If you’re like most people I know, you feel strapped for time. Between a demanding job and family commitments, there’s not much time left over for you. A sense of work-life balance remains an elusive goal.
Feeling time-starved and just barely keeping all the balls in the air, you may tell yourself there’s no time for a hobby, that you’ll have more time later and will pursue a pleasurable pastime then. However, this is the fallacy of “future slack time,” or having more unencumbered time in the future, the mistaken belief that we’ll have more time in the future than we do now.
In reality, when the future comes, there isn’t more time–and this is just one of many reasons why you should commit to a hobby now.
Understandably, as the pandemic and uncertainty around the future of our nation persists, a hobby may be the last thing on your mind. But hobbies need not be complicated, profound, or hugely time consuming–and stressful times are exactly when you most need a favorite leisure activity to look forward to and keep your spirits high.
The benefits of hobbies are many. Research has shown they’re good for your physical and mental health, can make you more competitive in the workplace, help stave off burnout, and keep your mind sharp through learning new and varied skills. Hobbies can help you connect with your passions and identity, foster new social connections, and make you more interesting and inspiring by adding richness and dimension to your identity.
And last but not least, actively engaging in your passions promotes a flow state and increases happiness. It’s this combination of benefits that has me hooked. When I saddle up my horse and head toward the arena, the day’s to-do list and worries fall away. Time stands still; I’m entirely in the moment; and I’m “in the zone.” Then, after riding and guiding my horse around a course of jumps for an hour, I am relaxed, uplifted, and energized.
While there are all great benefits, they seemingly don’t solve the issue of not having time. Well, here’s the thing about hobbies and one of their counterintuitive benefits: hobbies help you structure your time and force you to be more efficient with the time that you have. As Parkinson’s law states, your work will expand to fill the time available for its completion. Adding a hobby into your schedule will force you to get various tasks done more quickly. And in doing so, you effectively create time for an activity you want to pursue and backdoor your way towards a greater sense of balance.
Recognize, however, that the many benefits of hobbies will elude you unless you commit to them over time. Here’s how to get started:
Choose your hobby. If you can’t readily identify several activities that you’d like to have time for, reflect on your childhood hobbies and lifelong passions. What did you enjoy in the past that you’re no longer doing now? For example, one CEO I coach, a former software engineer, now codes in his free time for its meditative qualities.
Alternatively, create a list of activities that you have meant to pick up but have never pursued. This simple activity led one colleague to finally pick up the guitar. Or lastly, just say “yes” to something new. Another colleague wasn’t looking for a hobby when he agreed to join his friend for a dance session one evening but was immediately hooked and now has an avid dancing practice.
And most important—find a hobby or activity that you genuinely enjoy.
Establish a regular time. When we have a set time on our schedules, we’re more likely to follow through with our intentions. Put it on your calendar and protect that time as you would any other important matter. Holding off regularly scheduled times for our hobbies also enables easier planning at both home and office.
Make your hobby social. Join a group, class, or league that relates to your hobby. When others are expecting or counting on us, we are more likely to keep our commitments. For example, another CEO client of mine leaves the office early every Wednesday to make it to his rugby league. While there is always more work to be done, knowing that his team expects him for the game motivates him to show up every week.
Set a specific goal. Another colleague with a lifelong passion for wine set her sights on becoming a certified specialist of wine, a widely recognized certification in the international wine industry.
With that goal in mind and a rigorous exam looming, she was motivated to carve out time out every week, for a year, while still working full-time.
Communicate and make arrangements. Depending on your situation, this may include both your boss and your family. At home, seek an arrangement that feels fair to all parties, which may involve some form of reciprocity or hiring a babysitter for extra coverage. For example, my husband is responsible for the kids on Friday afternoons, so I can head to the barn; in turn, I always cover Tuesday evenings, so that he can attend his soccer practice.
During work hours, naturally your work takes precedence. However, if for some reason you must negotiate leisure time, consider what are your most important goalposts at work, and find ways to meet them. Show your manager how you will meet these goals and deliver results for them, by showing them you have thoughtfully created a plan.
While starting a hobby can feel daunting when you’re already overwhelmed, the personal and professional benefits are myriad. Work-life balance often requires a multipronged approach—and committing to a hobby is a one place to start.
Dina Smith is the owner of Cognitas, a leadership development firm in the San Francisco Bay Area.