For the longest time, I would come home from work and immediately pop on the TV. It was mindless—after a day of meetings, intensive heads-down work, and never-ending email chains, the only thing I thought I wanted to do was watch five episodes of some sitcom I’d seen hundreds of times before.
Then I realized I was always ending the day feeling exhausted—or worse, with a headache—and I wasn’t sleeping well. Because of this, I tried an experiment: Instead of turning on the TV after a busy day at work, I’d pick up a book.
The results were surprising. I have more energy both after my 9-to-5 job and the next day, and I read 23 books that year (compared to around 10 the year before). Most importantly, I discovered a way to relax that didn’t make me feel like a lazy couch bum.
When I came across an article in Quartz explaining how screen time can negatively impact our happiness, I had one of those eureka moments.
OK, so it’s not surprising that watching TV or looking at your phone for too long isn’t good for you, but what’s so intriguing is that extensive research found that doing any other activity that doesn’t involve a screen makes you happier than screen time would.
To quote one study cited in the article:
We found that teens who spent more time seeing their friends in person, exercising, playing sports, attending religious services, reading, or even doing homework were happier. However, teens who spent more time on the internet, playing computer games, on social media, texting, using video chat, or watching TV were less happy.
That got me thinking—if avoiding screens will make you happier, what else can you do to unwind after a day of work?
If you’re out of ideas, I’ve compiled 50 for you:
If you want to stay in…
It worked for me! Here are several suggestions for awesome fiction and career books to get you started. Picking up a magazine or newspaper (yes, a paper one) is another alternative if you want something short or to keep up with the latest news.
2. Listen to a podcast or audiobook
3. Call a friend
Catch up with someone you haven’t talked to in a while—you never know what the conversation can lead to.
4. Or meet up in person
Invite someone over for dinner or a drink,but make sure to put your phone away and give them your full attention.
5. Throw a dinner party
It’s what successful people do in their free time! Former U.S. president Thomas Jefferson, for example, was known for inviting a diverse group of people to dinner and then posing a philosophical question for everyone to answer.
You can spice the night up even further by giving it a theme, making it a potluck, or having each guest bring a new guest with them.
Start a blog, write an article and post it on LinkedIn, journal. Don’t worry about composing something spectacular—the goal is to get those thoughts on paper. You might feel surprisingly refreshed afterwards (although if you are posting on LinkedIn, might want to run it by someone else).
7. Meal prep
Take your cooking to the next level—and save yourself time after work for other activities listed here—by getting ahead on your meals for the week.
8. Cook or bake
Since you’re upping your cooking game, find a new recipe and try it out. Once you hit on a winner, bring your creation into work to guarantee “Employee of the Month” honors.
9. Teach yourself new cocktail recipes
This skill is sure to impress the next time you attend an in-office happy hour or throw a dinner party (see above). It’ll also save you money the next time you’re craving a nice drink but don’t want to waste money at a fancy restaurant.
10. Plant a garden (or buy a plant to care for)
11. Make a scrapbook or vision board
Make use of old photos hidden in drawers, or visually chart your career or personal future. Here’s how to come up with a career manifesto that inspires you to take action.
This doesn’t need to take up all your free time. Set aside 10-30 minutes right when you get home or right before bed to calm your mind and unwind. Here’s how to do it if you’re new to the practice.
13. Clean your home
Dirty dishes in the sink? Haven’t Swiffered the floors in a month? Need to do laundry? Food going bad in your fridge? Use the free time after work to get ahead on your chores—even one chore. It’s not only a great way to practice meditation, but it’ll free up your weekends for more fun.
14. Do a clothing purge
Spring cleaning doesn’t always have to occur in the springtime. Take advantage of your post-work hours by Marie-Kondo-ing your wardrobe.
15. Organize your desk or home workspace
After you’ve sifted through old or unused clothes, go through your desk space or home office to see how you can make it more organized, less cluttered, and brighter.
16. Organize your bills
Ride that cleaning train all the way to your finances by reorganizing your filing cabinets or shredding those lingering receipts.
17. Do an art project
Have a coloring book? Use it. Want to learn how to paint or knit? Now’s the time to try.
18. Start a home DIY project
Spruce up your living area with a DIY project. For example, here are six ideas to get you started in building a more zen home office.
19. Solve a puzzle
Challenge your mind a bit by working on a physical puzzle, or play solitaire with yourself. If you have a roommate, play a board game.
20. Play with your pets
That is, if you have one. Give your dog or cat some love—I’m sure they could use more of it.
21. Pamper yourself
Paint your nails, throw on a face mask, take an extra long shower. You work hard at your 9-to-5, so why not treat yourself to some me time?
22. Listen to a vinyl record, album, or playlist
If your favorite artist recently released their latest tracks, after work may be a great time to give it your full attention—phone-free. You could even make it a group event where you rate the best songs or everyone brings treats based on the album’s theme.
23. Take a nap
In small doses—think 10-20 minutes at a time—naps give your afternoon a health boost and free up your energy for other activities.
If you want to go out…
Not a morning person? Substitute the TV for a run or yoga class. You’ll feel like a champion.
25. Spend time in nature
If you’re surrounded by beautiful forests, or even a nice park or field, consider going on a bike ride, hike, or rock climb, or even simply sitting outside to enjoy the weather with a picnic or music—it’s good for you and your brain!
26. Go for a walk
If exercise isn’t your thing (I get it), go the more leisurely route and walk around the block—as long as it’s not freezing or pouring rain. Maybe take some music or a friend with you.
27. Visit a museum or art gallery
A 2021 study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology found that visiting art museums specifically can promote positive thinking, reduce cortisol levels that lead to stress, and help us feel less lonely. Plus, it’s a great activity for getting out the house, entertaining guests, or immersing yourself in your community after work.
28. Go to a (live) show
Trade one of your go-to TV shows for something more interactive, be it a comedy show, play, musical, dance production, or improv theater.
29. Go bowling
It’s certainly a better option than spending all night with friends or family staring at the television, not talking or moving around.
30. Visit a local festival
Search on your town’s news bulletin or neighborhood Facebook group for local events you may have missed. Who knows? You might find yourself trying out some delicious eats at a food festival or enjoying live music at an outdoor concert.
31. Go shopping
Pamper yourself outside the home with a shopping trip, whether you check off errands or treat yourself to a new clothing item or home accessory. Go in with a clear budget and time cutoff so you don’t overspend!
32. Join a book club
Hold yourself accountable to your hobby and make it a social activity by getting together with other book lovers and talking through your latest read. Here are our best tips for making your book club even better.
33. Get a massage, mani/pedi, or facial
You work hard—give yourself a chance to really unwind, or celebrate a career or personal win, with a visit to the spa.
34. Join a sports league
Chances are there’s a local intramural sports league you can join at a low cost—and your company may already be a part of one, giving you an easy opportunity to get to know your co-workers outside the office.
Don’t be intimidated—not every league is super athletic or competitive. There are plenty of organizations that offer activities like pickleball, ping-pong, or Skee-Ball.
35. Take a dance class
Talent executive Toni Thompson learned a lot about being a good manager from taking a dance class. You also never know when dance lessons, whether it’s salsa or ballet, will come in handy at your next party or event.
36. Visit a new bar or restaurant
Especially if you’re new to an area or never visited a certain part of your city, make a list of all the places you’ve wanted to try and try to check off a few per week in lieu of ordering takeout.
37. Run errands
Need to buy new toiletries or drop off a check at the bank? Post-work is a great time to check those boxes so you’re free later in the week for fun.
If you want to get ahead…
38. Make a list
It can be about anything—maybe you need to lay out your groceries for the week, or want to compile your favorite companies to work for, or have been meaning to jot down your New Year’s resolutions. Take the time after work to write them down, then come up with a plan for how to execute on them. It’s an easy way to motivate yourself to follow through.
39. Sign up for an in-person class or workshop
Maybe you went to that improv show and were inspired to hone your acting chops,you’re looking for a way to act more confident at work, or, you’ve always wanted to pick up a skill like photography, tarot card reading, or knitting. Chances are there’s a local organization where you can learn this, and more, for a small fee and time commitment.
40. Write a friend, family member, or colleague a letter or thank you note
A handwritten note goes a long way in showing your appreciation, keeping in touch with important connections, and helping you stand out. TThank you notes also aren’t only good for after a job interview—you can send one after receiving a thoughtful gift, having a nice networking conversation, or getting a promotion.
41. Take on a babysitting, dog sitting, or house sitting gig
Taking care of someone’s loved one or property is an easy, low-commitment way to make some extra cash while unplugging after work. You can join communities like Rover or Trusted Housesitters, or keep an eye out for gigs through your building or neighborhood group chats—that way, you won’t have very far to travel.
42. Take on a tutoring or coaching gig
Similar to babysitting or dog walking, coaching or tutoring allows you to meet new and interesting people, exercise crucial skills, and make money on the side with little time and training investment. You could start your own business, join a platform like Upwork, or scour your personal and professional network for opportunities.
43. Take on a TaskRabbit job
TaskRabbit pairs you with secure, local jobs that can be done on your own schedule, be it furniture assembly, repairs, event planning, or yard work. If these are natural skills for you or stuff you do in your own life regularly, consider making it a lucrative side gig (and productive after-work activity).
44. Volunteer at a local charity or shelter
45. Teach yourself how to play an instrument
Always wanted to play piano or write a song? Here’s how to pick up the skill fast, even when you’re super busy.
46. Learn a new language
Language apps like Duolingo can be helpful for this, so this may require some screen time,but a lot require you to speak out loud or listen to audio instead of scrolling through prompts. Even better, sign up for an in-person group or private lesson to get more practice and social interaction.
47. Update your resume or write a cover letter
Job searching can be done the old-fashioned way—with pen and paper. Doing so helps you avoid annoying online distractions like social media or texts. All you have to do is print out your resume and give it an edit, or handwrite a cover letter, get someone to give it a read, then type it up later.
48. Refine your bedtime routine
49. Make a budget
A budget can go a long way in relieving anxiety about your finances and setting you up for long-term success. If you’re looking to save up for a special event or big purchase, put your after-work time to good use.
50. Sign up for a career coaching session
Even a short call with a coach could help you get unstuck in your career or job search and answer your most burning questions or concerns. Plus, it’ll motivate you to spend less time scrolling on TikTok and more time chasing the roles you want.