How can I make the most of my alone time?
October 9, 2011 10:40 AM   Subscribe

How can I make the most of my alone time?

I'm not great at using my unstructured alone time. I enjoy having a few hours to myself a couple of days a week (I have plenty of structured activities with and without friends/bf during the week) but when that time actually rolls around, I end up unable to decide what to do with it and feeling like I've wasted it.

Today, for example, is an unseasonably beautiful fall day in New York. I'd like to do something that makes the most of the weather, but most of the things I enjoy doing outside (taking walks, going to an outdoor restaurant/bar, organized sporty or hiking things) don't fit into the "solo time" requirement. In winter, it's easier because I can just hang out by myself inside and read a book or something, but I don't love going outdoors to read, as it tends to be too noisy.

So, what do you all do when you have unstructured alone time? Outdoor urban examples are especially relevant, but indoor and cold-weather activities are welcome, too. Also, how do you avoid being paralyzed by the decision as to how to spend the downtime?
posted by dynamiiiite to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (22 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
walking and hiking can't be solo time activities? I actually (mostly) prefer walking alone. Especially when the weather is good! You can go at your own pace and notice the things around you.

other things to do alone:

-reading (at a coffee shop, since you want to be indoors)

-people-watching at a cafe or park

-riding the bus

-listening to music (while doing any of these activities)

-writing in a journal. drawing

-going to new and interesting restaurants, trying foods that your friends won't like

-going to the movies

-exercising (swimming, jogging, yoga, dance class, etc)

Actually, I have the opposite problem as you I think....I love spending time alone and sometimes have trouble including others!
posted by bearette at 10:46 AM on October 9, 2011

I'm not sure if I agree with your reasoning behind the idea of walks not being good by yourself (unless it's a safety issue). I absolutely LOVE throwing in my headphones and going for walks by myself. It's a great way to decompress and clear my head. For me, I rotate walks with runs depending on my mood.

Walk to the library, and then spend time there browsing books.

Go to a museum or art gallery (I always enjoy doing this by myself because I can take things at my own pace -- even with my S/O I get anxious and/or feel rushed because we digest these types of things at different paces).

Home improvement projects are particularly rewarding, if you feel like you need to be productive. I know that's not necessarily an outdoorsy suggestion, but maybe you can open up the windows and let the breeze in :)
posted by erstwhile at 10:48 AM on October 9, 2011

And I forgot: People watching. I know it's kind of weird, but I love going to public places, finding somewhere comfy to blend in, and just taking in what's going on around me. Observing other people can be so entertaining, educational and enlightening.
posted by erstwhile at 10:52 AM on October 9, 2011

Subscribe to all the blogs you can find that list upcoming events in your area, and put them on a calendar, then if you're at a lose end you can check out what's going on.

Make a big list of all the interesting places to go in the area and go to them one by one. Museums, old buildings, interesting areas of town you've never visited, quirky cafes, parks, lakes, woods, hills, large furniture shops or antique shops.

Go running, go walking, take photos, go the the gym.

Learn HTML and CSS, learn to draw or paint.
posted by emilyw at 10:56 AM on October 9, 2011

Go to depressing movies your friends will hate (or odd foreign films, I like both!).

Pick something you like to do that's sporty- yoga? Trapeze classes? And go solo.

Eat some type of food at a non-intimidating-to-eat-at-alone type place (ny has tonnes) that your friends don't love.

Read magazines standing up in bookstores, do your laundry, pick a destination that is semi-far and walk to it.

There's lots of things to do and if you have this time semi-regularly then don't worry about paralysis by choice, you will eventually have time to get around to all the things you like to do.
posted by bquarters at 10:58 AM on October 9, 2011

Best answer: Sometimes the problem with having so many good options is that it is easy to become paralyzed by indecision. I have this problem too. How can I make the most of my day? What would make me the best, happiest version of myself today? I figured out that it doesn't really matter. It's just a day; life is full of them. The best thing is to go with your first instinct and try to avoid talking yourself out of it.
posted by melangell at 11:08 AM on October 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

I cherish my time alone, which is far less frequent now that I have a kid. I use this time to go for bike rides, which certainly you could do with other people, but with more than one or two friends it gets hard to carry a conversation on a road bike. I also go surfing during this time. Surfing can be done with friends too, but there's a real scarcity of resources problem. There are only so many surf able waves at any given beach per hour, and so once you get enough people at a spot, it gets really competitive and there's a lot of waiting. Both of these activities allow for fun physical activity while still letting me have some time just to think.

I also build and fly RC airplanes. You can do the building indoors and in bad weather, and then take them flying when it gets nice outside. You can't take other people flying with you, but you can only interact with them so much while flying before you will stop focusing on your plane, and then you'll crash it.

There are plenty of other things to do, as well. I want to build a woodshed soon so I can keep firewood outside dry in the winter. I built a flower bed a couple weekends ago. I need to fix the lights in the garage.

I am sometimes lost by questions like this because there are so many things available to do I don't see how people can need to ask for ideas.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:15 AM on October 9, 2011

Best answer: Often ideas occur when I am unable to take immediate action. Then when I have time I lack ideas.

So, I started an activity jar.

As you think of activities you would like to do jot them down and put the slip of paper in a jar.

When you have time, pull one out!

I have several jars. The most useful is full of quick projects for keeping my house orderly.
It is amazing how much you can do in a spare twenty minutes!
posted by cat_link at 11:15 AM on October 9, 2011 [16 favorites]

I love walking alone; I use it for audiobook/podcast listening, since I can't really stand sitting still to do either of those.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:19 AM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: tyler -- right -- the idea is that there are so many things to do that i have difficulty figuring out which will best fit my needs/mood, as well as that there are a lot of things that i PREFER to do with other people over doing them by myself. so i am asking what others' go-to activities are, in case there is something i'm missing that lends itself spectacularly to alone time.
posted by dynamiiiite at 11:22 AM on October 9, 2011

One thing that helps me is that I make a list of things that I want to do and them use the Pomodoro technique to make my way through them, until/unless I get to a point where I want to spend more time on something exclusively. If I get through the list, I start over at the beginning (returning to a book, or picking up a new magazine if I finished the last one, for example).

I don't know if this is the way you want to go, but a little structure given to otherwise fun things helps me feel like I made more of the time I had to do those things in, because rather spend than a Sunday afternoon surfing the Internet and then freak out that the workday is already on my doorstep when night falls. Now, if you'll excuse me, my timer just went off.
posted by koucha at 11:46 AM on October 9, 2011

My go-to solo activity on beautiful days like this is to take a blanket, book, and iced coffee to the park and alternately nap/read/write/people-watch. Or if I'm feeling lazy, I might do the same thing on my roof instead of the park (the people-watching is better at the park). Or go to a store/restaurant that is farther away than usual, so I get to take a long walk there and back.
posted by unknowncommand at 11:48 AM on October 9, 2011

alone time is such a wonderful and precious commodity! yesterday i was hiking with friends and we passed at a few different times, women who were hiking solo...for a second i secretly envied/admired them! and they seemed perfectly happy. if you pick a hike that is well traveled, you may feel more secure to hike alone. i also love to window shop alone, exercise alone, sit in cafe's and read books alone. lie on my couch with my cat and watch movies. walking through museums alone is really easy and fun to do too -- you go at your own pace....maximize your alone time so you are supercharged when its time to be with friends and family. another fun thing i do is cook (alone) while listening to audiobooks or podcasts.
posted by BlueMartini7 at 11:50 AM on October 9, 2011

I have to get motivated for me time but my camera usually gets me out the door. Today was like that. I love walking and biking and checking out other neighborhoods so I tend to take detours that I wouldn't necessarily while with friends or my bf. I've also found that I enjoy cooking a lot more without distractions--so I tend to put off making things like big vats of soup for when it's just me-time.
posted by marimeko at 5:56 PM on October 9, 2011

Best answer: Also, how do you avoid being paralyzed by the decision as to how to spend the downtime?

Similar to the activity jar idea: make yourself a down-time menu. Sometime when the pressure is not on to come up with something to do, make a list of all the things that appeal to you for this type of time, ranging from physical to outdoor to indoor to solitary to money-costing to free to whatever. That way when the free time happens, you can peruse many options and see what appeals to you in the moment.
posted by pupstocks at 6:45 PM on October 9, 2011

Seconding the walk/podcast. Gives you time to listen to a long one start to finish without interruption. I also like to go to movies alone.

A great indoor alone activity is cooking--bake, or make something that will keep/freeze well for future enjoyment.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:06 PM on October 9, 2011

Also, maybe let go of the impulse to program your alone time. The only metric is how you feel while doing it. Wasting time can be a great way to recharge.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:11 PM on October 9, 2011

Buy a book (in advance of your alone time) on a subject that interests you -- drawing, photography, playing guitar, making origami, etc. -- and then pick it up and practice when you actually are alone.

Go to the park with a box of chalk and draw on the sidewalk. Little kids will probably flock to you and want to join in, but that's kinda fun too.

Ask a friend if you can walk their dog.

Watch a Youtube video and give yourself a new hairstyle or experiment with your makeup.

Take a stack of dollar bills and stick them in random places; hide somewhere nearby to watch and see who'll be lucky enough to find them.

Watch one of your favorite movies, but set the language to one you don't know and try to figure out what's being said.

Bake brownies and share them at work the next day.

Sit in the most comfortable chair in your house, or lie down in the middle of the floor, or stare out of the window and just space out and veg for as long as you want. We often forget that our brains need downtime too; it's okay to not "accomplish" something during every spare moment of our lives.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 8:34 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Keep a stack of 3x5 cards with one good things to try written on each card. Give yourself exact instructions so you don't have to think when you draw the card. Things like "Dress comfortably, get X dollars, take the Y train to stop Z, go to the museum, see the following pieces in a certain wing, and have tea in the cafe." and "Dress for outside climbing in today's weather (no matter what the weather is like), pack a (literally) light lunch and put it in a backpack, get X dollars, a bottle of water, take [exact route], and climb to the top of [hill, tower, etc.]."

Shuffle the deck, pick a card, and follow your command.
posted by pracowity at 9:31 AM on October 10, 2011

Best answer: The most helpful thing for me to avoid being paralyzed by having to choose between the many things I could do during my alonetime is leaving the house ASAP. I get dressed, put on my shoes, grab my bag, and leave. Then I'm already out of the house and pretty much have to decide on something to do! If I'm finding myself really, really reluctant to leave, then I take it as a sign that I should be spending my alonetime at home and I immediately grab a book or fire up the Xbox before I have time to sit back down in front of my computer and get sucked into the black hole of the Internet for hours.

I also recently rediscovered biking and have completely fallen in love with it, so allow me to suggest thinking about picking up a used comfortable bike and going for rides. I never lack for something to do outside these days, and it's always fun.

As for indoor stuff, there's books and video games as mentioned, but there's also kitchen projects (canning/preserving, baking bread, putting together a windowsill herb garden), crafts, and (if you're like me and this sort of thing isn't a miserable task for you) doing all that filing and organizing that you never get around to the rest of the time.
posted by rhiannonstone at 1:21 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

i like to:

test new recipes (bonus - you have a treat to share when you DO see others, or have dinner prepared).

craft projects I have been meaning to get to.

catch up on correspondence. snail mail letters to my grandma, friends and other family.
posted by wocka wocka wocka at 5:45 PM on October 10, 2011

I walk and walk and walk alone and I love it. I'm in NYC too (I assume that "New York" means NYC? maybe not). Sometimes I listen to music, sometimes to a podcast, or I read. When the weather's nice (like now) I go to the piers on the west side. It's like a vacation. A lot of other people are alone there too. You can just sit there and look at the water. It's like meditation. Gets me out of the usual chatter of my brain. It sounds so ordinary, taking a walk, but it doesn't have to be.

Oh also if you're in NYC and it's daytime you can go to the art galleries in Chelsea.
posted by DMelanogaster at 5:49 PM on October 10, 2011

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