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No one works harder than independent businesspeople. Even after hours they’re thinking about new strategies, lingering problems or potential opportunities. Some consider personal pursuits a waste of valuable time. Not so, says Teresa Amabile, a Harvard Business School professor, who suggests we all need breaks from work to be more creative, better at solving problems and less stressed.
Creative and intellectual outlets help you work better. “Hobbies can help you make new associations or break out of particular pathways and think of things in new ways,” Amabile says.
One of the keys is to get into the “fl ow” of your activity of choice, which means getting really absorbed in it. “An entrepreneur who’s been struggling with a particular problem in the business can go out, get absorbed in the hobby and—even if they don’t get into the flow experience—can find the relaxation sometimes stimulates new ideas and concepts through the incubation process and allows new connections and ideas to form,” Amabile says.
“Hobbies can generate happy feelings,” she says. “If people go into work in a better mood, they are more likely to come up with creative ideas that day. And we even see a carry-over effect into the next day as well.”
Amabile stresses that everyone needs to unplug daily, or at least weekly, to keep the creative juices fl owing. Not sure how to spend your free time? Read on—that’s where we come in.
Buzz Your Backyard
Gardening is a great way to slow down, unplug from technology and work out your planning muscles. A bee garden is a win-win for all concerned. The little nectar gatherers like what we like—fragrance and color—yet they do more than stop to smell the roses. Bees are essential for food production. The busy pollinators tend to prefer single blooms in blues, yellows and purples, so fill your bee garden with mums, marigolds, daffodils, zinnias, purplehearts, dahlias and asters.
- What you’ll need: Basic gardening tools and a little muscle. Installing a bee garden is relatively easy, especially if you stick to annuals. A few hours each week and a willingness to water, weed and fertilize are all you really need.
- Helping hand: Check with your local county extension service or Master Gardeners organization for plant suggestions and general advice.
- Fringe benefit: Honeybees are essential to vegetables, fruits and, of course, honey production.
There’s nothing quite like the methodical quest of car restoration. You’ll have to be part sleuth (old parts can be hard to find) and part grease monkey (you’ll be installing major engine parts yourself). You’ll also have to be patient; as any car junkie will tell you, restoring a car never truly ends. But if you’re a problem solver who enjoys working with your hands, this hobby is the perfect way to unwind without disengaging your brain.
- What you’ll need: Money, space, tools and time. It’s not cheap to restore cars, especially older models, and you’ll need the garage space to store your beauty. A good set of mechanics’ tools will suit you, as older cars are more metal and rubber than circuit boards and sensors.
- Helping hand: Car clubs in most major cities and your local independent auto parts store are good resources, as is PopularMechanics.com.
- Fringe benefit: No one can resist a cherry-red 1964-and-a-half Ford Mustang. No one.
Fly-fishing is the perfect escape for nature lovers. The best spots are far removed from work life and also offer breathtaking views. (Cast a line into the Snake River with the Tetons as a majestic backdrop, if you don’t believe us.) There’s plenty of strategy involved, which will keep your mind working, even as you decompress. Best of all, learning to cast is easy. Perfecting your technique, though, is another matter.
- What you’ll need: A reel, flies, waders, a floppy hat and some knot-tying know how.
- Helping hand: There are many fly-fishing groups online, but trek to a Bass Pro Shop or other local outdoor store. Both usually offer demonstrations and even classes for beginners.
- Fringe benefit: Relying on yourself to catch dinner builds character.
Take the Wheel
If you like to create with your hands, pottery is a perfect hobby. It requires skill, concentration and creativity, but those who excel find it soothing and highly rewarding.
- What you’ll need: Patience and a qualified instructor. Only the most serious of potters need to buy their own equipment. Instead, sign up for classes that allow you to rent the facilities.
- Helping hand: Local art schools, professional artists and even some city recreational departments offer pottery instruction, which usually includes use of materials. Some studios also rent space for the more dedicated hobbyists.
- Fringe benefit: Mom will love her coffee mug Christmas gift.
Crack a Joke
Improv is ideal for those balls of energy who leave work wired. It pushes you to think fast, anticipate situations and multitask, all while trying to entertain. Don’t think of it as a way to unwind. Instead, use it as a way to burn off the stress and adrenaline from the workday while networking and meeting new people.
- What you’ll need: Imagination, one-liners and an ability to laugh at yourself.
- Helping hand: If you live in a big city, finding an improv class is easy (comedy clubs are a good place to start). Still stuck? Try your local theater group or university drama program.
- Fringe benefit: Laughter is a known stress-reliever.
Walk the Line
If your first inclination is to yawn at the idea of a walking tour, think again. Many cities offer walking tours of unique architecture, haunted houses, city parks or great bars and restaurants. It’s easy to create your own tour, too—pick a theme and scope out locations. Not near a city? Take in a state park or historical site. Each will get you pondering and learning.
- What you’ll need: Comfortable shoes, sunscreen, map, guidebook and hiking supplies (if you’re going into the wilderness).
- Helping hand: Your best bets for walking tours are city or visitors bureau Web pages and state and national parks departments. Both typically offer directions, prominent sights to see and time estimates.
- Fringe benefit: You’ll burn calories without even realizing it.
The idea of running 26.2 miles is downright frightening to some. But more and more “regular people” are lacing up and putting their feet to the pavement. In 2000, fewer than 300,000 entrants finished a U.S. marathon. By 2007, that number had climbed to nearly 400,000. Running for that long takes grit, determination, plenty of training and desire. Along the way, though, you’ll learn how to focus, formulate plans, stick to long-term goals and overcome adversity.
- What you’ll need: Good running shoes, good health, a training plan, and the time and energy to train for up to four months.
- Helping hand: Group training is the biggest reason marathons are so popular (and why more people are able to finish). Team in Training (TeamInTraining.org), for instance, brings volunteer certified coaches together with newbies. Better still, the organization is part of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, raising money for research and treatments of the diseases.
- Fringe benefit: Your heart will be your strongest muscle (and your legs won’t look bad, either).