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Working Better through Play

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.

Burn Rubber
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 High
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.

Keep Running
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).

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