So, a free day, dropped into your lap at no expense… what will you do with it?
February brings us a few small but significant gifts each year; the first sproutings of daffodil leaves – a message that their bloom of yellow flowers will soon arrive, and along with them, the uplifting hope of spring. A short month, and with it a much-welcomed early payday after the Christmas extravagance, thank goodness! And every four years, February adds another gift to its list, an extra day slotted into your calendar. This happens so that the Gregorian calendar (the 365-day calendar on your desk and phone) remains in sync with the solar calendar, so that we can celebrate solar events like the spring and autumn equinoxes with some continuity and regularity each year.
Ways to spend your extra day productively this leap year:
- Take a day for self care and rest
- Get outdoors
- Start a new hobby
- Get started working towards one of your life goals
But what does this gift really mean? First of all, renters should rejoice, as technically, if you are on a fixed rate monthly rent, you’ll get this extra day living rent-free! If you’re on a fixed annual salary at work however, you could feel down heartened that this extra day in February works against you, as an extra day of work in the month, unpaid. And on another leap year, you may be right, but this year, the 29th of February just so happens to land on a weekend: a glorious springtime Saturday. Hurrah for the leap year!
Do it differently
So, a free day, dropped into your lap at no expense… what will you do with it? Well, it’s a weekend, so many of us won’t be at work, which leaves space for play. Perhaps it’s a chance to invest some time into taking up a new hobby which you feel you never had time for. Or maybe even dedicate the day to doing something different. According to the Office for National Statistics, men spend more time playing sports, practising hobbies, gaming and computing or consuming mass media, while women use more time for socialising. What do you spend most of your leisure time doing, and could you do something different in order to really make the most of this free day?
A day of rest
Or, if your to-do list doesn’t usually leave you much time for relaxing, maybe you could get excited about the idea of dedicating one full day completely, no compromises, to rest, which could be extremely beneficial for stress levels, creativity and productivity at work. A full day of rest is something we rarely get, and so this extra day in our calendars could be the perfect excuse to gift it to ourselves, especially if you’re a woman. In the UK, a government survey found men spend more time on leisure activities than women (an average of six hours and nine minutes compared with five hours and 29 minutes per day). And when not in leisure, women are more likely to be performing unpaid work. So, this could be a guilt-free day to leave the laundry basket, put down your DIY toolkit, hide your laptop in a cupboard, and banish all activities related to work in any way shape or form.
In fact, rest is key for our productivity and creative levels. Sleep, in particular good quality sleep where we enter the REM phase, is extremely important for performance. Even short naps can recharge our mental batteries and increase alertness. But it’s not all about sleep. Research has found that taking time away from work is hugely beneficial to our output. Stopping work when we have a little energy left, makes it easier to get started on our work the next day. But resting also prompts our subconscious minds to tackle problems while we aren’t working, meaning that when you come back to your work, ideas flow and productivity heightens. If that isn’t a good excuse for a day doing nothing, I don’t know what is!
Go on an adventure
But, while you might be tempted to see a day of rest as an invitation to binge Netflix all day, you might want to consider how you spend this free leisure time a little more carefully. Currently, the majority of our free time is spent consuming mass media, either watching TV, reading or listening to music; all very sedentary activities (men spend 16 hours and 24 minutes per week and women spend 14 hours and 23 minutes consuming mass media). And this is despite the fact that a staggering 82% of us would love to spend more time outside, and 34% of us feel that modern life leaves us feeling disconnected from the natural world which impacts on our happiness. Amazingly, 47% of us have not taken a walk in the countryside in the past year, despite seven in ten of us believing that being out in nature is good for our mental health. If you’re one of the 82% who’d love to spend more time outside, but don’t usually have time, this extra day could be the perfect excuse to get out and about into the great outdoors – walking, cycling – or even a little more adventurous – wild swimming, abseiling or rock climbing, or sign up to an event like the Leap Year 5k at Kelvedon Hatch, Brentwood, Essex. You can find more events like this here: findarace.com.
But if you have a burning desire to use this day for more than rest and leisure, there’s always the option to put it to work, though I don’t mean getting a few more hours overtime in. What if free day could be invested towards your future? Approximately 1 in 10 people in the UK have a current intention to change their career and 30% of employees feel their strengths would be better suited to another career. So, if you want to change your career, get a new job or start a new side hustle or your own company, the 29th February could provide an excuse-free day to invest some real time into exploring your options, from creating a new website, to revamping your CV, applying to volunteer, putting together a portfolio of your work, or making products to sell. You might want to finally start that book you’ve always dreamt of writing, or commence on a first training run towards your goal of running next year’s marathon. The key here, is using the 29th Feb as a day to simply ‘begin’.
Not sure where to start?
Research has found that practicing our signature strengths makes us more productive and happier – so it might be wise to use this day in this way – dedicating time to something you’re already good at, in order to boost productivity and happiness as a catalyst to greater change. The more hours per day we get to use our strengths; the less likely we are to report experiencing worry, stress, anger, sadness, or physical pain, and working on something that you’re good at raises energy levels and self-confidence.
But after all is said and done, however you spend your free February day, spend it wisely, and consciously. Asking yourself what you want to get out of it can be a great place to start. Do you want to feel rested so that you have greater productivity going forward? Do you want to get some space and fresh air in nature, do you have a burning desire to sow the seeds of change in your life for the coming months and years? Making a plan ahead of the day can hold you accountable to utilising it to its fullest potential. But above all, make this extra day work uniquely for you.