Most everyone has heard about the importance of a work-life balance. We have all heard that it is important to get good sleep, eat well, exercise, have good relationships, and have other interests outside of work. “If you have a well-balanced life, your life will be better.” We’ve heard the sentiment, yet many have not adopted a healthy balance. Why is this? At the heart of this resistance is fear. Fear of not producing, not working hard enough, not excelling in a profession that you worked so hard to be involved in.
So let’s address productivity instead. If quality of life is not motivating enough to make changes to an unbalanced work life, perhaps improved productivity might be. Whether it is eliminating multitasking, focusing on one difficult task, or taking regularly scheduled breaks, working less can improve your productivity. In addition to these suggestions, taking time to do enjoyable (non-work related) activities can help keep your mind active and give you a different perspective on problems. In the same way that talking to a consultant can give you a perspective that you might not have considered, engaging your brain in creative and enjoyable activities allows various areas of your brain to be stimulated, almost as if you have a mini consultant in your head.
A few activities that stimulate brain activity and encourage neuroplasticity include:
- Engaging in team sports or group games: Group games and sports are not only enjoyable in their own right, they also encourage teamwork, problem solving, and recognition of personal strengths.
- Solving riddles or puzzles: Riddles and puzzles often require you to think from multiple perspectives. My personal favorite is Sudoku (more on that in a later post).
- Learning a new language: Learning a new language is challenging (requires persistence and commitment) and involves mentally switching how your brain identifies a single object or idea. This improves perspective taking and problem solving.
- Playing a musical instrument: Playing music (as opposed to simply listening to music) involves many key areas of our brain (auditory cortex, motor cortex, visual cortex, emotion centers, and executive functioning). Playing an instrument is one of the most effective ways to get your different brain functions to coordinate with one another and this increases the connection between the two halves of your brain (the corpus callosum).
- Learning Improv: Improv is a comedy style that teaches its practitioners to accept whatever material is presented to them and to respond quickly. This is not only fun, but improves confidence, thinking speed, and problem solving.
No matter what activities you choose to engage in during your “off-time”, be sure to honor that time as importance in your life in the same way you might value your work ethic in the office.
Shawn Healy, PhD