Work and a busy schedule can take a lot out of a person. Thankfully, vacation is a great time to slow down, recharge, spend time seeing your loved ones, and do things you wouldn’t normally have time to do.
While it can be tempting to fill your out-of-office schedule with travel and funtivities, there is something to be said about making time to tackle some of the things that have been collecting dust in your mental backlog. To help you get ahead for the upcoming year, we’ve put together a list of 20 ideas for productive things to do during your downtime while on vacation. Once you’ve picked your favorites, try using one of these awesome to-do list tools to keep yourself on course.
20 Productive Things to Do During Your Downtime
1) Play around with new technology.
There’s never a good time to learn how to Snapchat when you’ve got a billion other things going on, but learning those new technologies is important. For example, Snapchat gets 10 billion video views per day, according to a Bloomberg report. That’s more than Facebook.
So why not use your downtime over the holidays to download and play around with some of these new technologies? A few that we recommend include Snapchat, Instagram (read this post for some great Instagram Story tips), messaging apps like Slack and WhatsApp, and photo editing apps to improve your content creation skills.
2) Write thank-you notes.
Take advantage of the opportunity to make someone’s day by writing them a meaningful, personal thank-you note. It’s a way to distinguish yourself in our increasingly informal, digital world.
Thank-you notes are an easy way to show your appreciation, but there are two roadblocks that cause people to not do it: They don’t have thank-you cards or they don’t know what to write. Let us help out:
Buy blank or thank-you notes in bulk. It’s as easy as searching “thank-you cards” on Amazon and buying your favorite pack. (Don’t forget to stock up on stamps, too!) Or, you could go digital using the Postagram app for iPhone: It lets you type up a quick thank-you note to someone, snap a photo, and then they receive an actual, physical card.
Here’s a thank-you note template from Hallmark.
3) Schedule all your appointments.
Go see your doctor, your dentist, and your barber or hair stylist. Take your pet to the vet for a check-up. Get the oil changed in your car. Think of all those minor inconveniences you just can’t seem to get to when you’re on your regular schedule, and check them off the list. (Or at least schedule them for the future.)
4) Make reservations for future plans and trips.
Whether you have a whole trip coming up or even just a dinner, spend some time doing the thoughtful research you may not otherwise have time to do — and make reservations as far in advance as possible. These things can end up sneaking up on you, so making plans early helps guarantee you won’t lose out on some cool opportunities. Not to mention, it’ll leave you feeling less stressed out down the line.
5) Get your planner or calendar organized for the new year.
Did you get a new planner or calendar for the upcoming year? The holidays are a perfect time to fill it out with the appointments and trips you’ve already planned. When you’re not spending time on everyday work tasks, you can experiment with new organizational formats such as the bullet journal to make sure you’re as productive as possible when you head back to the office.
6) Talk to your friends and family about what you do.
While you should take advantage of the time you have away from work to dial back and focus on other parts of your life, you don’t need to remove work from your mind completely. Talking about what you do with the people you love is different from actually doing it. Work is such an important part of our lives and takes up a huge chunk of our waking hours, so sometimes sharing that with family and friends can actually be a bonding exercise.
If your friends and family aren’t familiar with what you do or are interested in learning more, now’s a great time to fill them in on what you do all day, why you like it (or don’t like it), and what you’re hoping to do in the future. Who knows, you could pick up some great insights from people who are removed from your day-to-day.
(Inbound marketers, feel free to steal some ideas from “5 Ways to Explain Inbound Marketing to Your Family.”)
7) Call your long-distance friends.
You know that list of friends and family members you’ve been meaning to catch up with, but never seem to find the time? Open your phone, find a comfortable spot to sit, and give them a call with your full attention. Now’s the perfect time to connect with people you don’t see regularly but want to stay in touch with.
8) Start building a habit.
Some say it takes 21 days to build a habit. Others say it takes a lot longer. But exactly how long it takes doesn’t really matter. The point is, you have to put the work in up front if you want a habit to stick. So why not use the holidays to get started?
Whether you want to start flossing every day or writing in a journal before bed each night, take the time during your downtime to start habit-forming and set yourself up for success.
9) Learn a new skill for your job.
Most people have a skill they’ve always wanted to learn to advance their career, but simply haven’t gotten around to.
Ever wanted to learn basic coding? Codecademy’s HTML/CSS courses can be finished over the course of a holiday without interrupting family time.
Ever wanted to learn your way around Photoshop? Start by following along with a beginner’s tutorial like the one in this blog post. Unsure how to make anything besides a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel? Experiment with some Excel resources in this blog post. (And if you’re a marketer who’s not sure where to start, here’s a free ebook that analyzes today’s most in-demand marketing skills.)
If you really don’t have the time to dig into a new skill, you can at least use the time to set yourself up for starting to learn one in the new year. Spend some time browsing conferences or classes you could take and figuring out where you can fit them into your schedule.
10) Learn a new skill not for your job.
Skills that aren’t related to your job are usually even more fun to learn. What about learning how to paint art to decorate your home? Taking a new type of workout class? Learning a new language with an app like Duolingo — perhaps for a country you’ll be traveling to this year?
Try to pick something that uses parts of your brain that you don’t usually tap into during the workday. It can do wonders for your happiness, creativity, and wellbeing — and hey, you may even find a new passion or meet people who end up making a huge impact on your life.
11) Catch up on reading.
Here’s a classic but essential vacation tip: Catch up on those books or articles you’ve been wanting to get to so badly. It’s really hard to find time to read when you’re busy with work, but now that you’re on vacation, you can cuddle up with a blanket and a book. If you’re looking for suggestions, check out this list of must-read marketing books from TrackMaven.
12) Listen to podcasts.
Podcasts serve as an amazing way to pass the time on planes, trains, and automobiles during the heavy travel season. The key is picking and downloading what you want to listen to before you go on the trip, when you have WiFi. That way, you’re not draining your battery and data while on the move.
We recommend a good mix of genres: business, comedy, true crime, etc. Here are two lists of exceptional podcasts we’ve put together in the past year: “Want to be a Better Social Media Marketer? Listen to These 10 Podcasts” and “10 of the Best Podcasts About Business and Management.”
13) Organize your inbox.
There are a lot of ways to organize your inbox. If you use Gmail, my personal favorite is the Klinger method for getting to inbox zero and staying there. If inbox zero isn’t your cup of tea, here’s a list of 14 of the best tools for organizing your inbox.
Organizing your inbox isn’t the same as checking email, though. Don’t get sucked in! Organize your inbox, and then log off and enjoy your break. Don’t forget to let your colleagues and clients know you’ll be out — Here are some creative out-of-office messages we love.
Serving others has a long list of intangible benefits, like pride, satisfaction, accomplishment, connections with others, strengthening your community, and improving the lives of others. There are health benefits, too: Along with social benefits, a growing body of research shows there’s a strong relationship between volunteering and physical health.
Don’t have a specific cause in mind? Check out your local library, youth center, animal shelter, homeless shelter, or hospital to see if they’re in need of volunteers. VolunteerMatch.org is another great place to find good causes in your local community for a wide variety of time commitments.
15) Find a quiet space to let your mind wander.
When we’re deep in our work routines, it can be hard to tear ourselves away from our immediate tasks and goals. But not removing ourselves from these things can mean we miss out on seeing interesting new connections and developing innovations. This is especially true during the busy weeks leading up to the holidays.
Take some time to remove yourself from your day-to-day — even from your family and friends — to be alone and reflect. Daydream about being your own customer, or your competitor, or what it’s like to be the product you produce. Analyze how you’ve been spending your time over the past few months and whether you’d like to make changes in the upcoming year.
16) Get exercise in.
I’m not going to get into the benefits of exercise (or we’d be here for a while), but the holiday season is an especially hard time to keep a consistent workout routine. Factors like cooler temperatures, less daylight, busy travel schedules, and food-oriented gatherings can all throw off your schedule. But staying active — even just a little bit each day — can be easy and fun. The American Heart Association recommends 40 minutes of aerobic exercise three to four times per week.
Not an athlete? Physical activity doesn’t have to be intense. Find an activity like walking, shoveling snow, vacuuming — heck, even shopping — that gets the blood flowing. Something is always better than nothing. And when you head back to the office, keep it up — here are 10 ways to sneak in exercise at work.
17) Set goals for next year.
It’s amazing how quickly the New Year can sneak up on you. Set aside some time during the holidays to reflect on the past year and make goals for the new one. Setting goals gives you a baseline for measuring success, and the motivation to stay on course when things get crazy.
Setting goals can be as simple as creating two lists: one of your accomplishments this past year, and one of your goals for the next. To get more specific, you can break larger goals into smaller ones by month. If you want to really dig in to your goals and ground them in reality, try setting SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound) and make a plan for staying on course.
18) Do any work-related tasks in the morning.
Although it’d be ideal to leave all your real work for when you’re back in the office, some people simply get more stressed out when they’re disconnected. The thought of missing an important email, or even just returning to an inbox that’s bursting at the seams, can be incredibly daunting for some.
If you’re one of those people, use the morning hours when everyone else is asleep to get your work-related tasks done. By the time everyone wakes up, you’ll have checked off a few key to-dos, and will be able to focus on spending time with family and friends.
19) Watch a documentary.
Holidays are a time for binge-watching all the TV you don’t have time for during the work grind, and we won’t begrudge you that. But when you’re ready for a break, check out a new documentary film. There are documentaries on almost every subject imaginable, and you might learn about a topic or issue that inspires you. Thrillist recommends several here.
20) Prepare meals in advance.
It’s typically healthier and more affordable to make your meals than to buy them, but when you’re busy with work, it’s hard to make time to prepare wholesome meals for yourself and your family. If you’re taking a staycation this holiday season, spend some time preparing meals that can be frozen or refrigerated to eat on the go or at the office. Here are some make-ahead breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes, including vegan and gluten-free choices.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December 2015 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.
What other ideas do you have for using your downtime during the holidays? Share with us in the comments.