These 45 productive things to do in your spare time will help you with personal growth.
Our in-depth list cover productive things to do for your fitness, nutrition, relationship, lifestyle, and self-care.
With travel bans and social isolation in place due to the coronavirus pandemic, we all need ideas for productive things to do when bored at home.
Since we’re engineers, most of these ideas are backed by data. Implement them and focus on becoming 1% better everyday.
45 productive things to do when bored
To us, productivity is all about the psychology and science behind positive habit formation. As engineers, Ryan and I rely on the data and science (and not necessarily on self-help books that won’t help).
I mean, we all love the magic of positive thinking, but what about knowing that your odds of success increase 65% with an accountability buddy, according to the American Society of Training and Development?
Or, what about knowing that the brain automatically breaks down any goal into five steps, according to the UCLA Center for Digital Behavior, so make sure your goals aren’t too big?
For us, these are the statistics and data that help us really “move the needle,” as my former corporate self would have said. So, we’re sharing a list of 45 productive things to do to get 1% better each day, as proven by research.
Why just 1% better, instead of aiming for 10% better with productive things to do?
The below graph, popularized in James Clear’s book Atomic Habits, really hit home for us nerdy engineers. Think of three scenarios:
1) You remain the same for the next year.
2) You get 1% worse every day for the next year.
3) You get 1% better every day for the next year.
In just six months, as graphed, you’ll see exponential improvement with the third scenario of getting 1% better every day.
As Albert Einstein famously said, “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it; he who doesn’t, pays it.”
Convinced now that it’s worth it? Here are 45 productive things to do at home to get 1% better each day.
To maximize results, select a dozen ideas that you want to incorporate into your day and stay accountable using our 30-day Habit Tracker. At the end of each day, we like to monitor our progress using this printable PDF.
Download Habit Tracker Printable PDF
Ever commit to a new habit yet find, just two days later, you can't stick with it - no matter how small?
Begin tracking your daily, weekly, and monthly habits. Our free template will keep you on track to achieving your goals, habit-by-habit.
Leave it on your nightstand and track your progress daily.
Fitness Productivity Ideas
1. Work Out With Your Spouse or Buddy
A University College London study from 2015 found that couples were nearly three times more likely to continue working out longterm than their single counterparts. This equates to nearly double the weight loss.
If you haven’t started working out with a buddy, schedule one workout together this week. Keep it going and gain all of the benefits of working out as a couple.
2. Maximize Your Calorie Burn
Not all cardio is effective. Instead, studies show that people typically either work out too intensely or too slowly, thus miss the fat-burning zone!
Recently, Ryan and I ran an experiment testing six different cardio workouts – from viral YouTube workouts to the treadmill – to see which workout was king.
The results? Our best workout would have helped us lose 23 lbs. more than the worst over a year! Optimizing our fitness plan was a highly productive thing to do in our free time.
Run your own experiment and get 1% better at selecting the most effective workout for your body type.
3. How Fit Are You Today?
Take the test. How can you improve 1% each day if you don’t know where you’re starting from? We created this fitness test that you can do at home, inspired by fitness tests from the military and Spartan races.
Intimidated? Don’t be. Data is data, and knowing how many sit-ups you can do in a minute is an important benchmark for improvement.
4. Walk 1% Farther Today
A recent study published in the journal, The Obesity Society, concluded that adult dieters who lost 30 pounds and maintained or continued to lose weight tracked 12,000 steps per day. Overweight adults only tracked 6,500 steps.
Investing in a fitness tracker is a productive thing to do in life. We have found that they effectively hold us accountable to moving and standing more.
We personally recommend an Apple Watch or a cheaper version like the MiFit band.
5. Save Money and Work Out Smarter
Millennials spend more money on their health and fitness than on their college education. The health and fitness total clocks in at $140,000 over a lifetime. Are these gym membership costs worth it?
Ryan and I did a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation and, again using the magic of compounding, discovered that my $35 gym membership was actually costing me $5000 over seven years.
Considering 67% of gym memberships go unused, this seemed outrageous to me.
Now, we each pay $4.13 a month and are in the best shape of our lives with Beachbody On Demand (which offers a free 2-week trial, by the way).
6. Exercise Like Tom Brady
Can we all agree that Tom Brady is the perfect metaphor for 1% improvement each day? I’d like to think it’s possible to get better with age.
Tom Brady works out exclusively with bodyweight and resistance bands because the movements are more dynamic and realistic. We took a page out of his book and wrote up a free Resistance Band Workout Routine.
Resistance bands are incredibly productive to use and have, especially since you can no longer make excuses not to work out when you’re traveling! Try incorporating a few moves into your current routine, and increase momentum from there.
7. Try Your Luck at a Partner Workout
If you’re stuck at home and you and your partner are bored, this is one of the most productive things you can do for your fitness.
What’s more productive than not just working out with your buddy, but doing a proper partner workout? Ryan and I pulled together our favorite workout moves that require two people, and it makes for a killer workout.
Ready to HIIT it with our Couple’s Workout Routine?
8. Mastermind Your Running Playlist
Did you know that elite marathon runners are prohibited from listening to music because music has been shown to boost performance by 15%? A Brunel University study showed that listening to music can also make the run seem easier and keep you ‘in the zone’ longer.
Changing up your playlist to include plenty of songs at 180 BPM (beats per minute) is one of seven ways we share on how to level up your running game.
9. Track Your Workout Frequency
One way to know if you’re improving by 1% is by actually tracking how often, or how long, you work out. As data freaks, there’s no better feeling than knowing how many times you’ve worked out in a year. In 2019, I topped off just below 300 times.
Good news, we have two easy ways you can do this. The first is by signing up for our free accountability app group, BODgroups. The second is putting pen-to-paper with our Monthly Habit Tracker PDF. Happy tracking!
10. Weight Loss By the Numbers
If weight loss is a goal of yours, knowing your calories right now it the most productive thing to do.
How many calories do you consume each day and how much does your body burn? These numbers are central to our 30-Day Weight Loss Challenge.
Both a calorie deficit and a calorie surplus will hinder weight loss. Fortunately, there are a multitude of free apps, like MyFitnessPal, which can help you with this.
Before biting off more (or actually, less) than you can chew, aim to reach your optimal daily calorie intake 1% at a time.
11. Increase Productivity With Meal Prepping
Don’t worry, meal prepping isn’t just for the impeccably organized. We utilize meal prepping to save time, save money, and save our diet. Often our meals aren’t necessarily made in advance either, but we rely heavily on a well-stocked pantry.
A few basics that can make many meals means that your prep and cook time will be minimal and your unhealthy pizza takeout non-existent (except for special occasions).
Our biggest secret? Remember that your freezer is your best friend for vegetables and fruits. Here are a few more tips and resources for meal prepping. Effective meal prepping is a productive thing to do that will make you healthier and create more time.
12. Feed Your Brain With Documentaries
One of the most influential and productive things I did for my diet this year was watching the movie, The Game Changers (here is our film review), on Netflix.
This isn’t your typical plant-based food documentary, and we love that it’s not a vegan propaganda film. What else would you expect from a movie by James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jackie Chan? And yes, it goes into the science of how erections get bigger on a plant-based diet. You’re welcome.
So, if you’re going to do some personal development with food documentaries, start here. We also loved, Sustainable. If you have a favorite, please share it with us in the comments.
13. Fast For 1% Longer
Have you tried intermittent fasting? It’s a dieting schedule that Ryan and I naturally fell into once we started sleeping more. While our engineering selves tend to be wary of “fad diets,” the research and benefits for fasting go back generations.
If you haven’t tried intermittent fasting yet, expect increased focus, more control of hunger, and increase weight loss or muscle gain.
Here are some answers to common questions about intermittent fasting, including if it is safe for women.
14. Cook It, Don’t Buy It
Is there a food item that you consume weekly that you could cook yourself? Not only is this a productive way to save money, but you’ll likely increase its nutritional value to boot.
Several items that we started making ourselves include granola (in the Instant Pot), kefir, and sprouts.
15. Eat a Few More Vegetables Every Day
I’ll let you in on a secret: many vegetarians have a tough time eating enough vegetables (me included). Sounds crazy, right? But as easy as it is for you to grab for the pasta and bread, the same goes for us vegetarians.
The benefits of eating just one meatless meal a week are astounding. From reducing your carbon footprint to clearing cholesterol and boosting your microbiome, it’s a no brainer.
We share 13 hacks to easily get more vegetables into your day. Brainstorming how to eat more plants is a productive thing to do for your health.
16. Optimize Your Eating Habits
Three or six meals a day? What diet to follow for my body type? Carbs or no carbs?
There is a lot of confusion surrounding diet, and it’s understandable because things change from person to person. A good analogy is thinking of your lifetime of diets like your wardrobe.
Sometimes you’ll wear one designer, and sometimes another. A diet that works for you now might not work for you in a few years.
We recommend keeping a food journal and documenting what you eat and, most importantly, how you feel. This is perfect to do during our 30-Day Weight Loss Challenge when you’re tracking with the MyFitnessPal app.
You may find that certain foods make it hard for you to fall asleep (dairy for Ryan) whereas other foods seem to help with your pet allergies (sprouts for Ryan).
17. Introduce New Cuisines to Your Repertoire
What better way to experience and learn about new cultures than trying new recipes together? Since we can’t travel during quarantine, this is a fun and productive thing to do while home-bound.
After living abroad in eleven countries and traveling to over fifty, we ranked the healthiest cuisines in the world in not just nutrition, but also in food theory and culture. Work on becoming 1% better with say, hara hachi bu, or to eat until you’re 80% full in Japanese.
There’s a lot we can learn from other cuisines and cultures. While Americans are confused about diets, other countries have a lot more confidence in their health and eating habits.
18. Drink 1% More Water
We’d be remiss to not talk about hydration and drinking more water. In all seriousness, this is one of the single most important and productive things that you can do right now.
Our body does nothing to store or replenish water. Hydration is 100% our responsibility.
According to the Center for Disease Control, we are slacking. In the U.S., 7% of Americans drink 0 cups of water a day, 36% drink 1-3 cups, 35% drink 4-7 cups, and 22% drink 8 or more.
That means 4 out or five people in the U.S. are not drinking enough water. The most productive thing to do in the morning is to load up on agua!
19. Increase Intimacy
This is one of our favorite productive activities to do when bored at home.
Therapists are using partner yoga to strengthen the sexual intimacy and closeness of couples. So, we compiled twenty-three of our favorite partner yoga poses for you to try.
We promise that they’re fun and highly entertaining. See if you can improve your intimacy 1% with a few of these yoga poses a week.
20. Start Journaling
As two engineers, we’re not much for journaling. However, we discovered one amazing tool that gets us journaling every night together, this Q&A: 3-Year Journal for 2 People.
Every night asks a question, like, “What was the last compliment your partner paid you?” It’s been hilarious and touching to go through this journal for the past two and a half years together, and a ritual we recommend to all couples.
21. Practice Gratitude
It’s the small things that make the biggest differences. We created a 30-Day Gratitude Challenge to keep ourselves accountable to do exactly this.
Expressing gratitude for the things you love in your life decreases stress while reminding you of the priorities in your life and relationship.
22. Speak Your Partner’s Love Language
I know earlier we said that we don’t always find self-help books helpful, but The 5 Love Languages has genuinely been an influential book in our relationship. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s time to.
While the book is incredibly helpful, their free quiz is a must and only takes a few minutes. We like to retake this quiz annually because we find that our love languages change over time.
For your relationship, this is the most productive thing to do on our list.
23. Discuss Your Movies
A 2013 University of Rochester study found that watching certain Hollywood movies could double as marriage therapy.
Over three years, couples who watched and discussed movies were half as likely to get divorced – the same amount as couples who went to formal couple’s therapy.
The key is to watch the right movies which reflect realistic relationships and problems. For the questions and the movie list, head over to our article, ‘Best Movies for Married Couples.’
That’s right, these date night movies are officially a productive thing to do at night.
24. Calculate Your Food Ratios
Are you on the same page about food and diets? It can be challenging to keep to a diet or even to a healthy portion size when around your partner.
For years, it was something that Ryan and I struggled with until we calculated our food portion ratios (2:1 if you’re wondering). This is more important and helpful than you might think. Learn how to calculate yours and manage your diet as a couple.
25. How Well Do You Know Each Other
There are several questions every couple should ask before marriage. Even if you’re already married, this is a productive exercise to do together. Have you talked about pornography and infertility?
When you have some free time, add this to your list of productive things to do for your relationship.
26. Get Financially Fit
Money is too-often a taboo subject. What’s worse, talking about how couples deal with money is almost non-existent. We typically see couples who either rely on one person to handle all the finances or both let it go by a wayside.
The good news is that there are a lot of resources out there, and it’s not as tough to do together as many think.
In our Couple’s Finance Guide, we share our best tips and resources. We also discuss topics like joint accounts, income disparity, and prenups.
With stress revolving around money as one of the main reasons for divorce, it’s important to get financially fit together.
27. Once Per Week, Once Per Month
If you’re wondering, there is data about what the magic number is for sex and date nights – and it may not be what you were expecting.
A quick disclaimer, all couples are unique and these numbers only represent an average.
Not only do married couples have more sex than their single counterparts per the General Social Survey, studies show that the magic number for optimal happiness is having sex one time per week. At once per week, partners feel emotionally and physically connected and satisfied.
A 2016 study conducted by the Marriage Foundation and the University of Lincoln found that one date per month led to the biggest increase in happiness and the highest chances of staying together. For couples who date more often, some find that there is added financial and time stress.
28. Drink Your Way to a Healthier You
Can you still lose weight while drinking alcohol? We explored this question in a recent article, examining the cultural, happiness, social, and caloric links of alcohol.
While alcohol is a calorie-dense beverage with little nutrition, there are still techniques and strategies to make your drink of choice healthier. Read on, and perhaps making one small shift will lead to a lifetime of healthier drinking.
29. You’re One Word Away
This is a really simple, but massively effective productive thing to do in life.
Psychology and identity play a major role in healthy habits and routines. A study from the Journal of Consumer Research found that people who say “I don’t” instead of “I can’t” are three times more likely to stick to their health goals.
Yes, that’s 3X, and we share the study in our article, ‘A Healthier Life is One Word Away.’
For example, saying “I don’t miss a workout” instead of, “I can’t miss a workout,” means that you’re making an empowered choice. The phrase “I can’t” instead comes from a place of restriction and deprivation.
How can you tweak your vocabulary 1% better each day?
30. Make Your Healthy Choices Earlier in the Day
Did you know that on a typical day, you make 35,000 decisions? Most of these are trivial – like when to go to the bathroom. But others are more important, like when to ask for a pay raise or what workout program to follow.
Throughout the day, your brain experiences decision fatigue, making it imperative to get your healthy meals, workouts, and bottles of water in (or at least scheduled in) as early as you can in the day.
If these things aren’t part of your routine, make sure you’re not foggy when it comes to these daily, healthy choices.
31. Temptation Bundling
One of our favorite healthy habit hacks is temptation bundling. At the top of our list for productive things to do to get 1% better each day, pair a tedious chore with an activity that you love.
For example, I like to watch my cooking competitions while I cook, or I only listen to my favorite podcast when I’m washing the dishes.
This makes me not just volunteer first to do the dishes, but I’m now programmed to start my podcast even before I reach the sink.
32. Learn From The Masters
Have you heard of MasterClass? One brilliant way to become more productive is by replacing your Netflix account with MasterClass.
MasterClass is an online teaching platform where you “learn from the best.” And they’re not kidding, Gordon Ramsey teaches cooking, Natalie Portman teaches acting, and Serena Williams teaches tennis.
We’ve thoroughly enjoyed the eighteen classes we took in 2019, and rank them “best” to “worst” in our MasterClass Review. Our favorite? The queen herself, Dr. Jane Goodall teaching conservation.
33. Win Your To-Do List
Creating and managing a winning to-do list yields more happiness and less stress, and more achievement and less overwhelm. Visiting your to-do list is definitely a productive thing to do at the same time every day.
After honing my to-do list strategy for 17 years, I have settled on this ultimate to-do list template.
The secret is only having one master to-do list accessible on all devices, most importantly your phone. Tie in your day’s tasks seamlessly with your longterm goals.
34. Start a Side Gig
What’s a more productive thing to do than adding in a side hustle? Spoiler alert: Ryan and Alex Duo Life originally started as a side gig but has now enabled us to travel and work abroad since March 2018.
Starting a side gig not only is an opportunity to make extra cash, but you’ll learn to become an expert in your craft. Here are six reasons why you need a side gig.
36. Digital Detox
Ever heard of “death by GPS?” Placing boundaries on your phone and computer use, if only at 1% each day, is incredibly freeing.
We wrote about our experience with a 7-day digital detox plan and found that our memories and spatial awareness improved.
37. Add Couple’s Yoga To Your Routine
Stress reduction and mindfulness for two, please. Yoga releases a chemical called GABA (that’s gamma-aminobutyric acid.) This chemical acts as an inhibitor of neural activity. It’s a natural anti-anxiety drug.
Studies show that improved mindfulness yields higher relationship satisfaction. Luckily for you, we have a 14-Day Couple’s Yoga Challenge that you can do for free at home.
38. Sleep 1% More Tonight
With the average American adult clocking in less than 7 hours of sleep nightly, it’s no wonder that people are ruining their diets and aging faster than ever.
The importance of sleep cannot be understated, and we recommend you start tracking your sleep hours and quality to know where you lay. Yes, spending more time asleep IS a productive thing to do.
We recommend free apps like Pillow or letting your wearable track your sleep. Once you know your baseline, start experimenting with ways to improve the duration and quality of your sleep by 1%. We share a few tips in our article, ‘The Importance of Sleeping Well.’
This is the best sleep mask money can buy and it’s been a lifesaver for our sleep quality.
39. Boost Your Self-Care Routine With Books
Growth is a big part of our self-care routine. As we learn, we experiment and tinker. Without being guinea pigs, we wouldn’t have gotten far along with our self-love, self-care, and personal development.
One productive thing you can do today is to pick a book from our Duo Life Book Club and start reading a page or two a day.
40. Declutter Your Home
According to feng shui, a decluttered home removes stress and promotes healthy energy. So, we recommend decluttering as a productive thing to do on your day off.
The fun thing? When Ryan and I last decluttered, we didn’t just feel good and cleaner, we made several thousand dollars. We tell you how to declutter as a couple and make it a friendly competition to see who earns the most money.
41. At-Home Self-Care Retreat
Here’s another productive way to spend your day off. Seven and a half hours represent approximately 1% of your month. Strive to set those precious hours aside for some proper self-care with an at-home spa day.
We wrote up a full day’s schedule for our at-home self-care retreat, or if you’re a couple, our DIY marriage retreat at home.
42. Revive Your Bucket List
What’s better for the soul than putting together an old-fashioned bucket list? While Ryan and I don’t intend to kick the bucket anytime soon, we love creating bucket lists for every place we live.
Having lived in quite a few countries, we compiled 50 adventurous couple’s bucket list ideas. What’s on your bucket list, and how can you tie that into self-care?
43. Beware of Burnout
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently recognized burnout as a medical condition. It’s often thought of as the silent destroyer because who wants to tell their boss that they’re feeling overworked?
The scary thing is that you don’t necessarily need to work crazy hours to be burned out, as Ryan found out in 2017. Here’s his story about burnout and low testosterone in his 20s.
If you’re feeling signs of exhaustion and detachment from work, take a hard look at your health and job. Burnout is not something to be messed with.
44. Meditation is Funner Than You Think
We’ve tried apps and read books about meditation. Our friends told us how much it helps their focus and productivity. For us, we didn’t really know where to start, and as engineers, something as intangible as meditation was new to us.
Ryan and I have been meditating now every night for nearly a month and find it grounding. We personally like the Balance app, which guides us on a 10-minute meditation each day. That way, we’re following a structured plan without wondering what to do and what to think!
45. Create a Daily or Weekly Ritual
Our final idea for productive things to do to get 1% better each day is to create a calming ritual that you look forward to. Ours has become making our coffee in a French press every morning.
Every night before bed, one of us usually makes a comment about how we look forward to it already, and we mean it. It’s time set aside just for the two of us without distraction.
Download The Self-Care Checklist PDF
Including our list of self-care ideas along with printable daily and weekly self-care checklists.
Fill in your checklist, take action, and master your life!
Have questions or ideas?
Ask and share away in the comments below, and we’ll get back to you to address your questions or update this article with your ideas.
In what ways can you add more productivity to enhance your life, 1% at a time? That wasn’t a rhetorical question, so let us know in the comments!
Thanks for reading, and for more productivity resources, head over to our Healthy Lifestyle page.
Just Duo It
Our flagship program. Transform your mind, body, and marriage using small, systematic steps. These tried-and-true techniques have been taken from our research and personal experiments to reconnect, get healthier, and add spontaneity into your relationship.
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Hey we're Ryan and Alex
The creators of Ryan and Alex Duo Life. We are a husband-wife duo and “lifestyle engineers.”
After eight years working in the corporate world as engineers, we left our high-powered jobs to tackle our true passion — helping couples engineer their best lives.
The synergy of our engineering minds and ten years of health coaching experience produced Ryan and Alex Duo Life. Our mission is to help you transform your bodies, minds, and relationship as a couple.
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