Image credit: Flickr/Paul Stein
After a long day of work, what do you do with your free time? Catch up on the latest tech trends, busy yourself with reading books on the secrets of successful tech startups, teach yourself new skills that could help you advance in the office? You probably do these things to help boost your performance, land that promotion, or gain the raise you’ve been promised.
While these activities can be helpful, picking up hobbies unrelated to your tech job could do just as much to enrich your career.
In a small study in April 2014 in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Therapy, researchers from San Francisco State University found that professionals who frequently engaged in creative hobbies tended to score higher on workplace performance rankings than those who did so occasionally. In fact, hobbies that were unrelated to the participants’ jobs had greater impacts on their work performance.
“Creative activities are likely to provide valuable experiences of mastery and control, but may also provide employees experiences of discovery that uniquely influence performance-related outcomes,” the study authors suggest.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, building new skills, learning new concepts, and adopting thought processes outside of tech can help you be a better tech professional.
Here are some atypical hobbies that can help you relieve stress, have fun, and advance your tech career:
Aerial Dance or Knitting
The IT skill you need: Analytics and big data are becoming increasingly popular in all industries. Among organizations surveyed by Gartner in June 2014, 73 percent have already invested or plan to invest in big data over the next two years, up from 64 percent in 2013. IT professionals will need to expand their analytic skills to make sense of all that information.
How the hobbies can help: Although these two activities seem to be exact opposites, they can both help foster analytic thinking.
- Aerial dance and circus arts, which can include aerial silks, aerial hammock, lyra (or aerial hoop), and even pole fitness are no longer reserved for carnies and daredevil professionals. Several studios and gyms offer classes to accommodate all skill levels, from absolute beginner to more advanced.
- The activity is physical, giving the brain a much needed rest from higher thinking and relieving stress. Although your body is doing most of the work, your mind is still involved. Working with new and different apparatuses forces your mind to think about your body and its movements in new ways. Each apparatus can serve as a new puzzle for your mind and body to figure out together.
- If you never dreamed of joining the circus, knitting can also help you sharpen analytical skills while staying grounded. Knitting can be repetitive and almost meditative and relaxing, allowing your mind to drift from your daily work.
- At the same time, knitting requires you to see and understand patterns and quickly spot and correct mistakes. In fact, a study published in February 2013 in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy, found that participants who knitted often reported higher levels of cognitive functioning.
Both activities can stimulate your mind in new ways, helping to spark new thought processes and sharpen analytic thinking.
Volunteering with Kids or Hiking
The IT skill you need: To keep up with the ever-changing and advancing tech industry, professionals need to be able to quickly learn and adapt to new technology and systems.
How the hobbies can help: You’re in the middle of the woods, mid-hike, and it starts downpouring. Or, the ground suddenly slopes up to an unexpected hill, or a fallen tree blocks your path. What do you do?
- You adapt to your surroundings. In a setting far removed from the everyday technology with which you interact, hiking requires you to think quickly on your feet and change according to environmental conditions.
- Volunteering with kids through mentorship programs, community sports leagues, children’s theatre, and other activities can also help prepare your mind to adapt to any situation.
- One minute everything is running smoothly and the next, Bobby and Brian are fighting, Susie is crying for her mom, and little Kate is wandering off because she’s bored. Kids are volatile and you can’t always predict their reactions. Working with them can help ready you to better work in a field in constant motion.
Partner Dancing or Team Sports
The IT skill you need: Teamwork and communication are important in any field, but are often neglected in IT. Technology makes it that much easier to hide behind screens and shy away from team communication. While individual skills and creativity are important, collaboration is critical to getting projects done and improving productivity.
How the hobbies can help: Partner dancing is an activity that requires you to effectively collaborate with another person to achieve goals. To learn salsa or ballroom dance, you need to work with a partner to take directions, fix mistakes, and keep from stepping on each other’s toes, literally. The experience can help you gain more confidence when communicating with peers and meeting new people.
- If you’re less adventurous, or not a fan of sequins, good old-fashioned team sports can help build the same skills.
- IT professionals with a variety of skills and experiences that enrich their professional lives will perform the best and be most desired by employers. If you’re stuck in a work rut, try picking up a hobby that could potentially benefit your mental, physical, and career health.
What are your hobbies? Do they benefit your work life?