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Having fun will make you work better

Can hobbies really accelerate professional success?

Editor’s note: Media strategist Francesco Marconi has spent years studying how personal stories inspire incredible achievements. In his upcoming book, Live Like Fiction, Marconi shares unconventional life strategies to find purpose and inspiration. Below, you can read an exclusive excerpt from the new book.

“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” — Dorothy Parker, Poet

Many successful people use their creativity to propel projects from point A to point B. But where do they get that spark of curiosity? According to Carol Kauffman, an assistant clinical professor at Harvard Medical School, it comes from what you do outside the office. Neurologists and psychologists agree that when you get lost in a hobby or project seemingly unrelated to work — like crafting, painting or running — the part of your brain dedicated to creative thinking fires up, helping you stay focused and energized. 

And the benefits of hobbies’ brain-boosting powers go beyond that killer scrapbook you made. They can increase your problem-solving skills and inspire new ways of thinking, meaning that your hobbies can be your greatest professional assets.

According to research published in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, though, many people don’t recognize the importance of leisure time. They use their downtime to “escape” from work and turn to passive consumption like watching TV or hitting the bar rather than creative activities. In the long term, the researchers note, this type of behavior can contribute to apathy and depression. But creative side projects and hobbies can help stop this cycle — they make downtime more fulfilling. They give you a broader perspective on life. In fact, San Francisco State University psychology professor Kevin Eschelman found that people engaged in creative activities perform 15 to 30 percent better at work thanks to a better “sense of relaxation and control.”

Hobbies are so important that well-known figures across all industries use them to refocus their mind. Music star Taylor Swift finds time to needlepoint while on tour, while actress Meryl Streep is an expert knitter. David Rockefeller, a former chairman and CEO of Chase Manhattan Corporation, collects beetles. As a teenager, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg built computer games for fun from the designs of artist friends; he even claims that Facebook itself began as a “hobby.” Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is an avid golfer. Albert Einstein enjoyed sailing. Actress Susan Sarandon loves to play table tennis. Even former President George W. Bush is known for his dabbling into portrait painting.

While the list goes on, the best part is that you don’t have to be rich and famous to enjoy a hobby. Mine is watercolor painting. I sit at my desk at home and study my pet fish, Sushi, for inspiration. Then I draw different shapes and colors, an abstract exercise, until I enter the “zone.” This helps me relax and return to work more focused and creative.

Later I take my “masterpieces” to work, because as Eschelman noted, small changes to your work-space can also make the difference and energize your life. Entire companies even do this, including Zappos.com, which incorporates employee artwork in the office and organizes creative workshops to help workers relax and recharge during the day.

Hobbies can also make you more interesting — several of my colleagues at work are known for more than their job descriptions. 

I work with surfers, aspiring artists, barbecue masters, mountain hikers and bikers, rock band leaders and marathon runners. A software engineer brings his guitar to work on Fridays and serenades anyone walking by the cafeteria. A talented journalist and skilled baker shares her cakes with the rest of the office. That diversity is what makes our team so interesting — and serves as a reminder that what we do at work doesn’t define who we are.

 A hobby can yield better work performance and stronger personal and professional relationships. It also makes for a great story, especially if you can find something memorable. If you don’t have one yet, find one. It will help you become more productive in your day job and spice up office small talk.

Don’t have any hobbies yet? Here are a few ideas to get you started:book coloring, screenprinting, dance classes, windsurfing, book club, cycling, GIF-making, stamp collecting…

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