These 45 specific, actionable, and goal-oriented 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. And this is no ordinary list.
Since we’re engineers, most of these ideas are backed by data, and we share how-to’s and suggestions on getting started. Whether you’re bored at home or have free time at work, implement a few of them and focus on becoming 1% better everyday.
45 productive things to do In Life
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 knowing how do short-term goals differ from long-term goals is extremely helpful.
For us, these are the statistics and data that help us truly “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 100% 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 everyday 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 Printable. 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.
The Most Productive things to Do
For those of you ready to spring into action, here’s the quick and easy bullet list of productive things to do by category.
As mentioned above, many of these ideas are grounded in psychology and science. If you’re interested, continue scrolling for more details on each, including helpful tips and strategies to succeed.
Here’s how to have a productive day.
How to have a productive day:
What are some productive things to do today? The following are our best ideas. More details and action items to follow.
1. Sign up your spouse or a friend as a workout buddy
2. Set up an experiment to maximize calorie burn
3. Take a fitness test to benchmark your “starting point”
4. Surpass yesterday’s step count
5. Save time, money, and effort by following a workout plan
6. Make your workouts dynamic using resistance bands
7. Press play on a partner workout
8. Update your running playlist to 180 BPM
9. Track your workout frequency
10. Double check your calorie needs
11. Prep your week’s meal plan
12. Watch a food documentary
13. Trial intermittent fasting
14. Cook it, don’t buy it
15. Go meatless at least once a week
16. Increase fiber intake
17. Debunk your metabolism
18. Drink more water
19. Increase intimacy
20. Start journaling
21. Practice gratitude
22. Speak your partner’s Love Language
23. Discuss your movies
24. Calculate your food ratios
25. Ask your partner deep questions
26. Consider couples coaching
27. Plan a monthly date night
28. Write down your goals
29. Make your bucket list
30. Make healthier choices early in the day
31. Practice temptation bundling
32. Learn from the masters
33. Win your to-do list
34. Start a side gig
35. Design a digital detox
36. Write a self-care checklist
37. Sleep more tonight
38. Read a personal development book
39. Declutter your home
40. Create a DIY retreat
41. Get financially fit
42. Be aware of burnout
44. Begin a daily ritual
45. Restart a favorite childhood activity
Productive Things to Do for Your Fitness
In this section, we’ll provide action items for the above productivity ideas. If you want productive things to do when bored at home, fitness is a great path.
Once you finish, your energy levels will increase and your sense of accomplishment will make you unstoppable. Here is our best advice.
1. Sign Up Your Spouse or a Friend as a Workout 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 with your spouse or accountability partner.
2. Set Up an Experiment to Maximize 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 to answer what’s the best cardio workout — 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. Take a Fitness Test to Benchmark Your “Starting Point”
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 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. Surpass Yesterday’s Step Count
Walking is our favorite productive thing to do outside.
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.
5. Save Time, Money, and Effort By Following a Workout Plan
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?
Considering 67% of gym memberships go unused, this seemed outrageous to me.
Ryan and I did a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation and, again using the magic of compounding, discovered that my modest $35 gym membership was actually costing us $5000 over seven years as opposed to following an online fitness program. Now we pay $15 combined.
6. Make Your Workouts Dynamic Using Resistance Bands
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. Press Play on a Partner Workout
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. Update Your Running Playlist to 180 BPM
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.
At the minimum, we promise you’ll feel a rush when you mark a big “X” on the calendar!
Productive Things to Do for Your Diet and Nutrition
Food is fuel. There is nothing more important for productivity than giving your body the best nutrition possible.
10. Double Check Your Calorie Needs
It never hurts to check a few things: how many calories you’re actually consuming and what your daily calorie target should be.
While it’s tedious to count calories — and we don’t advocate that you do it every day — it is helpful to run the numbers once in a while to double check that we’re on the right path. For us, we check yearly.
We recommend using a free app like MyFitnessPal to track how many calories you’re eating. Next, to understand your caloric needs, we run through the numbers in this 30-Day Weight Loss Challenge.
Many people under-eat when working towards weight loss and hope this helps to correct course.
11. Prep Your Week’s Meal Plan
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 tips and an easy guide on how to meal prep for the week. Effective meal prepping is a productive thing to do that will make you healthier and create more time.
12. Watch a Food Documentary
An easy but productive thing to do when you have nothing to do is watch a great documentary. One of the most influential and productive things I did for my diet this year was watching the documentary, Game Changers 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 and Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones.
13. Trial intermittent fasting
Have you tried intermittent fasting? It’s an eating 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.
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. Onto sourdough next… wish us luck! Going to the local farmer’s market is our favorite productive thing to do in the summer.
15. Go meatless at least once a week
I’ll let you in on a secret: many vegetarians have a tough time eating enough vegetables (me included). Sounds crazy, right? But it’s easy for everyone to grab the pasta and bread, and the same goes for 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. Increase fiber intake
If you asked us the one nutrition metric we like to track, it would be getting enough fiber.
Most Americans (97% that is) are fiber deficient. To us, more so than focusing on protein or carbs or anything else, you should focus on fiber.
Why? Fiber positively affects metabolism and weight loss, while also reducing risks of certain cancers.
Ready to try this simple but helpful productive thing to do? Here’s our free high fiber foods chart.
17. Debunk your on Metabolism
Metabolism is influenced by sleep, stress, activity levels, and your nutrition. Self-experimenting and gathering data on how your metabolism responds to your lifestyle is one of the most productive things you can do for your health.
Before, this would have been a guessing game or an expensive trip to the clinic.
Now, the first real-time metabolism tracking device has hit the market and it’s awesome. We’ve learned so much from it — it’s very clear and says specifically that, “You’re burning 75% fat and 25% carbs!” It’s pretty awesome and if you’re tired of second-guessing your diet or what your body needs, we recommend checking out our Lumen review.
18. Drink More Water
We’d be remiss to not talk about drinking more water. This is the best productive thing to do at work.
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. Do whatever you have to do to get more water in!
Productive Things to Do to Improve Your Relationship
The health of your relationships strongly contribute to your health, happiness, and, therefore, your productivity. These are our best actionable ideas to increase relationship satisfaction with your partner.
19. Increase Intimacy
Therapists and couples retreats use partner yoga to strengthen sexual intimacy and closeness in couples.
We know because our Couple’s Yoga Program is used in this space often. Try it out. It will definitely be a solid and productive thing to do on many fronts!
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.
24. Calculate Your Food Ratios
Your partner not only influences what you eat, but how much you eat.
Take a minute today to calculate your food ratio. Essentially, write out what each of your daily calorie targets and see what the ratio is. If you’re eating your meals together, it’s easy to now visualize your portion sizes and give you insight when your partner may be getting hungry.
For years, it was something that Ryan and I struggled with until we calculated our food portion ratios (2:1 if you’re wondering). All in all, you’ll be on the same page and in a better place.
Learn how to calculate yours and manage your diet as a couple.
25. Ask Your Partner Deep Questions
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. Consider Couples Coaching
Growing your relationship takes work. Happiness and fulfillment used to take a village — from social connection to creativity to security — but too often in modern times, we look singularly to our partner for everything.
So never be ashamed to ask for help. About half of married couples will go to counseling at some point in their marriage, and it’s, on average, seven years too late. Just like getting a career mentor or a fitness instructor, consider investing in your happiness with relationship coaching.
We prefer doing our coaching sessions through an app with virtual video calls — it just seems more comfortable to us. Our favorite app has been Hey Ritual, and we recommend it to everyone we run into. Here’s our experience on how it solved our 12-year recurring problem. It’s impactful, and we take every opportunity to share it with others.
27. Plan a Monthly Date Night
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.
Productive Things to Do for a Better Lifestyle
28. Write Down Your Goals
It turns out there is an art to writing goals which will help with your success.
Not only have psychologists found that writing your goals with an actual pen and paper cement them deeper into your brain, but by achieving small, manageable tasks, you’ll be able to reach your goals faster.
Here’s the free goal setting worksheet that we use.
29. Make Your Bucket List
You could call us bucket list fanatics because we believe that the brainstorming, planning, and doing bucket list items is what makes life rich.
Basically we’re telling you that daydreaming your greatest adventures today can be a productive thing to do!
Our couple’s bucket list is here, what are we missing?
30. Make Healthier 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. Practice 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 30+ classes we’ve taken so far, and rank them “best” to “worst” in our MasterClass Review. Our favorite? Chris Voss teaches the art of negotiation.
33. Win Your To-Do List
Creating and managing a winning to-do list yields more happiness and less stress, more achievement and less overwhelm. Visiting your to-do list is definitely a productive thing to do at the same time every day.
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 permanently 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.
35. Design a 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.
A digital detox doesn’t have to be cold turkey, but setting limits on using your phone before bed or only watching one episode will give you plenty of time to be productive in other ways too.
Productive Self-Care Ideas
36. Make a Self-Care Checklist
There are eight areas of self-care: physical, psychological, emotional, social, professional, environmental, spiritual, and financial.
We share 120 examples to create your own self-care checklist, but consider how all of these areas affect your wellness and what is most important to you. From reaching out to a career mentor to walking to work to journaling, there are innumerable productive things to do for your self-care.
37. Sleep 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.’
38. Read a Personal Development Book
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.
39. 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 we completed a declutter challenge and made it a friendly competition.
40. Create a DIY 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.
41. Get Financially Fit
Money is 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.
With stress revolving around money as one of the main reasons for divorce, it’s important to get financially fit together.
42. Be Aware 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.
We’ve tried apps, read books about meditation, and even taken a MasterClass. 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!
44. Begin a Daily Ritual
One idea for productive things to do to get 1% better each day is to create a grounding ritual that you look forward to. Ours is hand-grinding our coffee beans, making a French press, and enjoying our coffee outside on the terrace together.
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.
45. Restart a Favorite Childhood Activity
Our final idea is to remember what you used to do as a kid at this time. While we appreciate you for reading this whole article, it’s time to close your phone or laptop, and get to it!
Maybe it means going outside with no plan, riding a bike, reading in a pillow fort, opening up a coloring book, or starting a puzzle. Have fun with it!
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!
Closing thoughts on Productive Things To Do
Implementing these productivity ideas has tremendously improved our health, happiness, and relationship.
If you have any questions or feedback, share away in the comments below. 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.
Printable Goal Setting Worksheet PDF
Download our simple goal setting worksheet, print it, and draft a smart plan to achieve your goals.
Included is goal setting worksheet example to guide you.
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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