Sometimes, you find yourself with spare time on your hands, and nothing pressing needs to be done. When you’re bored and not sure what to do, this can be a great moment to nurture your personal or professional development.
Remember being “productive” doesn’t always mean producing immediate output. We like to consider productivity author and speaker Chris Bailey’s definition of productivity:
“[Productivity is] accomplishing what we intend to.
“If our intention is to empty our email inbox, write a report, and update our budget in Excel, and we do, I would argue that we're perfectly productive. The same is true if we intend to rest and unwind on a beach with a piña colada, soak in the sun, or drink coffee all day. If that's our intention and we do that, we're perfectly productive.
“The key to productivity is in the decision that comes before our actions.”
With this in mind, we’ve created a list of productive things you can do with your extra time. You can use these ideas to stay productive when you find yourself getting distracted or bored.
22 Productive Things to Do When Bored
Here are the 22 productive things you can do when you’re bored. We’ll cover things you can do for your mental health, for self-reflection, for learning, for work productivity, and for your personal life.We’ll get into the details of how these activities may benefit you and when you may want to do them. We’ll also cover the three traps you can fall into and want to avoid when you have too much time on your hands.
Things to Do for Your Mental Health
In your day-to-day busy schedule, you may not have the time to think about mental health. People are now more prone to burnout than ever. When you have a freer moment, you may want to use it to relieve some stress.
Doing nothing can be productive. We often feel the pressure to constantly be doing something. But sometimes, the healthiest thing you can do with your free time is to pause, relax, and focus on self-care. Taking breaks is key to staying productive long term and critical for your mental health. If you’ve been gifted with some downtime, take advantage of it.
2. Take a Walk
We’re big advocates of walking. Going for a morning walk improves your productivity. It helps you clear your head, get you away from a computer screen, and oxygenate your body. Walking helps to regulate stress levels and improve your overall health.
Meditation is a powerful habit that has numerous benefits to your well-being and mood. Practicing mindfulness calms your mind, makes you more grateful, and leaves you calmer and more focused. If you don’t know how to meditate, you can use a mindfulness app, such as Calm or Headspace.
4. Read a Novel
Pick up a good book and let yourself get lost in the story. Reading improves your cognition and vocabulary, makes you more empathetic, reduces stress, and aids sleep. Reading a novel is a fun escape from the responsibilities of work.
Physical activity is amazing for your overall health and productivity. Exercise helps keep your weight under control, improves your heart health, boosts your mood, improves your ability to think and learn, and helps you get better sleep. And you don’t have to do it for a long time to reap benefits — even 10 minutes a day is enough to improve your health.
Things to Do for Self-Reflection
Sometimes, you can use your extra time for a self-review. Take a look at how you’ve been doing in a chosen area of life, and see if there’s something you’d like to change or improve.
7. Reflect on Your Habits
Developing good habits is one of the most important things you can do to build a successful and fulfilling career and personal life. While building and sticking to good habits is key, reflecting on them is just as important to make sure you’re focusing on the right habits.
Take a look at your morning routine, work breaks, and planning habits. Are you happy with how you approach them?
8. Reflect on Your Time Management
Time is your most valuable resource. Understanding how you spend it is the best way to remain productive.
One way to do it is using a time tracker like Rize to automatically track your time and focus. If you have some spare time, you can then explore the dashboard and see how efficient you’re being. Is there anything distracting you? Where are you wasting time? What can you start or stop doing? These are the questions you can ask to reflect and improve upon your time management skills.
Things to Do for Learning
One of the most productive things to do when bored is learning. In the digital age, accessing valuable learning resources online is a piece of cake. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
9. Practice a New Skill
With an internet connection, you have so many amazing resources at your fingertips. If you find yourself having some extra time, learn a new skill. There are amazing articles and YouTube channels on everything from woodworking to playing an instrument to DIY crafts and more.
Expanding your skill set can lead to finding an exciting new hobby or starting a side hustle. But even if it doesn't, it stimulates your brain — and that’s productive enough.
10. Watch an Educational Video
If you don’t have time to learn a skill, you can instead watch a video to get insight into a new topic. TED Talks or similar videos on YouTube are a great resource for this type of learning.
11. Take an Online Course
The internet is filled with high-quality free courses on every topic under the sun. You can start an online course from Udemy or even Harvard University to pick up anytime you find yourself with extra time.
12. Learn a New Language
Is learning a new language on your bucket list, but you never feel like you have enough time to sign up for a class? Maybe you wanted to learn some Japanese before your trip to Tokyo? You can use your spare time to learn the basics. Products like Duolingo and Toucan can help you do that with just 10 minutes of spare time a day.
13. Listen to an Audiobook or a Podcast
Kick back and enjoy a good novel or podcast during your downtime. You’ll unplug and learn something new in a fun way. Spotify or Audible are both good resources to check out — the more you listen, the more relevant recommendations you’ll get.
14. Read an Interesting Article or Newsletter
Bookmark interesting articles you come across throughout the week. You can use an app like Pocket to help you save them. Then, when you find yourself bored, you can go back to them and enjoy.
Things to Do for Work Productivity
When you can afford to take a break from your main work tasks, it’s your chance to get to things that otherwise get neglected. Here are a few productive things to do when bored at work to help you stay organized for future productivity.
15. Clean Your Workspace
Take some time to declutter your desk. Clearing your workspace can help you clear your mind as well. Having clutter-free space on the outside will help you feel similar on the inside.
16. Look Up Productivity Tips and Habits
This is the perfect time to look up the newest productivity hacks and daily habits. Work is continually changing and new insights emerge to match transforming work environments. You can be productive by researching ways to be more productive!
17. Respond to Emails and Clean Up Your Inbox
Go through your email inbox and respond to those emails you’ve been meaning to for the past few weeks. Take some time to unsubscribe from newsletters you don’t find relevant. Organizing your emails can give you lots of satisfaction and help you be more productive.
18. Ask Your Teammates if They Need Help
When you have some downtime, your teammates might be finding themselves underwater. Take a moment to reach out to see if they need any help. They’ll appreciate it and may be more likely to help you out when you need it.
Things to Do for Your Personal Life
Some productive things to do when bored can include those activities that support your personal life. These can bring mental health benefits, more satisfaction in your relationships, and a better work-life balance.
19. Call Your Friends and Family Members
Take advantage of your free time and check in with family and friends. When you’re constantly busy, it’s easy to fall out of touch with your loved ones. Call your best friend or your mom — chances are they want to hear from you too.
20. Batch Cook
Create a meal plan and batch cook a few meals for the week. This will save you a lot of time in your daily routine, and it’s healthier and less expensive than ordering food. This may be a good moment to get creative and try out a new recipe you’ve been meaning to test.
21. Clean Your House
Already cleaned your desk? Move on to the rest of your house or home office. You’ll be more productive in a clean and organized environment and enjoy the work more.
22. Go Grocery Shopping
The middle of a workday is a good time to step outside and go grocery shopping. If you have some free time, slip away and buy your groceries for the week.
Bonus: 3 Things to Avoid When You’re Bored
While it may be tempting to indulge in them, certain activities aren’t great to fill up your spare time at work. When you find yourself with unexpected time on your hands, try to avoid these three things.
Using Social Media
Social media is a notorious black hole where it’s easy to get lost. Before you realize it, you’ve burned up your free time and don’t feel any more productive or happy. So close Facebook, LinkedIn, and social media accounts as well as Netflix and even Amazon. There are better ways to spend time when you’re bored.
Forcing Yourself to Work on Unimportant Tasks
If you find yourself procrastinating and context switching, it may be that you subconsciously know you’re not working on an important task. If you’re bored and have a lot of time, don’t force yourself to work on unimportant tasks. It’s usually not a good use of your time and energy.
Impulsively Starting New Projects
When you’re feeling bored, your mind may think up great ideas. Before you know it, you’re creating a vision board for an exciting project and coming up with new challenges for yourself.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t have ideas. But make sure to check in with yourself before you commit to a new project. Do you actually have the time and energy for this, or are there higher priorities that need to be accomplished first?
Find Out How You’re Spending Time When You’re Bored
The above list of productive things to do when bored isn’t exhaustive. You may want to pick some items and completely ignore others. The most important question to ask yourself is: What does “productive” mean to you?
One way to find out is to check what you did on a given workday and see how it makes you feel. If you’re unsure about where your time went and what you did when you were bored, a time tracker like Rize may help.
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