’s a snapshot of two different categories of leisure.

Casual Leisure

Typically, more distracting and passive forms of leisure.  Great for shorter breaks because they help signal the brain to release dopamine for a quick jolt of bliss.

Example activities:

  • Clubbing
  • Shopping
  • Gaming
  • Binge-watching TV or sports
  • Social media immersion

Deep Leisure

Typically, exercises creativity by drawing on innate talents and helping develop new skills. Often more immersive, engaging and can also be fun and enjoyable, despite its name.

Example activities:

  • Making art
  • Making music
  • Writing
  • Gardening
  • Building
  • Cooking

Studies indicate that the benefits of deep leisure go beyond the shorter-lived mood boost found through casual leisure. For example, one study out of San Francisco State University found that deep leisure comes with serious benefits. The study concluded that subjects who regularly engage in deeper leisure activities or creative hobbies:

  • Perform up to 30% better while at work
  • Feel more relaxed and in control of their lives
  • Are found to be more helpful and creative on the job by their colleagues

Here are some thoughts on incorporating deeper leisure into your life.

Turn the Keys to Your Creative Engine

  • Don’t Just Bring Work Creativity Home Try to separate your home creativity from your work creativity. For example: If you’re a graphic designer by trade, step away from the computer and try painting or sketching for a similar pursuit, or writing or making music for something different.
  • Express Yourself Our work at the office is often driven by others, whether it be the company, supervisors, or workgroups.  Creative pursuits at home can often be for others as well, such as cooking a big holiday meal for family or creating something as a gift. When it comes to leisure time, be creative in pursuit of something that you find personally fulfilling. If you like to cook, you might try a new recipe with ingredients you like, just for yourself. Experiment with a hobby that keeps you engrossed, even if no one else gets it.
  • Go Back to the Playground What did you love to do as a kid, but stopped doing when grown-up realities intervened?  Did you rock in gym class? Consider joining a community sports team. Have a blast in arts and crafts? Throw on a smock, break out your favorite arty supplies, and get your hands dirty. 
  • Optimize your Opportunities Often there’s not much time to indulge in leisure activities, so make sure you can quickly get into the groove when you do find the time. Designate a spot in your home to be your leisure workspace, free from the clutter of daily life. If your hobby is portable (like drawing or writing), pack some supplies with you and break them out when you find free time on the go.
  • Make the Time and Make It Important Any deep leisure activity only works if you pursue it. It can help to put hobby time into your schedule and set goals for that hobby to make it feel less casual. Musicians, challenge yourselves to learn a new song on a set schedule. Artists, clear a blank space on a wall or shelf and plan to display your new creation on a certain date.
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