In an era of increasing work pressure, high expectations and performance-related evaluations, the ability to build in an adequate work-life balance isn’t always easy. Impending deadlines, regular meetings and an endless stream of requests in your inbox means that you can often end up working more hours than you should, squeezing out the free time activities that you once had time for.
But before you find yourself sliding down this slippery slope, feeling that there is no other way to manage the workload and stress, stop and think about how these free time activities may actually be important for your performance and success at work.
Exercising means you can think better and have improved brain health.
There is now plenty of evidence about how exercise is good for your brain. Science shows that it helps to relieve stress and anxiety. It improves memory. It helps to keep your brain healthy in the long-term.
The list is pretty long.
In fact there is hardly a week goes by without another piece of evidence which supports the importance of exercise on your brain and for healthy aging. Cutting down on exercise, or not giving yourself time in your week for exercise is doing your brain (as well as your body) a disservice in the short and longer term.
Trying something new means you can be more creative and resilient to uncertainty.
Free time is often an opportunity for you to try something new. Visit a new place. Read a new book. Experience something a bit different from the norm.
Not only does this broaden your knowledge and give you a greater bank of information from which to create new ideas, it also helps you to become more curious. This fosters your interest, enthusiasm and helps you to become more resilient to novelty, uncertainty and change.
Getting a good night’s sleep means you can stay flexible and learn from your experiences.
Sleep is essential if you want to stay flexible, consolidate your experiences properly, and generally have good brain health. Although staying up late to get your work done is something you may need to do from time to time, cutting down on sleep as a way to “fit more into your day” doesn’t work in the long term. It is destructive for your brain and over time makes you work less efficiently at work.
Listening to music means you can effectively regulate your emotions and reduce stress.
Listening to music doesn’t make you smarter, (despite the initial hype that suggested otherwise). But is does help to regulate your mood. It can give you a lift when you need to feel energized and it can relax you when you need to de-stress. Listening to music in your free time, or as an accompaniment to other activities, is a useful tool for keeping your emotions in balance and offsetting the stresses and strains of your workday.
Making new friends means you can become a better people person and have the social support you need to cope with the stresses of work.
Having a social network which focuses on quality rather than quantity is one way to help promote you social skills and protect against loneliness.
Regularly meeting new people and forming new friendships outside work can help strengthen your social and communication skills to reapply at work. In addition, having a good social support network helps boost your ability to cope with stressful days and workplace challenges. Making time to build strong friendships is therefore crucial for your social well-being and professional performance in the short and longer-term.
Practicing mindfulness means you can have the mental tools you need to focus, de stress and be creative.
Mindfulness is good for relieving stress and anxiety. It also helps you focus better and can promote creativity. Setting up a regular routine for practicing mindfulness during the week will give you a set of coping skills which help you to maintain your emotional and cognitive resilience at work.
Embracing a hobby means you can develop translatable skills to reapply at work.
Hobbies might just seem like a sideline to your professional life but becoming an expert in a particular mental or physical activity elicits structural changes in your brain which has knock-on benefits for your work. Although these benefits are localised to the cognitive processes which you engage when carrying out your hobby, if you stop to think for a moment what those processes are (for example motor skills, concentration skills, problem-solving skills, social skills…to name a few) then it isn’t difficult to see how hobbies at home can translate into cognitive performance benefits in the workplace.
Helping others means you can promote your own happiness and self worth and build empathic thinking.
Although you might think the route to happiness is treating yourself, science shows that being kind to others is an effective way to improve your happiness and self worth as well as being beneficial for the other person too. Having a more prosocial outlook allows you to become more tuned into the thoughts and emotions of other people, able to see things from their perspective and therefore build more successful, open and trusting relationships at work.
Cooking meals from scratch means you can make sure your meals contain the nutrients needed for optimum brain power.
To work efficiently you brain needs a rich set of nutrients. But some types of food contain more nutrients than others. Microwave meals, whilst quick and easy, may not always be the most nutritious. Whereas taking the time to cook a well thought out meal from scratch using fresh ingredients maximises the likelihood that your meal contains a good mix of nutrients which are good for your brain. So give yourself time in the evening to cook a proper meal and your brain will thank you in the long term.
Doing nothing means you can learn from your mistakes, plan for the future and be creative.
And of course, the final one is just sitting. Resting. Doing nothing. It is an increasingly rare mental state these days where we seem to have a pathological urge to fill every waking minute with some task or other (just think how much time you spend checking your phone or social media). But giving your mind the time to wander, imagine, recall, means you can relive your past experiences. Effectively learn from your mistakes. Resolve mental conflicts. Makes insightful plans and strategies for the future. And be highly creative in your thinking as your brain connects one distant stream of thought to a previously unrelated one.
Invest in some free time.
So don’t feel guilty about creating free time for “fun” activities. They are serious business to your brain and each has its own set of cognitive, emotional and social benefits which can translate into better performance and success for you in the workplace.
About the author Amy Brann:
Since leaving medical school Amy has focused on practically applying the latest research around how the brain and mind work to help people achieve goals that are important to them.
According to the article by Lee, Butler & Senior “The brain in business” states that ‘There is no doubt that application of neuroscientific tools, and more importantly a neuroscienfitic way of thinking, to business problems will have a major impact on the way we understand marketing and business in the near future.’
Amy’s professional goal is to contribute to the fields that bridge the gap between neuroscience and business through collaborative research, case studies, training, writing books and speaking.
The aim of Amy’s book ‘Make Your Brain Work’ published in January 2013 is to support individuals and companies to increase their productivity, efficiency and effectiveness to achieve their objectives.
‘Neuroscience for Coaches’ published in 2014 is designed to equip anyone in a Coaching role to understand a little more of how the brain works specifically in the way they are working with others. We also run a public programme by the same name for people who want to deepen their understanding.
The third book, ‘Engaged: the neuroscience of creating productive people in successful organizations’ was written in response to our work with organizations. It includes bold ideas based on the neuroscientific research.
Specialties: Leadership training, management training, senior leadership facilitation. Keynote speaking. Executive Coaching.