How Your Favorite Childhood Hobby Can Make You More Productive

Picking up an old-fashioned childhood pastime again could do wonders for your concentration and productivity.

If you’ve had a hankering to take a glassblowing or bookbinding class lately, you’re not alone. "We have seen a massive resurgence in the making/craft movement," says Diane O’Connor, director of public relations for Mohawk, a fine paper manufacturer in upstate New York.

"Instead of valuing speed over quality, consumers are relishing single-pour craft coffees, hand letter-pressed stationery, and investing in products that will last," says O'Connor. "They are willing to pay more for items that are crafted with care because they like to know where they came from, who made them, and how they were made."

In these busy times, why are people flocking to their local art center to take a class or return to a hobby from childhood? We asked several hobbyists to weigh in. Here’s what they said:

1. It relieves stress.

"Working with my hands, even though it took concentration, gave my brain a rest," says Mary Kearns, a soap crafter and president of Herban Lifestyle, a Fairfax, Virginia-based bath and body care store.

Kearns discovered her passion for making bath and body products while working full-time and finishing her PhD in developmental psychology. "The tactile and aromatic aspects of the craft encouraged me to be in the moment and let go of the many pressures I was under," she says.

2. It engages a different part of the brain.

Laura Jones, a life coach from the Philadelphia area, advises her clients to do something simple with their hands such as gardening, sewing, knitting, or crafting. "These hobbies require a certain type of attention and commitment to every part of the process that brings about almost a meditative state," she says.

This does two things to your brain: First, it slows down and relaxes you, allowing you to see things from a different perspective when you get back to your work. Second, it allows you to subconsciously find solutions to other problems. "By keeping your attention on something that doesn’t overwhelm the brain, your subconscious has time to work on other problems in the background," says Jones. "You can find better solutions faster, the same way [your brain] does when you sleep."

3. It can increase productivity.

"Pursuing a hobby that I started when I was about three years old has been one of my greatest sources of happiness," says Samir Penkar, marketing director of Trissential, a Minnesota-based management consulting firm.

Penkar’s hobby? Fighter kite flying (the type featured in Khaled Hosseini’s book, The Kite Runner). After returning from a recent trip to India for a kite flying festival, Penkar felt refreshed. "I was so energized after this trip that my productivity at work swelled," Penkar says. "In today’s electronic world, doing something physical and outside is so energizing."

4. There’s often a finished product.

Stephanie Myers, a public relations executive from Austin, learned cross-stitch from her grandmother when she was nine years old. She picked it up again in her mid-20s, creating projects with tongue-in-cheek sayings (a cross-stitched "Thug Life" sampler surrounded with flowers, for example) while watching television.

In the last few years, she started making glass beads. "It was almost hypnotic. Staring into a flame and watching it melt a piece of glass, which you then mold strictly through gravity, is mesmerizing," she says. "It’s also dangerous, and between those two aspects, everything else you were thinking about vanishes."

Sonya Sigler, a California-based lawyer and operations executive, says she knits and quilts to stay sane. "I love the idea of creating something that can be completed and shared," she says. "With legal work or operations work, it seems like it is never ending, one deal or agreement after another. But with knitting, there is an object in the end—something beautiful."

[Image: Flickr user quinn.anya]

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