Tim w Lion in S. Africa_compressed

This Is Why You Should Keep Wasting Your Time

Je ne parle pas anglais – the short bark I got every time I asked a train attendant for help.  I’d flown into Paris a week earlier and even managed to find my way into the city center, despite a city-wide transport strike.  But this was a whole new animal.  One which required help.  Looking to secure an overnight billet de nuit to Provence, I needed to both validate my Eurorail pass and pay a supplement.

After the rough start I’d go on to successfully navigate a few dozen European train stations and airports over the summer of 1996.  I knew I’d eventually get the hang of international travel but I had no idea I’d be developing skills that would serve me on my professional path…

22 years later, it’s still a beloved hobby but not because it helps me in my work.  That’s just a nice coincidence.


Supercharge Me

Before we look at exactly how your hobby and non-work interests help you, consider this –

From planning itineraries to planting flowers, hobbies involve elements of creativity and work is a highly creative process.

Skeptical?  Here’s what a psychologist and distinguished Management Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has to say about it:

It involves “fluency, or the ability to generate a great quantity of ideas; flexibility, or the ability to switch from one perspective to another; and originality in picking unusual associations of ideas”.

Let’s start with you.  Do any of these 3 skills sound familiar?

  1. As a team or group leader, how often do you need to switch perspectives to hear all sides, consider all arguments (i.e. flexibility)?
  2. When problem solving, how important is the ability to generate ideas (i.e. fluency)?
  3. For complex problems, does it help to choose and connect unrelated or unusual associations of ideas (i.e. originality)?

Switching Perspectives, Problem-Solving, Connecting Ideas.  I’m pretty sure you do all of these in your job.

According to Mr. Csikszentmihalyi, “creative individuals are remarkable for their ability to adapt to almost any situation and to make do with whatever is at hand to reach their goals”.

If you didn’t have the ability to adapt and be resourceful with what you’ve got, you’d be out of a job.  BTW, your answers to the 3 questions show how important creative skills are and how often you use them.

OK, but what does recent research say?

Jory Mackay’s “Why Your Side Hobby Can Make You Better at Work” points out that:

“…a growing crop of research and anecdotal evidence suggests that spending time and energy on unrelated tasks, hobbies, and interests can actually supercharge our ability to learn and grow, making us even better at all our work.”

Consider these 3 research-based benefits in the Fast Company article:

  1. Wider Range of Knowledge

Cognitive scientist Art Markman says these Expert Generalists “have a wide variety of knowledge… [and] are able to use this knowledge to suggest new ways to look at problems [and] are also good at translating across areas of expertise”.

Think about it –  the wider range of knowledge you have, the more dots you’ll have to connect.  And you can NEVER have too many of those.

  1. Sense of Mastery

According to a recent study on the correlation between hobbies and job performance, practicing your hobby “gives you a sense of mastery…you’re developing new skills, new thought processes and really challenging yourself to learn something new and develop your skill set.”

  1. Innovative Ideas from Unrelated Things

It’s a natural conclusion that the more diverse knowledge you have, the higher the likelihood of you creating something truly unique and innovative.  The article presents the example of inventor Stan Weston, who took two seemingly unrelated interests, dolls and the army, to create the first “doll for boys” (The G.I. Joe action figure).

“While they might seem completely unrelated to the work you do, those random interests combined with your day-to-day tasks can easily become the catalyst for uncovering something truly new and creative.”

And if the above reasons and benefits aren’t enough, consider just this one:

You enjoy doing it.  Therefore, it gives you energy.  Positive energy helps you in everything you do.



We all need a strong sense of focus to be able to do our best work. But denying yourself hobbies and other non-work related interests can actually hold you back from doing your best.

The next time you feel guilty for spending time on something other than work, remember that you’re expanding your range of knowledge and developing a sense of mastery.  Furthermore, innovative ideas come from unrelated things.

But beyond what this research of experts, let me tell you a few skills this one hobby has helped me develop – Problem Solving, Adaptability, People Skills.  And that’s just from one hobby.

And international travel continues to provide opportunities to learn, grown and adapt.  Last year my wife and I visited Africa for the first time (featured image).  It was Paris all over again – a missed flight connection in Namibia, a sketchy border crossing from Botswana into South Africa.  Just a few of the situations that required problem-solving skills.

Smart Phones and Google Maps have certainly made travel a lot easier…until you’re phone doesn’t work or there’s no GPS in your rental car.

If curious about my journey between Paris and Africa, see below:


My key learning:  Experience is the best teacher.


How does your hobby help you in your work?

  • I’d say Tim, as far as lessons learned from a life of travel, that seeing things from another perspective would be one of the most important. Travel, or independent travel anyway, is a great leveller of people.

  • Great article Tim.I couldn’t agree more. Any pursuit that challenges you and spurs you to adapt to a new enviroment or gives you an insight into a new field of knowledge is invaluable, and transferable to so many other aspects of everyday life.
    And independent travel as a crash course in problem solving, empathy and adaptability is a great example.

    • Thanks for your comment, Greg. As an avid traveler yourself, What skill can you add to mine (problem-solving, adaptability, ?). And how did you develop it?

  • Really interesting article, Tim!
    I feel lucky to have traveled at a time when we were much less dependent on technology, but didn’t realize that those skills might still come in handle in this day and age.

    • Thanks, Shawn. Out of curiosity – what do you think all this technology robs young people of (e.g. backpackers in EU)?