7 Ways To Stay Productive When You Actually Have Nothing To Do

Have you ever noticed that sometimes, taking a nap makes you even more tired, instead of refreshed and energized like you’d hoped? Productivity can be the same way sometimes.

While it is immensely important to give yourself breaks in life, doing absolutely nothing for extended periods of time can put you in a bad pattern of fatigue, sluggishness, laziness, and straight up lack of motivation.

I feel that way sometimes. In fact, this month my schedule feels a little emptier than it usually does. I was happy it worked out that way at first — I was thinking I would use the extra bit of time to settle into my new home, or adjust to my new routine of taking care of my very young puppy.

However, I was able to get my apartment unpacked and sorted pretty quickly, my dog has proven to be pretty damn easy going, and I’ve found myself spending a lot of long days pacing around my apartment wondering what to do.

In a world where certified workaholics reign supreme for some weird freaking reason, we forget that productivity is not exclusive to a high-powered career. You can be productive from the floor of your apartment, even when you have nothing you really have to do. Here’s how I do it on my boring days.

1. Make up some tasks.

I had one of these days yesterday — I had the whole day home alone (and nothing to be done in public, so I made the active decision to stay home as to avoid the possibility of boredom-spending money). I was excited about my home-alone-Monday, especially because I worked all weekend. But when I’d finished all I wanted to accomplish by 7am, I sat there bored, wondering how many more sitcom reruns I could watch before I died inside.

I decided to make up a few small projects to task myself with to keep me busy and productive. I grabbed some old picture frames collecting dust in the trunk of my car that I’d gotten from my Nana, started to paint them, and found a bunch of prints online to start sifting through to create a little DIY gallery wall on the empty wall in my dining room. The project — that was truly unplanned and unnecessary — became kind of fun, and I’m hoping to actually hang all of this stuff later in the week.

2. Do the small stuff you have to do incredibly well.

Chances are you have a few tiny things you could be doing, but they’re not too time-consuming or important — things that always need to be done, like cleaning the bathroom, or folding laundry. But when you have nothing else on your plate, put a little extra effort into the things you can be doing. Deep-clean instead of doing your regular weekly wipe-down, or go on Pinterest and look for a new, more efficient way to organize your closet. It may not be necessary, but it’ll make you feel good to be productive, and you might find that one seemingly unnecessary task will really improve your daily life. (Everyone responds well to a clean-af bathroom!)

3. Start something new.

If you’re anything like me, you have a long list of hobbies or projects that you’d like to pick up “someday,” but never quite find the time to begin. Having a little break in your schedule is the perfect time to introduce something new — it’ll give you some new goals, and a little newfound motivation that you might have lost after your 1000th Netflix episode.

For example, I started doing calligraphy last fall during a break from classes because I wanted to keep my brain from turning to mush before the final weeks of the semester. Researching what kinds of pens and ink I should use, watching video tutorials, reading books, and practicing my new hobby kept me feeling sharp and motivated even when I had no pressing school-related activities or projects that needed my attention.

4. Create a system to put in place on busier days.

On your busy days, don’t you find yourself wishing you had less to do, or at least more time to figure out how to do it all? Being stress-free for a day means you have time to plan for the days you’re not. Put some sort of protocol into place that you think will work for you on your busier days — try making an outline for your work-morning routine. For example:

6:00am: Wake up.

6:15am: Brush teeth/change clothes.

6:30am: Go for a run/do yoga.

7:00am: Shower and get ready.

7:30-8:30: Eat breakfast/relax/get ahead on work.

8:45: Leave for work.

It isn’t exactly revolutionary, but having a small outline or a bit of protocol written for days when you feel overwhelmed may have you thanking past-you for doing such a good job planning for future-you’s terribly busy day.

5. Help someone else.

If your partner/family member/friend is working through a rough patch while you have a little extra time on your hands, it might be the perfect time for you to step in and see where you can lighten their load. My boyfriend is routinely working 90-hour weeks that are running him ragged, so my relaxing month has been all about seeing where I can pick up the slack on his end so he can get a break wherever possible. We tend to split our housework 50/50, but I’ve been doing most of the cleaning, laundry, and dog-care, and even trying to cook and pack him meals so he doesn’t have to take time out of his packed workdays to go buy lunch. I’m not exactly an old-fashioned housewife, but I’m definitely here for doing a little extra and helping him out when his days are busy-long and mine are boring-long.

6. Do literally anything. 

Go outside. Read a book. Take a walk. Cook a meal. Run a random errand that doesn’t even need your immediate attention. Sometimes, just being able to say “I did that thing today!” is enough to make you feel like you had a full day of productivity, rather than wondering where the time went and how the day got away from you without you ever even changing out of your pajamas.

7. Don’t let it stress you.

The anxiety that comes along with having nothing to do is often more unbearable than having a ton to do, usually because it feels like you are missing something, and you have no tasks to distract you from harping on the anxiety. The best thing to do in this situation is to do what you can, stay focused on what is coming next so you can be prepared, and try to enjoy your break without worry — chances are, you’ll be busy as hell in a few weeks and wishing you had a few days with literally nothing to do.

Mary writes every day for TFD, and tweets every day for her own personal fulfillment. Talk to her about money and life at mary@thefinancialdiet.com!

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