Do you feel like spending time on your hobby is frivolous? Get ready to change your mind!
“It’s very much a Western attitude; we have a hard time taking the permission to take care of ourselves, to do little things that we enjoy. We think we have to work all the time,” says Dr. Matthew Zawadzki, an associate professor in the School of Social Sciences, Humanities & Arts at the University of California, Merced.
But don’t throw away your hiking shoes or collection of ‘90s vinyl just yet because your hobby isn’t detracting from your work.
It’s making you better at it.
In this post, you’ll get scientific insights into how pastimes can improve your job performance and combat your stress. You’ll get a guided tour through a range of activities (keep an eye out for the ones that appeal to you the most!).
You’ll also hear from some of Redbooth’s own team about the hobbies that ultimately help them stay more focused and creative at work.
By the time you’ve finished reading, you’ll be ready to spend some guilt-free time enjoying your hobby!
Take it easy
Mellow pastimes can make you feel better, reduce stress, boost productivity, and even nip burnout in the bud.
In a study published last year, Dr. Zawadzki and his colleagues investigated how leisure affected people in the moment.
Leisure was defined as “self-selected, self-rewarding behavioral pursuits that take place during non-work time,” and was considered distinct from exercise.
The study found that the 115 subjects – all employed in Monday to Friday jobs – were happier, less stressed, less bored, and had lowered heart rates while engaging in leisure, and these positive effects persisted for hours afterward.
Dr. Zawadzki himself started using leisure as a productivity hack when he was a student.
“I started doing leisure because I was really compelled by some of this cognitive psychology work I read as an undergrad that was saying if you study six hours in a row, that first hour might be really productive but the next five hours probably not,” he says.
“Having breaks is actually going to make you better even though you spend less time studying overall, you do a much more productive and better job of it.”
Leisure may also be the ideal way to fend off burnout.
“If we’re talking about a situation where you have a daily grind, and you feel less satisfied in life, a little more depressed than usual, and a little less happiness, there are small things you can do to help yourself out, and I think leisure is really powerful,” Dr. Zawadzki says.
“Leisure is great is because you don’t have to learn something new, you know whatever the activity you love is. It’s about finding the time to do the thing you care about rather than learning how to meditate or how to do muscle relaxation.
“So for that very busy executive, for that person working two jobs, leisure might be the best solution because there aren’t a lot of barriers to starting out.”
Case in point: Redbooth engineer Jose Fernández plays violin for up to two hours every day before going to work.
His violin study is leisure time Jose values highly and it makes him feel “focused.” The hours he spends playing music also provides some of the positive psychological outcomes seen in Dr. Zawadzki’s study.
“For me it is essential,” Jose says. “It’s not only a way to deal with work-related stress but whatever source of anxiety. Playing is a meditation for me.”
Màxim Colls, Product Manager, also plays an instrument in his spare time: up to ten hours a week of saxophone. Like Jose, Màxim finds music provides stress relief and he feels it benefits is work performance.
“It helps with work-related stress since it makes you completely change your focus and thoughts,” he says.
“Playing an instrument is a great mental exercise and helps you training you brain. It requires you a lot of dedication and focus, which is something I also need at work.”
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Have a creative outlet
A creative outlet can improve creativity on the job, interactions with colleagues, and recovery from work.
A study by the San Francisco State University (SFU) Department of Psychology looked at how “non-work creative activity” affected several aspects of work life.
Not surprisingly, people who spent more time on creative pursuits outside the workplace showed higher levels of creativity when it came to solving job-related problems.
The study also found that people who did more non-work creative activity rated higher on a measure of their willingness to go out of their way to make coworkers feel welcome.
In addition, creative activity gave people “recovery experiences” of mastery, control, and relaxation, which help mitigate work-related stress.
Case in point: Pedro Brito, Redbooth Customer Success Manager, plays and produces music. He knows all about the positive impact a creative pursuit can have on work life.
“I believe creativity is a very important aspect of a truly happy and healthy mind. Being able to sit down, be with myself and do something I really love is the perfect way to unwind after a long day. I feel high self-esteem and overall better well-being,” Pedro says.
Pedro also experiences the creativity carryover to work that was found in SFU’s study.
“It definitely improves my work performance by opening up my mind to be more creative and finding alternative ways to do things,” he says.
A study by Leeds Metropolitan University, which investigated the effects of daytime exercise on office workers, showed exercise might also have more direct effects on work life.
The study found that on days where workers used the company gym, they reported feeling better, performing better, and having smoother interactions with colleagues.
Dr. Zawadzki suggests physically active and leisurely hobbies can complement one another.
“That’s what I thought was cool with some of the results of our study: exercise and leisure didn’t line up perfectly,” he says.
“Exercise did affect cortisol but didn’t quite affect mood the same way. And then leisure didn’t have an effect on cortisol, but it had a very pronounced effect on mood. So the two of them together can work really well.”
Case in point: Carlo Beckman, Redbooth’s VP of Customer Experience, invests time each week in his martial arts practice — and says his work life is better for it.
Carlo has studied several different disciplines, including kung fu, karate, and tae kwon do and says engaging in martial arts makes him feel “relaxed and centered.”
Not only does Carlo feel his martial arts training helps him effectively deal with work-related stress, but he says it contributes to a sharp mind and keeping himself on an even keel at work.
“It helps me concentrate and be in control of my emotions,” Carlo says.
Sarah Tanner, Redbooth Product Designer, makes time for multiple hobbies and describes some of the complementary effects Dr. Zawadzki speaks of: yoga makes her feel “energized, relaxed and refreshed,” while baking makes her feel “happy and whimsical.”
And the combination enhances her work life:
“I think both benefit my work performance,” she says. “Yoga lets me reset and puts my mind in a calm and clear state of mind, allowing me to focus and de-stress — allowing me to step back from my work and then be more refreshed and clear minded when I go back to it. And the creativity and focus of baking are both things I emulate in my daily work.”
A hobby that makes you zone out gives you a mental break from work and prevents you dwelling on unpleasant incidents.
In another of his studies, Dr. Zawadzki found that regularly engaging in absorbing self-selected activities was related to lower blood pressure.
Absorption in an activity is the key to its health benefits because it means your attention is diverted away from your thoughts and this stops you ruminating on negative experiences, which exacerbates the undesirable effects of stress.
“You might get into an argument at work, but then you think about that argument a lot more, so you have more stress in your mind than what actually exists in the world and that’s what you need to do something about,” Dr. Zawadzki says.
“Leisure is a really good way of helping us to say ‘hey, I’m finding myself just continuing to think about when I fought with somebody or when I let somebody down, I need to do something for myself to help me get out of that negative headspace.’”
Case in point: Eric Jesus, Customer Success Manager, builds plastic scale sci-fi models in his spare time, which requires close attention to detail and lets him zone out.
“This hobby is absorbing, and the minutia that must be addressed for accuracy is a fun challenge,” Eric says.
As the research suggests, Eric gets stress relief from absorption in his hobby.
“It does offer a release from daily stress, not always work-related. The ability to create and display the final result is always fulfilling,” he says.
“It gives me a sense of completion when I stand back and look at the end result. That’s hard to find in the world of tech where there is always constant change and no real end to the duties I have daily.”
Switch gears completely
A hobby that’s completely unrelated your job allows you to switch off properly and recover from work.
In SFU’s study on the effects of creative activity on work performance, researchers found something unexpected: even though creative activity is absorbing, it didn’t show a significant relationship to detachment.
They suggested the lack of detachment was due to the non-work creative activity overlapping with work in some manner, such as a wedding photographer doing landscape photography for fun.
A hobby that is unrelated to work lets you detach more, so you can protect and refuel the resources you need to perform well at work.
Redbooth case study: Jon Gómez de la Peña, Redbooth videographer, has many interests – including studying Japanese and playing piano – that are completely different to his job and give him a mental break from work.
“My hobbies help me log out of work-related stuff, so coming back to work everything feels fresher,” he says.
“Being able to disconnect from work and develop another part of you is essential to escape from monotony and avoid that feeling of lethargy that sometimes comes along with certain parts of work.”
Time for a break?
In this fast-paced, pressure cooker of a world, it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that if you’re not working, you’re not being productive. But that attitude is what’s counterproductive, not your hobby.
So embrace your hobbies, allow yourself to get engrossed in them, and enjoy a better work life!
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to do a bit of gardening…