Time away from work can lead to being more effective at work, but it must be given due effort and diligence.
Putting effort into friends and family on days off can have creative and innovative benefits.
Creativity and innovation appear most with time off, not time at work.
Much has been said and written about maximizing your schedule at work but much less about maximizing it while not at work. Many argue that some of the most important time to develop creativity and help spark innovation does not occur at work. It occurs in the hours and days we are away from our jobs.
By 39, you will have met most of the people you will ever meet.1 Think about that for a second. We need to start to take our friendships and relationships outside of work as seriously as we do at the office.
Sadly, most of us do not make an effort to prioritize our friend and family time as seriously as we do our schedule at work. The results are staggering. According to a recent study, 58 percent of people interviewed said that they have never felt more alone outside of work than they do today.2 But there is plenty we can do about it.
Here are three tips to help you maximize your time away from work just as rigorously as you do in the office.
1. Schedule Time With Friends and Family
I know many folks whose calendars are meticulously scheduled, right down to the quarter hour, sometimes weeks in advance. They simply see no other way to maximize efficiency and get the most out of their day. But these same people put little effort into maximizing their time off with family or friends.
When we put so much effort into scheduling every little thing at work and so little effort into prioritizing what we do with our time off, we tend to lose any creative initiative and ideas that may spark the next big thing. That next big thing just may be helpful at work.
So, instead of sticking to a strict schedule only at work, make some effort to see family and friends outside of work with the same zest and zeal you view the workplace. My editor here at Psychology Today even has a Google sheet with a list of friends to track who he has seen most recently. That may or may not work for you, but the effort here is remarkable. The time you spend outside work doing things that are not work-related may facilitate some of your best creative and innovative moments.
2. Do Something Different for a Change
Most folks spend their time off the same way every year–whether at the beach, in the mountains, or whatever their “place” is. I get it–we crave the predictable and the regular. But these habits tend to be detrimental to our search for innovation and creativity. Instead, try and do something different.
If every year your time off is spent somewhere in Mexico, try going to a different country to experience something new. If you always go to a certain place at a certain time of year or do a certain thing as the holidays approach (Friendsgiving in Dallas!), this is an indication that perhaps you have gotten too comfortable in your routine and that you are missing valuable time to recharge the creative batteries. Maybe it’s time for Friendsgiving with a different set of friends?
Our minds prefer the predictable and the regular.3 It makes us comfortable and puts us in a safe routine. When we loosen the drive for repeatable and consistent experiences, we open our ability to appreciate and embrace change and creativity. That change and creativity can lead to places we have never imagined. Make that change and allow creativity to follow. This can be done in several ways, but maximizing your effort during time off and scheduling things that may not be your normal activity (horseback riding, anyone?) may yield some great and unexpected results, like an opportunity to slow down and stop and smell the roses instead of blowing through like you normally would, or a chance to recognize a viewpoint you’d never really considered seriously.
3. Go With the Flow
Often when we are not at work, we don’t want to be bothered to do much of anything. That’s because while we are at work, we are busy in the "flow." Every single moment, something is going on. We have reports to file and proposals to write. We have meetings to attend and events to plan.
When the flow of work is taken away on the weekends, we tend not to want to do a whole lot. Yet the weekends and time off have a flow of their own. Go with it. Perhaps it’s a new experience–say, axe throwing. Perhaps it’s something you have done a million times–going to the movies or a favorite restaurant. Perhaps it’s a regular walk around the block to see a neighbor.
No matter what the flow of the weekend or time off brings you, if we are able to push ourselves to make an effort, then we are rewarded with endless opportunities to become more creative and innovative and enhance our lives in untold ways. It’s unpredictable yet wonderful. It’s taking up baking or cooking and rediscovering that smell that reminds you of childhood. It’s finally reading a book you have been putting off and finding out that it’s a powerhouse of a story.
We never know what experience may occur when we are simply available for it. We never know what great thing awaits us to determine whether we are open and available for it to occur. When we show up to our private lives with the same intent we use at work–to have a great day and get a ton of things done–that same energy put into our personal lives can yield amazing benefits. I would argue that the value you get from things you do outside of work far outweighs the value and meaning you get from your actual job.4
When we look at life outside of work with the same vigor and attention that we spend at work, we uncover some amazing opportunities that are not otherwise apparent, like the fact that we indeed do like the co-ed soccer league or that volunteering gives us a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Those opportunities can bring untold wealth in terms of creativity and innovation.
But here’s the thing. Spending as much effort on our personal lives as we do at work may bring you closer to the things that matter the most. The people who matter most and are so influential on your happiness are often not those with whom you work but those you do not work with. Investing in those relationships with the same amount of drive we invest at work will pay off in ways we can never underestimate.
 Kruger et al. (2019) The friendship report. Retrieved from The Protein Agency.
Weissbourd, R., Batanova, M., Lovison V., Torres, E. (2021, February). Loneliness in America: How the pandemic has deepened an epidemic of loneliness and what we can do about it. Harvard Graduate School of Education.
 Song, Chaoming & Qu, Zehui & Blumm, Nicholas & Barabasi, Albert-Laszlo. (2010). Limits of predictability in human mobility. Science (New York, N.Y.). 327. 1018-21. 10.1126/science.1177170. Limits of Predictability in Human Mobility.