How non-work time makes for better time at work

Published 2016-06-10, updated 2023-03-21

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Summary - I know from experience that too much time at the office stifles creativity. That’s why I put a lot of stock in the value of non-work activities. Doing other things gives the mind a chance to rest, and as a result new insights bubble up when you least expect them. Here are five non-work activities that I have found to be helpful.

I’ve never believed I should spend all my waking hours at the office. Even though I love what I do, and even though I am very passionate about my work, it’s really important to take the time to do other things.

I don’t believe for a second that time away from work is time wasted. In fact, I find doing non-work things actually makes my time at the office more productive. Pulling out of my office routine gives my mind a break. That break allows new ideas and insights to bubble to the surface, enables me to see patterns I wasn’t seeing before, and casts work problems in a new light.

Here are five non-work activities that can make you a better worker. I know, because they all work for me.

1. Get physical

Everybody who knows me knows that from March to November, I will cycle to work most days, rain or shine.

It’s a 35 to 40-minute commute each way, and for me the benefits go way beyond just exercise.

Cycling shifts my brain into a different pace or cadence. I don’t necessarily get inspired as I pedal along, but cycling give me time to let my mind wander, uninterrupted and free of office stresses. When work issues come to mind – as they often do – I find myself thinking about them in a different way. And that leads to insights.

One added benefit: When I get to the office, I feel great – energized and awake and focused.

Other people will have other passions. But I think doing something physical has payoffs at work.

2. Feed your mind

Taking the time to read, listen to podcasts and watch movies with my family also helps - in surprising ways.

And I’m not talking here about reading books on business or technology – I’m talking about anything, on any topic.

My daughters and I share a ritual. On Saturday nights, we often watch a movie at home. Recently, we saw the animated movie Inside Out. The film is an incredible study of human emotions and human interactions – and its insights are applicable to life at the office and life in general.

Anything that tells a story is useful as well – books, podcasts, newspaper articles. I found Chris Hadfield’s An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, for example, to be tremendously inspirational.

3. Be involved with people

My wife coaches girls’ soccer, and sometimes I help her out. I’ve had to learn how to communicate my messages clearly, motivate eight-year-olds to do the right thing, and create lessons they will listen to and remember (not an easy task).

I think those lessons can be learned through any activity that has you involved with people in your community – sitting on a condo board, for example. And they are incredibly useful at work.

4. Experiment

I love to cook, but I rarely follow a recipe. Instead, I like to experiment with what’s in the cupboard or fridge.

Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But the point is, freeing my mind up to experiment reminds me that sometimes, two very unlikely ingredients can produce a dish that is both delicious and unusual. And that is something to remember at work.

(Sometimes the experiments don’t work – like the time, when I was about 10 years old and I tried to concoct a dish with chocolate and chicken noodle soup. Nothing you can do will make that combination taste good. That, too, is a lesson worth remembering.)

5. Discover

When I travel to a place I’ve never been before, I’m often stuck by the strangest things. When I first went to Disney World, for example, I was blown away by how fanatically spotless the place was. In Switzerland, I’ve found myself wondering how it was possible for the country to have thousands of trains all running on time.

Travel makes me realize that even though we do things one way at home, there is always another way to do them as well. In other words, it causes me to question assumptions and see new ways of doing things.

You don’t have to travel to a foreign country to make those kinds of discoveries. All you need is to do something you’ve never done before – like go camping, drive a stick-shift or try a new food. Many insights gained can be applied at work.

I encourage all of my employees to have interests and activities outside the office. Everyone needs life experience. The more life experiences you have, the better you will be able to understand what you do at work and how to do it better.

Allan Wille is a Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Klipfolio. He’s also a designer, a cyclist, a father and a resolute optimist.

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