Feeling better about myself...
October 24, 2012 6:50 PM   Subscribe

Posting for a friend: Feeling unproductive and down, recommend an activity for me to pick up. Requirements within.

"I recently broke up with my boyfriend (but don't worry, this is not a break up AskMe), and I have been assigned a tedious and unappealing project at work. As a result, I feel like nothing is really going for me, and when I head home after a day at work, I feel like there's nothing to look forward to.

I'm looking for suggestions of a new hobby/activity to pick up, something to do in the 5 hours or so free time I have in a day. Sadly I'm pretty constrained....

Preference checklist:
- requires at least some thinking/mental activity, but doesn't have to be heavy. (In the past, activities that have made me feel productive included light programming projects, research a time period/person in depth, etc.)
- some hands on element would be nice. (In the past, have enjoyed origami, building models.)
- would be nice if at the end I have something to show for it, whether something physical, or a new skills I've picked up and can show my friends. (Again, part of the wanting to feel more productive/accomplished. I am willing to work hard at it to improve, but something that requires innate talent that I may/may not have probably won't be good right now...)
- in doors/not too physical. (Some problems with my back, can't do very strenuous activities.)
- does not require internet. (I only have stable internet access on the weekends, so I can download and store on the computer.)

In terms of money and access to material, I would prefer not to spend too much, but thankfully I have a nice paying job and some income set aside for leisure activities, so some spending should be ok. I also live in a large U.S. metropolitan area and have access to whatever comes with that.

Very specific and out-of-the-box/little-known recommendations very much welcome. Thanks!"
posted by dragonfruit to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (24 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Sewing or knitting seems to be right up your alley. I started sewing a few months ago with a $70 Ikea sewing machine (perfectly adequate to learn on) and I love how hard it makes me think, and that I have a great item of clothing to show for my efforts.
posted by third word on a random page at 6:54 PM on October 24, 2012

Cross stitch or embroidery? Work on a pillow or an ornament or a decorative whatever. You can design your own or buy a kit (cheap!). Cross stitch isn't very mentally taxing - it's the perfect "I'm sitting in front of a tv doing something slightly more productive than sitting in front of a tv" activity. Embroidery can be more challenging to design. I generally just embroider random flowery things to make tooth fairy pillows for baby gifts and don't use any set pattern. However, the embroidery stitches require a bit more focus. You can find lots of fun/non-traditional stitching inspiration on etsy and other sites.
posted by adorap0621 at 7:00 PM on October 24, 2012

Everyone's going to suggest knitting or crochet (you can download free patterns from Ravelry and store them on a local computer and yes, you can knit everything you've ever dreamed of up to and including a Viking helmet with attached beard), but another option, slightly more portable but probably less useful, might be shuttle tatting. Calligraphy is also pleasant if you want something that requires a little more immediate focus.
posted by posadnitsa at 7:07 PM on October 24, 2012

Making woodcuts, drawing, watercolor painting, jewelry-making, setting up a website, learning how to use programs you find interesting in Adobe Creative Suite (maybe making an animated short with Flash, or creating a logo and business cards with Illustrator or Photoshop).
posted by vegartanipla at 7:08 PM on October 24, 2012

Do you celebrate Christmas? How about handmade Christmas ornaments?
posted by Fairchild at 7:11 PM on October 24, 2012

Learn an instrument/sight-reading.
Learn to write with your opposite hand.
Learn to read Biblical Hebrew.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 7:18 PM on October 24, 2012

Over the summer, I tried my hand at making ginger beer. (Homebrewing regular beer might work as well.)

The ginger beer didn't require a lot of special equipment (I bought half a dozen bottles - that was about the only outlay beyond the ingredients) and I had fun making small batches and varying the recipe to make it come out better.

It's not a hugely time consuming task, but may dovetail nicely with other busywork type activities, as a batch needs a little attention at regular intervals. It also hits the "learn a new skill" and "end up with something" requirements. And the something you end up with is nice to share with friends, too!
posted by agentmitten at 7:38 PM on October 24, 2012

Response by poster: Hi this is dragonfruit's friend, just a quick note to say, thanks everyone for the suggestions so far!

A few comments:
- I've done kitting and cross stitching in the past, they were a lot of fun, but I'm looking to learn something new. (I definitely should have included this in the original post, apologies for forgetting that.)
- Just to clarify, I would not mind a mentally intensive project, or as I mention, a project that requires putting in a lot of time to get better at. I see a lot of suggestions in the leisurely direction, so I just wanted to say that something more serious/academic is ok as well.

I'll definitely look into some of these, like embroidering, and shuttle tatting (that's definitely new to me), and the learning to read biblical hebrew definitely looks interesting as well.

Keep 'em coming! :)
posted by dragonfruit at 7:40 PM on October 24, 2012

Rosetta stone? Enroll in photography class. Jigsaw puzzles. Write a book or series of short stories. Volunteer. I always see programs who need tutors for illiterate adults. Join a writing club. Take tennis lessons. Learn to play the piano. Sign up for a lecture series or a class at community college. Reupholster an old piece of furniture. That's all I can think of right now.
posted by Summer Fall at 7:47 PM on October 24, 2012

Genealogy? Internet would probably be helpful after a certain point, but there's lots you can do prior to that stage, like record your immediate family's stories and such.
posted by Liesl at 7:51 PM on October 24, 2012

Tutoring adults or kids in the evenings? Taking online courses (through Coursera, iTunesU, etc- there are tons of options out there) might scratch the academic itch for you, and you get a sense of completion when you're done with the class.
posted by MadamM at 7:53 PM on October 24, 2012

Does your city offer classes? Mine has cool stuff in the evenings like introductory metal working, pottery, fiber arts, cooking classes, jewelry making, woodworking, plein air painting, etc.
posted by cecic at 7:58 PM on October 24, 2012

No innate talent required? Hands on? Have something to show for it?

Cabinet making with hand tools! Hand tools don't make anywhere near the noise or dust of power tools. Hand planes free you from the hell that is sandpaper. You don't need much more space than the size of your work bench and some kind of storage box. Softwoods like pine and poplar are readily available at home centres and in reno dumpsters, so you don't need to hoard and store much of it. You could spend a ton of cash on tools or you can buy and fix up old ones for cheap.

These videos from The Woodwright's Shop cover some of the basics (though I guess you'll have to watch them on the weekends):

All about hand planes
Marking and layout
Wood carving

(the last 5 years of TWS are available here)

A good book is The Essential Woodworker. Also, at risk of sounding like a Chris Schwarz fanboy, I'll recommend The Anarchist's Tool Chest because it gives a great introduction and background into the most used tools. Both books are also available in Kindle or ePub formats.

It might depend on how well you can weather a long, shallow learning curve and you'll have to pick up tools as you go but it feels great being able to make furniture and other household things.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:59 PM on October 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ceramics - specifically throwing. Having to focus so intently on something so physical in order to get the technique right can really clear your mind, and you get instant gratification seeing what you've made take shape, and you get to get dirty and make a mess and then the clay rinses off so clean clean clean, and your reward I-feel-productive center just gets all sorts of lit up.

Not sure if this would trigger any back issues or not, but I'd second checking out your local art or community center to see what they have on tap!
posted by skrozidile at 8:05 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing something woodwork-related. You can start out at any skill level. The learning curve is practically unending but you can step off wherever you please. You get satisfying haptic feedback and a tangible result. You can learn from books or humans according to preference and availability.
posted by pont at 8:06 PM on October 24, 2012

You like light programming and hands-on? Try getting into Arduino building. If you're in a major city, then there's probably also a Maker space nearby where you can pick up materials, borrow heavier stuff, and get help.
posted by jacalata at 8:24 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

During Mark Maron's recent interview with Jim Rash (from Community), they were both making fun of juggling, but then they agreed how great it felt the first time they were really able to do it. Juggling is impressive, especially if people perceive you as a non-juggler, and then --Boom! You've juggled some items! It takes some thought and requires discipline to learn.
posted by Francolin at 8:45 PM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sign up for a sign langauge course! Mentally absorbing, appeals to the "pattern recognition" part of the brain, and definitely a new skill that you'll have acquired by the end of the course. Even if you're not absolutely fantastic/fluent at it, you'll still know more than you did before. And who knows when it'll come in handy.
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 11:48 PM on October 24, 2012

Ukulele could be fun.
posted by Lou Stuells at 2:16 AM on October 25, 2012

Some classes are probably more hand/making intensive than others but Coursera is a really incredibly-super-neat collection of online courses from top universities. You can either go at your own pace and choose which things you want to do (I usually do the lectures, readings, but not papers as I have a full-time job).

They have a ton on more tech specific things like programming and electronics, but they also have everything from Greek and Roman Mythology to Digital Sound Design.

posted by forkisbetter at 11:22 AM on October 25, 2012

Ceramics/pottery! It's challenging, somewhat sort of social but solitary when you're throwing/working on stuff, you progress in fits and bounds (with a pretty good learning curve), get to be creative and technical at the same time and can make stuff accidentally at first but later on purpose.
posted by urbanlenny at 2:42 PM on October 25, 2012

Ooh, and you get dirty, which I quite enjoy. It makes me feel accomplished.
posted by urbanlenny at 2:42 PM on October 25, 2012

Baking pies is great for this. Numerous steps, materials are cheap and commonplace, endless variations. Making a perfect pie crust is a somewhat academic skill if you work with pastry, but can be very ho hum as the mood fits if you make a crumb crust. Each step gives you a different level of satisfaction too (i.e. make the crust, roll out the crust, drape the crust, put in the filling, put on the top, decorate the whole pie, bake, eat). You can listen to podcasts while you do it. And if you use The Pie and Pastry Bible as a starting point you will not feel like you're wasting your time even one bit.
posted by luckdragon at 5:53 PM on October 25, 2012

Chain maille! I make jewellery because it's so much more practical than making actual chain maille. You can be as cheap or as expensive as you like (aluminium rings vs sterling silver) and it doesn't take up much space or require a lot in the way of tools (two pairs of pliers).
posted by eloeth-starr at 10:45 PM on October 25, 2012

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