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Published on September 20, 2018

15 Productive Things to Do When You Have Extra Downtime

15 Productive Things to Do When You Have Extra Downtime

Time away from the office gives us an opportunity to kick back and relax. However, if you’re like me, you might enjoy squeezing some productivity out of your days off, too.

Thankfully, there are several ways to incorporate productive things to do during downtime that can keep you in the flow of getting things done.

1. Start the new hobby you’ve always wanted to try

Who says downtime productivity has to be boring? Extra time off is perfect for starting a new hobby, especially if you’ve had one in mind for a while. This is a great time to Google, take notes, and bookmark some excellent resources that’ll help you get started.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even dive right in—you can usually start hobbies such as photography, arts and crafts, right away with what you have at home.

2. Organize your emails for a calm inbox

Admittedly, tackling your inbox is about as exciting as it sounds. However, once you take the time to go through and organize your emails, you’ll have a less stress-inducing inbox and can set yourself up for increased inbox productivity at work.

Start by grouping similar emails together, like receipts and order tracking, and take advantage of your email provider’s “promotions” and “social” folders, which will automatically sort all your Facebook updates and newsletters for you!

Another good tip that I personally swear by is adding a set of priority folders right at the top of your email’s folder bar. It’s easy, effective, and will allow you to streamline your tasks. Here’s how to do it:

  • Create a Priority 1 and Priority 2 folder at the top of your email bar
  • Sort emails appropriately as they come in. Priority 1 for the high-priority items, and Priority 2 for tasks lower on the totem pole.
  • During your workday, tackle all your Priority 1 emails first, then move on to your Priority 2 folder.

This system will not only make your inbox clean and calm but will give your productivity and prioritization skills a nice boost during work hours too.

3. Revamp your budget

Another way to be productive and reduce stress during downtime is revisiting and revamping your budget.

In the age of everything-as-a-service, many of us accrue new paid subscriptions every few months. Those small monthly payments of $15 here or $25 there can really add up—and you don’t want these charges catching you off-guard when money is tight.

A good starting point is to go through a month or two of bank statements and jot down all bills, subscriptions, and other recurring charges. Write them all down in a spreadsheet or planner and subtract the amount from what you make monthly.

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This is also a great time to get a good look at all the subscriptions you currently have and to decide which to keep and which to get rid of, if any.

4. Plan some fun activities

If you’ve been meaning to plan a fun date night or a family day-trip, your extra downtime is the perfect time to do so.

Take a look at your calendar for the next few months. What days would be perfect for some extra fun?

If you want to add some entertainment to your calendar but don’t know where to start, a good idea is to gather some new ideas and see what fits with your lifestyle, family, budget, and calendar.

Setting time aside for fun activities is also a fantastic way to ensure you’re carving out some stress-free time to enjoy your time off.

5. Set your appointments

While not as fun as planning a day trip, setting your appointments for the next few months (or even the year!) can make sure you have the time to actually get necessities like doctor and dentists appointments out of the way.

Better yet, if you’ve been putting off a routine cleaning or flu-shot, get them done quickly during your downtime and take the opportunity to schedule your next visits in-person.

6. Take a course

With sites like Coursera, Udemy, and Skillshare, learning something new has never been this easy. You can simply sign up to any of these sites, for free, and begin learning right away!

While most of these sites offer free trials, they also offer a hefty variety of free or discounted courses, which makes it easy and inexpensive.

If you prefer the traditional face-to-face route, you may want to check your local recreation center or community college for upcoming courses as well.

When it comes to productive things to do, taking a course is one of the most useful, as several courses offer resume-boosting certifications that can help you move up in your career. Or, you can always learn a new skill just for fun!

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7. Discover the educational side of YouTube

Surprisingly, YouTube isn’t just made of cat videos and millennial trends. In fact, the video sharing site can be an excellent resource for educational videos and even free courses. From TED Talks to learning to change the oil in your car, there are all sorts of things to discover on YouTube with a quick search.

I find YouTube to be a great office companion—I often choose a TED Talk or a recorded productivity round-table to listen to while breezing through my to-do list every day.

8. Documentaries: A productive thing to do while relaxing

If you’ve been looking for an excuse to curl up with a drink and some Netflix, here’s your chance!

Watching a documentary is both an entertaining and relaxing way to take in some new knowledge and learn some nifty facts.

Documentaries can range from animals to unsolved crimes to the study of happiness around the world; there’s always something new an interesting to learn with the added benefit of a relaxing night in front of the TV—without the guilt.

9. Get in some exercise while waiting in line

When we’re running errands or out and about, we’re often faced with small bursts of downtime waiting in lines. These periods, while often not long enough to get a lot done, do allow time for the quick exercises below:

  • Calf raises – stand on the balls of your feet while keeping your legs straight, then return to your normal standing position. Repeat while you’re in line—it’s that easy! The benefits of calf raises include strengthening your calves, improving your jumping ability, and of course, burning some calories.[1]
  • Standing on one leg – Don’t worry: you don’t have to look ridiculous in line to do this one, either. Slightly raise one of your feet off the ground so you are standing on one leg. Alternate every five seconds as needed. Standing on one leg can help build muscles throughout your leg and improve balance.

Adding just a little bit of exercise to your downtime each day can help to keep you active, and getting active is always productive!

10. Find a new favorite podcast

When thinking of new productive things to do, sitting back and listening to something might sound counter-intuitive. However, enjoying a good podcast is a great way to add some extra productivity to your time off. Podcasts can help you learn about your industry, hobbies, and get you more involved in your community.

In addition to being easy entertainment, podcasts can also help to inspire you and aid in self-improvement, which in turn raises productivity all around.

11. Learn a new career skill

While we touched on using courses to boost your knowledge and even your resume, there are a few other ways to add a new skill set to your career toolkit.

First, of course, you’ll need to find a good skill that will aid you in your career.

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Then, the real fun begins with these methods:

  • Volunteer – While you’ll be hard-pressed to land a job using a skill you’re just starting to learn, often you can find volunteer opportunities that will let you learn within their organization. Learning in this environment is beneficial as it allows you to make a change in your community, looks great on a resume, and can even provide unique networking opportunities (but more on that later).
  • Use a multimedia approach – Don’t be afraid to collect any and all resources pertaining to your new skill. In fact, reading books, articles, listening to podcasts, watching videos, and attending events centered around the skill are all great ways to develop the skill in a well-rounded manner. Of course, don’t forget to practice!
  • Use your resources – If a friend or family member has your new desired skill, reach out! Chances are, they’d love a helping hand with their own projects and don’t mind teaching a few tricks along the way. A bonus to this method: Family and friends might give you a deeper or more unique insight into the skill, unlike a book, event, or course normally would.

All of the methods above can be done during downtime. Whether you have five minutes to watch a video, an hour to read a book, or a few hours each week to volunteer, there’s an option for new skill development no matter your downtime restrictions.

12. Network

Networking isn’t just for entrepreneurs. It can help you get ahead in your career, build and strengthen skills, introduce you to new hobbies, and open yourself up to new opportunities.

The best part about networking is that it isn’t exclusive to conferences and meetings either. By introducing yourself to the people around you, be it at a coffee shop or playground while watching the kids, you never know who you’ll meet and what opportunities they can provide to you.

Even if a new connection doesn’t lead to a new opportunity or skill-building, it still allows you to build new friendships and flex your social muscles which are often lacking in today’s digital age.

13. Set some goals to improve motivation

Setting goals is one of the most motivational and productive things to do during downtime. This is the time to get real about what you want in life and set some goals to achieve it.

These goals don’t have to be career-centered either. They can be places you’d like to live, vacations you’d like to take, and hobbies you’d like to try.

While we mostly think of vacations, dream homes, and leisure activities, we’d like to pursue as “dreams,” putting these dreams onto paper with an action plan can turn them into highly-motivational goals.

Even better, the more motivated you are by your goals, the more likely you are to boost your productivity in order to achieve them.

14. Start a blog

If you have a knack for writing (or want to learn), then starting a blog is the perfect time to use those skills and get productive on your day off.

Why? Because it allows you to utilize and hone a creative and desired skill and can even add extra income to your wallet, all from your keyboard.

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The best part about blogging? You can write about anything your heart desires. Whether you want to blog about raising kids, fly-fishing, or the best restaurants in your city, it’s your blog, so anything goes!

Writing for your own blog is the perfect way to learn by practicing, and also provides an opportunity to build a community of readers and other writers as well.

Bonus: Many employers see blog writing (aka content marketing) as a highly valuable skill that can often help their companies or even their clients. It looks great on a resume and can even give you an edge over colleagues when it comes down to a competitive promotion process.

15. Build your brand

Who says branding is just for businesses? In today’s digital age, it seems as though everyone has a Facebook, LinkedIn, and/or Twitter account.

So what does this have to do with branding? Everything!

Chances are, you don’t want to be a lost face in a sea of digital profile pictures. This is why it’s crucial to develop your own personal brand.

Your personal brand is all about how others perceive you, whether in person at work or online. Now, you don’t have to start a website, blog, or business to have a “brand,” but some things to consider are shown below:

  • Determine what you want to be known for: Do you want to be known as an expert in your field? Or do you simply want to show the world your baking chops? Either way, what you put out to the world online can and will be seen by many users, including the people in your company and community, so make it something great!
  • Decide where you need to be: Though they seem to blend together on occasion, every social media platform serves a different purpose. Decide which purpose will help you build your personal brand and stick to it for best results.
    • If you’re showcasing career-centric blogs and trying to connect with other like-minded experts, communication-heavy LinkedIn and Twitter are for you.
    • If you’re showcasing your unmatched cat-training videos or cake decorating process, then the visual-heavy platforms Instagram and Facebook are where you should focus your energy.
  • Keep things consistent: Consistency across your social media platforms is key to establishing your personal brand. By demonstrating your personality through consistent and relevant posts, users will be able to quickly identify your posts from the crowd.

Your personal brand can help you move up in your career or even start a brand new one. It can help you build a business or earn a stellar reputation in your community—if it’s done right, that is.

Now that you have a wide range of productive things to do during downtime, it’s time to put some in action! The only question is, what will you start with first?

Featured photo credit: Keenan Constance via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Kileen Robinson

Kileen helps people live their most productive lives possible, one article at a time.

How to Be Happy at Work and Find Fulfillment in Your Career How to Work Under Pressure so You Won’t Burn Yourself Out 17 Best Careers Worth Going Back to School for at 40 15 Productive Things to Do When You Have Extra Downtime Struggling With Productivity in the Workplace? 12 Tips to Get More Done

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Last Updated on April 23, 2019

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

What Is a Stretch Goal?

A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

1. Get Outside of Your Head

If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

I see this in so many areas of life:

When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

“Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

S.M.A.R.T.

is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

The Bottom Line

These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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