I think that one of the things that make people successful is the concept of ‘structured free time’.
Society tells us that work is work, but after 5:00 PM, people are entitled to sit back, relax, and let brain activity slow to a halt. But based on the stories and anecdotes I’ve read and heard from high-performing people, HOW they spend their free time is usually just as important as how they spend their work time.
Instead of passively consuming information from TV or the internet, they read books. Learn new skills. Train in sports. Engage in meaningful conversations. Go out of their comfort zone.
When Warren Buffet was asked about the key to success, he pointed to a stack of books and said, “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”
Tech giants like Bill Gates and Elon Musk are known for having crazy ‘side projects’ such as transporting people through hyper-speed tubes.
Closer to home, a cousin of mine who works as a top engineer in Qatar divides his free time between playing with his 2 kids and mastering the art of stock trading. He’s not just earning extra money; the deep mental and emotional strength required to play the market also helps him grow.
Though these ‘extra-curricular’ activities usually have nothing to do with their work, their structured free time gives them fresh skills, insights, and positive feelings that help them perform better in many aspects of life.
The concept of ‘structured free time’ was something I first read in what is now one of my favorite books in existence – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s “Flow”.
Let me end by pasting a passage from the book. This may sound radical, but it drives down an important point: “…instead of using our physical and mental resources to experience flow, most of us spend many hours each week watching celebrated athletes play in enormous stadiums. Instead of making music, we listen to platinum records cut by millionaire musicians. Instead of making art, we go to admire paintings that brought in the highest bid at the latest auction. We do not run risks acting on our beliefs, but occupy each day watching actors who pretend to have adventures, engaged in mock-meaningful action. This vicarious participation is able to mask, at least temporarily, the underlying emptiness of wasted time. But it is a very pale substitute for attention invested in real challenges. The flow experience that results from the use of skills leads to growth; passive entertainment leads nowhere.”