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Golden Time for Grown-ups

Did you have ‘Golden Time’ at pre-school? Half an hour of any activity you wanted as reward for good behaviour. Did you twig at the time that this was all just a trick to get you to take agency over your own learning, that all those activities were educational or skills-based? Fast forward to today, and we still need a bit of trickery to push us towards good habits, which got me wondering whether this approach could be applied to university students. After all, what are university students if not self-aware toddlers?

That's why I'm introducing ‘Golden Time for Grown-Ups’ — the ultimate cure for boredom and burnout.

It came to me last year. Now I’d say I managed my time quite effectively; I scheduled my study breaks, set daily goals, and all the other things the books recommend to not die of stress. But that on its own is not always enough. Like most St Andrews students, the shadow of burnout haunted me. When I finished my tightly scheduled day, I was so burnt out that I did nothave the energy to commit to something productive. Instead, I would just mindlessly scroll through my phone or watch a TV series until I passed out. That is why I brought back Golden Time.

Tonight, I will play piano for half an hour. I am not any good but that does not matter. I enjoy the feeling of improving week on week. It feels good having something to be proud of, even on the crappy days. The rules of ‘Golden Time for Grown Ups’ are simple: choose a hobby, any hobby, and commit to half an hour of it today. You do noteven have to stick to just one hobby. Just like at pre-school, the joy of ‘Golden Time’ is that you can choose any activity you want. I alternate between piano, painting, a drawing course, music editing, reading novels – I have even started calligraphy.

You can make ‘Golden Time’ fit your schedule by doing something productive; make Golden Time social by reading a book with a friend, fix your relationship by baking cookies for your partner. Why not save money on Valentine’s Day cards by crafting something yourself? You will find yourself far more motivated to do all of this because you have built the habit of 30 minutes a day to focus on yourself.

What’s more you can work it into your day. There is no greater enemy to productivity than being idle, so do not be idle. Any time you are bored enough to whip out your phone, do an activity instead. Committing to an activity can be hard, so break it up into chunks. I started practicing piano for just two minutes at a time while the kettle was boiling. I banned myself from Instagram and put my phone in black and white mode to stop its colours seducing me into procrastination. Now I make a point of doing things when I’m bored during the day. I keep chalk on my desk so I can sketch while my Xbox updates, and a coffee table book to read while I wait for friends.

Different people work in different ways. If you crave structure, join a society. Knitting, Art Soc, bands - nowhere are you going to find talented hobbyists with more freetime than here. But ‘Golden Time’ can be just for yourself too. I am rubbish at drawing – that is why I’m taking a course. This painting was not done by me, it isAI generated. You do not have to share ‘Golden Time’ with the world, or even with your friends. It is the perfect form of self-care.

And it is really good for you. One study in the United States found that, even amongst those without any existing artistic abilities, making art lowered cortisol levels in 75 per cent of people. Art destresses you, science says. The Australian Psychiatric Association claims 4 in 5 people find artistic hobbies or cultural consumption (for example listening to music) an effective means of managing stress. Now that seems obvious. What is less obvious is the physical benefits of having a hobby. Did you know that hobbies like DIY and gardening lower your chance of heart failure by over 30 per cent (according to one Swedish study) or that creative hobbies significantly lower your chance of getting dementia in later life?

So, do notbe afraid to channel your inner toddler and give ‘Golden Time for Grown-Ups’ a go. Starting a hobby will give you something to be proud of, a sense of achievement, social opportunities, stress relief, and a lower chance of heart failure. Who knows, you might just discover a hidden talent or two. Besides, the only thing you have to lose is boredom and half an hour of your evening.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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