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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

9 Ways to Be Productive Outside of Work

Get up. Go to work. Come home. Go to sleep. Repeat.

Feel like your life is a never-ending cycle? Unfortunately, it’s a common sentiment, particularly in the early stages of your career. While a big part of having a balanced and meaningful life is making time for your passions and non-work activities, having a job—and getting ready for it, and recovering from it—can eat up all of your time and energy if you let it.

Want to learn a new language, read (or write!) that novel, train for a marathon, or just keep in touch with long-distance friends? Break the workaholic cycle with these tips, and be just as productive outside the office as you are during the workday.

1. Use Your Commute

Sneak more time into your schedule by swapping your usual commute activities (jamming to your iPod, reading that newspaper you were handed on the way to the subway) with something more productive. If you take public transit, read articles or books that are meaningful to you or draft your to-do list for the day. If you drive, turn off the radio and listen to a podcast or language tapes, or put in your Bluetooth and make phone calls you've been putting off instead.

2. Sneak in Time at Work

It can be tempting to leave the office on your lunch break—or to skip it altogether and knock out a few emails over your PB&J. But the midday break is a great time to carve out for yourself. Shut your door to avoid interruptions (or if you’re in a cubicle, find a quiet café) and use the hour to write a couple of pages, research business schools, or take an online class. Alternatively, pay bills, make phone calls, or complete other life maintenance tasks so that your plate is clear when you get home. Don’t want to miss lunch with your co-workers? Arrive early and have your power hour before everyone else gets in.

3. Plan Meetings with Yourself (or Your Roommate)

My husband and I often talk about spending an evening analyzing our budget or outlining our travel plans. The truth is, it never happens—unless we schedule it. No, a “budget meeting on Wednesday at 8 PM” isn’t the ideal date night, but inking a meeting on the calendar is amazingly powerful. Planning ahead helps you mentally prepare and makes you less likely to keep putting it off. I often do the same for just myself, as well, and block out scheduled periods of time in my week to complete certain tasks or work on a project or goal.

4. Get Accountability Partners

Find like-minded friends who will keep you on track. Schedule monthly catch-ups with co-workers or pals with similar goals and discuss what’s working—and not working—as you’re trying to balance work with studying for the GMAT or training for a race. Having to give an update to others will keep you focused and on your toes, and you’ll get some good tips, too.

5. Minimize Time-Sucks

Really want to get serious? Ban Facebook and TV for a week. I know, I know, you think I'm crazy. But I promise, you probably won’t miss that much, and you’ll be shocked at what you can do with the extra time. I have friends who swear by doing this one week each month. If a total ban sounds excruciating, limit yourself to an hour (combined) each day, or think about other activities that you could forfeit for the sake of making time for your passions.

6. Don’t Go Home

A great tip from Alan Henry at LifeHacker: Schedule an activity right after work. “Making sure you sign up for activities that will force you to leave the office at a regular time every day is a great way to stay active, do something with yourself outside of the office, and give yourself incentive to leave the office every day on time,” he says.

7. Streamline Life Maintenance

When your evening plans consist of running to the grocery store, doing laundry, and cleaning your house, it doesn’t really feel like you've stopped working. Here’s a secret (at least until you can afford a personal assistant): outsource as many life maintenance tasks as you can. You might not be able to afford a housekeeper, but consider springing for $6-10 each week for grocery delivery and putting your bills on auto-pay. It’s totally worth the time it saves.

8. Give Yourself Permission to Relax

Sometimes, what you really need is a nap. Guess what? That’s okay. A 15-20 minute power nap can have incredible benefits, says Sara C. Mednick, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, and author of Take a Nap! Change Your Life. "You reset the system and get a burst of alertness and increased motor performance." So come home, set an alarm, and get started after your brain has had the chance to rest.

9. Make Sure You're Healthy

Being tired after work every day is sometimes just a normal part of life. But sometimes it’s not: anemia, thyroid disorders, food intolerances, and other health conditions can cause ongoing fatigue. So if you’re finding yourself frequently exhausted, schedule a check-up with your doc to make sure you’re in tip-top shape. Even if you’re perfectly healthy, getting a full night’s sleep, eating a balanced diet, and exercising regularly will help you keep your energy at its peak and maximize every hour of the day.

Share with us! What are your best tips to make time for yourself and get things done after the workday? What goals are you working toward? And what goals have you neglected or postponed because of your work schedule?

Photo courtesy of Schipulites.