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How your free time affects your work day

How you spend your time after work can impact how you feel and what you accomplish at work the next day.

Maybe you come home and run errands and finish chores. Or perhaps you do something active like take a walk or go to the gym. Some people volunteer, read or just plop down in front of the TV.

In a new study, researchers found that how you spend that critical leisure time impacts not only how well you sleep, but also your motivation at work when you go in the next day.

For the study, which was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, researchers surveyed 183 full-time employees for 10 workdays about their after-work pastimes and their at-work experiences.

In the morning, the employees were asked simply to report how they were feeling. In the afternoon, they were asked to describe their proactive behavior, reports Greater Good Magazine from UC Berkeley. That includes “self-initiated, future-oriented actions to take control of situations and create change in the workplace, such as coordinating among departments, presenting information to colleagues, designing new procedures, or helping to set targets.”

Finally, when the day was over, they were surveyed on what they did after work. They rated whether their leisure-time activities made them feel a sense of mastery, like learning a new language, playing sports or volunteering. They rated how relaxed they were and whether they were able to detach from work.

When employees participated in an activity that made them feel they were mastering something, they often felt more capable at work the next day. They also reported feeling more inspired, excited and enthusiastic.

“Our research found that employees who engage in sporting and learning activities, such as going to the gym, exercising, volunteering and reading books, after they finish work were more likely to get a better night’s sleep, and be more proactive at work the following day,” says co-author professor Sharon Parker, from the Center for Transformative Work Design at Curtin University’s Future of Work Institute in Perth, Western Australia, in a statement.

Relaxing doesn’t help you at work

Woman listening to music Listening to music can help you relax, but probably won’t help with tomorrow’s job performance. (Photo: Stokkete/Shutterstock)

On the other hand, people who spend their leisure time listening to music or meditating don’t get the same benefits. Although they feel more relaxed and calm, they aren’t necessarily more proactive at work the next day. It doesn’t give them the energy and confidence they need to take charge in the workplace the next day.

Researchers also found that doing chores, having conflicts with family members, additional work demands at home, and having to discipline children all affected someone’s initiative at work.

Researchers say the findings show the importance of what we choose to do in our off-work hours and could help managers better understand the relationship between what employees do in their work time and free time. It can also help people realize the benefits of choosing relaxing activities that also help them learn new things.

“After work, people often take part in activities to alleviate stress, such as reading books, practicing new hobbies, going to the gym and cooking. These activities have a knock-on effect for the quality of our sleep and how we should feel the next morning when we go to work,” Parker says.

“How we feel at work impacts our proactivity, which helps create competitive, dynamic and fast-changing work environments, and translates to better work results and career success.”

Mary Jo DiLonardo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.

How your free time affects your work day

Whether you learn a language or listen to music tonight can impact how you perform at work tomorrow.


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