Improve Your Self-Improvement

There's a good chance you work a 40-hour job. That leaves you with roughly 70 hours (excluding sleep) of free time a week. But does it, really?

Can you do absolutely nothing outside of 9-5 and expect to have a good job 1, 5 or 20 years from now? I don't think so. The question is then, how to best approach long-term self-improvement?


I took a two-week vacation recently. During that time I tried to not do anything at all related to my job. Even though I really like my job – and it's my hobby too! – I had a blast. I entered a state of peacefulness that I almost forgot even exists.

That experience motivated me to start thinking about my day-to-day routine. I must be doing something wrong, I thought. After some time, I realized that there are few things involved here.

Of course, there's at-work work. It's the stuff that you do at your job to earn the living. The psychology of it isn't anything new. You know, you have to try to reduce the number of meetings you're in, teach yourself to experience the flow as much as possible, and so on. However, there's also a second type of work that is often underestimated.

After-work work

Reading tweets, articles and newsletters about your work domain. Watching conference videos. Writing, programming, designing, painting. All of these things – anything that is even minimally related to your job that you do on your own time – count as after-work work™.

Some of those things certainly don't seem like work. Twitter? Really? – you might be thinking. So, how should we classify them? It's quite simple. Let's imagine that you work as a designer, but you've decided to transition to product management. If you open Medium after deciding to pursue the change, do you still read the same types of articles? Those things that you would read regardless of your career path count as hobby or entertainment; everything else is just a camouflaged extension of work. Same goes for programming:

If your new job requires you to change your main programming language and after a while you find yourself reading only on the new language – does it still count as a hobby?

Improve your after-work work

Keeping your free time completely unrelated to work isn't really an option in this day and age. Not much we can do about that.

It's best to think about after-work work as an investment into the future. As with any other investment, we should be careful because it can fail. In this case, it can lead to horrible things, such as a burnout. No one wants that!

I decided to refocus by observing my own behavior for a couple of weeks. Here are some rules of thumb that I settled on:

  1. Go a step up. Try to spend your time on important things. Replace scrolling through your Twitter timeline with reading your RSS feed or your Instapaper/Pocket queues. Replace that with reading books or watching conference videos and so on. This will help you avoid busy work too!
  2. Active > Passive. Learning is important. You can't spend all of your time on it, though. Make sure to apply what you learn by making things – even if you don't share them publicly. (Meta: I'm applying this rule at this exact moment.)
  3. Monitor your body and mind. You have to observe the actions and reactions of your body before making any changes. Is reading Twitter making you miserable? Devise a plan to fix that, for example, catch up on your timeline only once a week. I guarantee that after this change you'll get a better perspective on what's really important.
  4. Create boundaries. Be aware of whether you're working or resting at any given time. Multitasking doesn't work for humans. As for me, I've been constantly finding myself checking Twitter while trying to relax in some other way, like watching a movie. One time I was even telling a friend how I had stopped using Twitter … while unconsciously checking Twitter at the same time 😄.
  5. Be aware of the fear of missing out. At the same time, though, note that there's a relation between FoMO and the information overload. You have to keep a healthy balance between these two. One thing I noticed is that absorbing too much information makes you feel worse because you see all those high-achievers and start feeling bad about yourself without any real reason.

This is all very anecdotal, for sure, as with other similar bits of advice. But these little things do seem to improve my after-work work and rest quite a lot. Would you try any of these things on your own? Have you been doing them already? Let me know what you think!

Thanks to Kamil Kołodziejczyk for reading drafts of this.