In today’s technology-driven world, many people kill time by playing games on their smartphone or computer, or by watching television or movies. While there’s nothing wrong these technological time-wasters, they can cost a fair amount of money to own and update. In addition, these passive technology distractions use a fair amount of brain power that can drain you, rather than refresh your mind and spirit.
There are many low-tech ways to kill time that can be more satisfying than computer games, TV shows, and movies. And best of all, they cost very little or no money. So next time you find yourself with time on your hands—waiting for an appointment, a friend, an airplane flight, or for paint to dry—have a few tried-and-true pastimes in mind.
Listed below are some of our favorite low-tech ways to kill time. We’ve arranged them from the absolute easiest and cheapest, to those that might require some supplies, or more time and skill.
Daydream. The practice of letting your mind wander works best when you are alone, can relax, and be in a positive frame of mind. It’s not a good idea to daydream in public, where you may become unaware of your surroundings. It also helps if you are not hungry, thirsty, or need to use the restroom. Music isn’t required, but can support a positive mood. Gazing in the distance or closing your eyes are also helpful techniques. For best results, avoid problem solving or negative thoughts. The general idea is to dream about things that make you happy. Some possibilities include: favorite places (preferably real or attainable, not fantasies), favorite things (raindrops, roses, whiskers on kittens…that sort of thing), new ideas, what you are grateful for, or imaging yourself as a character in a favorite book or movie.
Window shop or watch nature. If you have extra time while in the city, window shop. In a more rural location, take notice of the natural landscape or the weather.
People watch. While waiting in a busy, public place, such as a park bench or coffee shop, watch people (preferably without staring or eavesdropping). You can focus on one particular aspect, such as how couples interact (or don’t), clothing styles or colors, the number of people with red hair or wearing a hat, or any detail that piques your interest.
Do calisthenics or chair exercises. If you have a little space (for example, in your office or hotel room), a basic calisthenics routine includes jumping jacks, leg squats, regular or knee push-ups, ab crunches, and planks. Do 10-20 of each exercise in the order listed; repeat the whole set up to three times if you are able. The following simple chair exercises can be done by almost anyone, anywhere—even while seated in an airplane. Repeat each exercise up to 20 times and be sure to maintain good seating posture throughout the routine:
- Feet/toe raises: place feet flat on the floor, raise and lower heels, raise and lower toes, and repeat;
- Feet circles: raise one foot off the floor, make clockwise and then counterclockwise circles, and repeat with the other foot;
- Lower body: squeeze knees and buttocks together for five seconds, relax, and repeat;
- Core: suck in your gut, hold for five seconds, relax, and repeat;
- Upper body: “hug” yourself for five seconds by placing your left hand on your right shoulder and right hand on your left shoulder, then relax your neck while you unwrap and shake out your wrists, andrepeat (alternate which arm is on top during the hug);
- Neck: roll your head from side to side, dropping your chin to your chest as you slowly and gently swing your head from left to right and right to left, and repeat.
Review goals or New Year’s Resolutions. Review, or set, short term goals (may take up to 1 year) or long term goals (more than 1 year away). These might include pursuing passions, intellectual growth, professional development, healthy lifestyle, personal and family relationships, social values, or anything else of importance to you.
Plan the steps to complete goals. List the steps you need to take to accomplish a goal. Use the “SMART” method to define details: make them Specific, Measurable, Actionable (or achievable), Realistic (or relevant), and Time-bound.
Nap, meditate, or pray. Both of these techniques can relax and refresh you. For a nap, set a timer for 20 minutes, but try to rouse yourself with a simple ding or soothing music rather than a buzzing or clanging alarm. Simple meditation techniques include focused normal breathing and/or silently repeating a mantra (short word or phrase, spiritual word, or positive affirmation). Some examples of mantras include: “om”, “grace”, “maranatha” (Christain), “El Shaddai” (Hebrew), “Allah” (Islam), “Every day is a gift”, or “I am filled with gratitude”. If you are new to meditation, two to three minutes may be all you can do and remain focused. But work your way up to 10 or 20 minutes for full effect. If you follow a spiritual practice, you may prefer prayer to meditation.
Clean or organize your immediate space. Clean out your wallet, purse, auto glove box, desktop, drawers, cupboard, closet, or whatever else is nearby and in need of an overhaul.
Fold paper. You can make simple hats and airplanes by folding sheets of printer paper. Or take up origami (Japanese for “folding paper”), a technique that uses six-inch squares of thin paper and specific folding techniques to create animals and other fanciful shapes.
Doodle, draw, or color. Doodling or drawing is easy with any writing implement and any writing surface, from a white board to scrap paper or a notepad. Coloring requires crayons or colored pencils, but is a relaxing pastime that is not just for children.
Read. Anything. Fiction or non-fiction. Books or magazines. Technical manuals or spiritual guidebooks. Anything that interests or is new to you.
Work puzzles. While many games are available on smartphones, physical games and puzzles are also fun. Try your hand at crosswords, Sudoku, jigsaw puzzles, or brain teasers.
Next time you need to kill time, instead of turning to technology, try some of these tried and true low-tech ways to renew your mind and spirit. These pastimes are cheaper and can be a great diversion from using your smartphone, computer, or television.