Ask the grumpies: How to spend leisure time

Leah asks:

How does one spend leisure time when trying to scale back on work responsibilities? I’m working on rebalancing life and realizing that I’m not even sure how to spend my time when I limit work hours. In college and grad school, one could conceivably be working any time. Teaching is similar. What to do with one’s time if you decide no more work after, say, 5 pm except in the busiest of times? I’m trying to remember what I did with myself when I only worked 40 hours a week with minimal out-of-work requirements.

Oh wow, do I have answers for you.

Read books.  I will never live long enough to read all the books.  I love them so!  There is also lots of good TV if you have cable, netflix, youtube, or some other streaming service.  Try audio books.  Get into podcasts.

Take up hobbies.  Things like fencing, horseback riding, and chess will provide literally decades of mental and, in some cases physical, stimulation.  Learn to cook Indian food, or French food, or vegan food.  Walk to the library.

Take free or inexpensive classes at your local community college.  Write your memoirs, pick up a new language, learn to use your digital camera.  Book club.  Swimming.  Embroidery, knitting, quilting.  Try different kinds of meditation and see if one works for you.

Volunteer.  Somebody needs your help: animals, children, the library.  Be an active social justice warrior.  Join a dance troupe.  Write letters.  Look on for local groups doing things like hiking, playing board games, or wine-tasting.  Foster an animal.  Offer to teach the seniors in the retirement home how to use email to see pictures of their grandkids.

Play a lot of solitaire.  Make your own clothes.  Clean your house and donate stuff you don’t need.  Play around with doing your hair and makeup in fancy, ridiculous ways.  Sing a lot.

Go learn to paint or some sh*t.

Surf the internet.  Read blogs, have conversation, play MMORPGs.  Tweet pictures of your dinner.  Explore local restaurants.  Find a favorite coffee shop.  People-watch.  Daydream.  Write stories.  Nap recreationally.  Build yourself a new bookshelf.  Change your car’s oil.  Watch YouTube videos.

Start a blog.

#2 notes that you could have a second kid– that’ll get rid of any unwanted leisure time that was starting to creep up on you, at least for a few years.

Grumpy Nation:  How does one spend leisure time?


21 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: How to spend leisure time”

  1. Leah Says:

    I love this list :-)

    This summer, I learned how to have fun with my kid. I started dipping my toes into leisure stuff for me once she went to bed. I trained for a 5k and thus spent every other evening running. I’m now in the throes of rough September and school starting, so I am exhausted at night and not inclined to do a whole lot. I did start a new book.

    I think external hobbies will likely have to wait until my kid is a bit older. I played violin for many years, and there is a regional orchestra that practices close by. I have that on my radar for when our kid(s) are old enough that I feel like I can be gone one night a week.

    I still do miss the free time to pursue whatever I wanted that I had in high school and college. I was so much more productive then. Adulting is hard.


  2. Engineer Cents (@engineercents) Says:

    In my leisure time I like to cook, watch and dissect television, read, go on leisurely walks with my buddies, hang out with my Little Sis, or (nowadays) figure out how to get all the little things done in my house. My non-work time is not nearly enough to handle my non-work life.

  3. Zenmoo Says:

    Read. Run. Crochet. Happily I’ve figured out how to combine reading & running (audiobooks) which feels like a total win. I also like to walk our dog. While something that has to be done, it rarely feels like a chore (well, it might feel like a chore until I actually get out the door. Then it’s fun). Now my youngest is sleeping well, I’m thinking about taking up some social sport again, indoor soccer is fun. Or maybe touch rugby again.

  4. Contingent Cassandra Says:

    I love the list (and the suggestions above), but it strikes me that if at least part of the problem is re-connecting with pieces of oneself lost to too much doing, then immediately replacing work-doing with lots of non-work doing might not be the best answer. So, maybe an activity (or non-activity) that allows for minimal outside input, and maximum space for the brain to wander: any hands-on or physical activity that one enjoys (walking, running, swimming, cooking, gardening, handcrafts, etc.) *without* simultaneous listening to music, podcasts. TV, etc? Or meditating? Or just sitting and watching the world/nature go by?

    Or maybe that’s just the easily-overwhelmed-by-input introvert in me speaking. While I find the do-do-do lists above intriguing, I also find just reading them exhausting.

    I do, of course, love the suggestion to read. Truly immersive reading (which I’m finding surprisingly difficult these days) is another good recovering-focus activity — but, once again, maybe that’s just me.

    • kt Says:

      In that vein, going to the local library (not an academic one) and wandering through the aisles looking at… WWII histories, knitting books, sci-fi paperbacks, travelogues, crackpot new age promises, fine woodworking magazines, etc might be a good way to reconnect.

  5. Steph Says:

    I think you guys have covered everything…

    Try stuff out. Experiment to see what you like. Does a friend have a skill (cooking, knitting) or hobby (board games, yoga) that they could introduce you to one evening? Low pressure friend time plus new activity. I taught my friend to crochet one evening while we watched tv – I don’t think she’s done it again but we had a good time. You may not like everything you try, but there are plenty of low-cost intro things you can check out.

    Journal – it’s enjoyable and therapeutic on its own, especially as you reconnect with your non-work self, but it may also help you spot things you enjoy once you try them, or more things you wish you could learn. Or it can be a place to honestly admit the things you try and don’t like.

  6. middle_class Says:

    Even with my 40-hour work week, and even if I didn’t have kid-related stuff, I find that much of my “extra’ time is spend on chores, cleaning, errands, etc.. I have to protect my leisure time and sanity to unwind — read books, play words with friends, listen to podcast, watch TV, hang out with friends and spouse. I could probably find the time to volunteer and learn something if I could find that extra energy or scale down my work hours to part-time.

  7. kt Says:

    Sometimes things with other people can help, too, as you might more consciously make an effort to show up. Knitting group, aikido class, urban kickball league that is really about hanging out on summer nights, an opera season subscription with a friend. Doing something scheduled like this for six or eight weeks might be enough to acclimate you to doing non-work activities at a certain time even if you don’t decide to continue.

  8. Miser Mom Says:

    I just need to add: go for walks. Contingent Cassandra mentioned this among a list of other things, but walks are something really special.

    Long walks are *amazing* for reconnecting with your head, getting away from the computer/the mess/the people/the-you-name-it, and reconnecting you with your neighborhood and friends. Not to mention, fresh air and exercise.

  9. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    In extremis, you can have a THIRD kid and exponentially increase the number of years where free time is not in surplus.

    Also fun and not yet mentioned: bar trivia night! Can join a team.

  10. chacha1 Says:

    “peace him the f*ck out of your life” ROFL

    I literally cannot imagine not knowing how to spend my leisure time. Feeling sympathy for Leah. :-(

    My suggestion comes from a challenge I set myself at this time last year, when it became clear that this year was (like last year) going to be essentially shut down when it came to doing the Big Expensive Time-Consuming Thing That I Love.

    I wrote myself a list of 52 projects. One for each week of 2015. Each project was either self-contained, something I estimated could be accomplished in less than four hours (my reliable “me” time each weekend) or that could be accomplished in small increments. Sometimes the increments themselves were projects (like “draw cartoon for painting” and “block in painting”). These spanned from “purge the CD collection” to “go to Descanso Gardens” to “write story #10.”

    I got derailed by surgery and a continuing-education project, but am still on track to accomplish 40 of the projects. So I’m doing the same thing for next year. The 2016 list is almost full already (which is my way of cheating – if I want, I can start early).

  11. becca Says:

    The part of parenthood that is “constrained leisure” is really little kid specific. It gets so much better. Or at least, both my Mother and I went through the experience of tiny-baby period being the one where we read the least, and suffered for it.

    Swimming can absorb an astonishing amount of leisure time. Well, if you’re training/competing it can. Frolicking on beaches is highly recommended, and works well for sporadic leisure time. Kids have to be older before you can start really counting it as exercise time, but not *much* older.

    Martial arts are good for incorporating a healthy mix of exercise, channeling aggression and a sense of steady progress (if you’re into belt testing). Good ones also include stretching and meditation, which are also recommended. Yoga, at least, can be practiced at home around kidlets.

    A few kid oriented activities can provide at least some good social time. We have a local “music together” class that is very good. I enjoyed doing the baby gymnastics class with kidlet, because it also gave me an excuse to stretch and jump in a foam pit.

    I regularly think if I had “more” leisure time I would take up journaling or letter writing, but since this is aspirational I can’t answer whether it really provides good mental health and social connections.

    I love my Toastmasters, but that is probably not the best answer here as it’s both external and probably exercises some of those teaching muscles that need rest.

  12. MutantSupermodel Says:

    What did you like to do as a kid? Do that!

  13. Ana Says:

    I’m just starting to have time to think about this, now that my youngest is almost 4. The season will come. Great ideas above, I have nothing new since I’m still working on this myself.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      #2 is all: free time? like besides sleep/read/watch shows/blog?

      It seems like a lot when I put it like that. (Though I’m sure some self-help gurus would say I’m not taking enough “me” time. Whatevs.)

  14. crazy grad mama Says:

    Yay for hobbies! I’m still trying to figure out exactly what I *like* doing after so many years of spending all of my time on schoolwork. I’ve learned that I have to find a couple of specific projecty-type things that I enjoy (write blog, knit sock, sew Halloween costumes), otherwise I fritter away my leisure time browsing the internet and feeling bad about the chores that I’m not doing. Projects are motivating and fulfilling.

  15. J Liedl Says:

    I’m working to reconnect with hobbies. Right now, most of my hobbies are chores that I’m trying to reframe in a more positive manner: walking the dog, cooking and baking. I let myself do a boatload of recreational reading but I find that a somewhat unsatisfying hobby in that, after an hour or so of reading to unwind, I’d rather be doing something.

    I have to pull out and commit time to getting back into the fiber arts. I love cross stitch in particular. When I was a grad student, I was sewing almost as much as I was reading and writing. Even into my early career, I kept up a fair bit until kids came along. . . .

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