Make the most out of spare time

You have time to spare. Maybe you’re on a break from uni courses, taking some well-deserved annual leave without any real plans or recently unemployed or incarcerated (hopefully not, as you need internet access for some of these ideas). Or perhaps you are sick of watching junk TV everyday when you get home from a full-time job or on the weekend. For some people, having lots of time on their hands can be stressful or boring. For others, time is an opportunity to relax in front of the TV or catch a 12-hour zzz session. However, making nothingness a regular habit often comes with self-loathing when you see the hours dwindling away.

Whatever the case may be, realise that your time is a precious and limited resource. Filling your 16-hour (approximately) uptime with actual activity will bring you a great sense of happiness or achievement. Even if you engage in what you deem as productive activity just a little bit each day, it will build up like little Legos to make an admirable result. It will also make those truly lazy times a lot more fulfilling and well-deserved.

And with that, I’ve pulled together some ideas for those times when one might seemingly have “nothing to do.”

Spare time ideas

1. Focus on professional development courses or learn a new skill

The joy of learning is a sustainable source of happiness. Enrol in an online course to update and expand your knowledge in a field. The beautiful thing about online courses is that you can gain valuable knowledge and skills for free — many sites allow you to audit a course. Alternatively, you can pay a fee for the course — the benefit of this being you will receive a certificate and for some, you’ll be more inclined to finish what you’ve paid for.

A few online learning sites with both free and paid material:

2. Read a business book

Won’t go into much detail here, but would definitely check out these books as they’ll give you confidence whether you’re just starting your career or would like to grow as an employee.

3. Learn a new formula

This ties into broadening your knowledge through an online course or reading. Learn a new formula that is helpful for your life or professional area.

Example: I recently learned about formulas called Little’s Law through my recent interest in lean philosophy. It’s a simple and helpful way to understand systems and flow.

4. Continue to use a calendar

If you’re recently unemployed and back on the market for jobs, you have 8 hours in your day that you didn’t have before. It’s a good idea to keep your calendar functional, especially because knowing what day of the week it is isn’t so intuitive anymore. Include any appointments, interviews and scheduled job-seeking or learning time to keep yourself on track. Trello is also a great tool — use it as a kanban board to manage your projects at home or work.

5. Keep a blog

Improve your writing skills and creativity — perhaps you’ll even entertain someone.

6. Freelance

Make money doing what you love (develop websites, graphic design, business help for SMEs) and find out if running your own business is right for you.

7. Mini-freelance with Fiverr or AirTasker

Make a little money doing what you’re good at.

  • AirTasker — a bit more sophisticated than Fiverr
  • Fiverr — quick and easy to buy/sell a cheap service

8. Create the ultimate resume and cover letter template

  • Keep your resume/CV professional, achievement-oriented and honest.
  • Create a cover letter template and tailor for each job application, explaining how you meet the criteria for the role. Try to find the name of the hiring manager or agent so you can formally address them in the greeting.

9. Perfect your LinkedIn page

Make sure your page is 100% complete and you are aware of your page visibility preferences. A professional profile will be a good sign to potential employers and clients. More here.

10. If you’re also job seeking, take advantage of how much time you have to prepare for an interview

Create a Word document that outlines your past jobs, education and answers to popular phone screening or interview questions — write them as you would like to say them aloud. This script will be a base for all upcoming job interviews. You will become intimately familiar with these answers and feel more confident during discussions with potential employers. Make simple additions to each time you have an interview scheduled, such as information about the company, or skills and situations that make you the ideal candidate based on the job description. Preparation is key.

11. Visit an old friend or family member

Reconnect with someone who you previously didn’t have much time to catch up with.

12. Declutter, physically and mentally

Things have taken a hold on our life. We constantly long for more things: the latest and greatest things, the things that our friends have, the things that Pinterest and marketers tell us we need. Finally, we spend money and effort acquiring these things. We need to find space to keep them, make sure they are taken care of by means by cleaning or other maintenance and justify how they will make us happy. What we don’t realise is how closely linked things are to a cluttered mind. This point alone requires its own article so I will stop for now. But I suggest you check out “The Joy of Less: A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life” by Francine Jay. It’s brilliant; this is coming from someone who has had many things before.

13. Mindful meditation

And yes, meditation is different from doing nothing.

If you don’t know how or where to start, read “Search Inside Yourself” by Chade Meng-Tan. He’s an ex-Googler with some life-changing ideas to share about mindfulness and happiness. This book outlines some basic mindfulness exercises that you can implement into your daily routines.

14. Increase your happiness by keeping a gratitude journal

Simply jot down three things each day for which you are grateful. Keep it in a journal. It will help you take note of and develop a newfound appreciation for the world around you.

15. Volunteer

Spend time supporting others or a cause you care about. It goes a lot further than a donation in many cases, builds relationships with others and enriches you as a person.

16. Create a health plan

Make a plan that works for you. Set realistic goals about what you’ll eat, how much you’ll sleep, exercise and how you’ll take care of yourself in general. Small changes such as cutting out the milk and/or sugar in your coffee (seriously loving black coffee now) or lifting weights twice a week will make you feel pretty achieved and healthy.

Hope this list gives you a few new ideas for increasing your productivity in times of nothingness, boredom or relaxation. Perhaps you will have a newfound appreciation for your spare time.