TIME

The Amazingly Simple Way to Be More Productive at Work

Guido Mieth—Getty Images

You know how spending time and mental energy on something entirely unrelated to work — whether it’s painting, perfecting your secret barbecue sauce recipe or, yes, even playing video games — makes you feel more refreshed and ready to tackle your to-do list? As it turns out, this is a real phenomenon, and it’s can be a big benefit to your career.

New scientific research finds proof that tackling your own personal creative pursuits actually improve your productivity at work. Don’t feel bad about taking some down time doing something creative — it could actually boost the results of your next performance review.

A team of researchers led by organizational psychologist Kevin Eschleman of San Francisco State University surveyed more than 400 workers in all sorts of jobs to find out if pursuing creative hobbies helps workers’ on-the-job performance by giving them some “breathing room,” so to speak.

“Providing them with a way to recover from the demands of their job, by restoring them through relaxation, increasing their sense of control, or challenging them to lean to new skills,” the University profile of the study says.

As it turns out, creative hobbies do all this and then some. Survey respondents who told researchers they regularly engage in a creative pastime not only bounced back from the demands of their jobs better, but were more creative and more inclined to pitch in and help out their co-workers when they were back on the clock.

This, in turn, makes a huge difference on how these people are perceived by their co-workers and bosses — researchers found they were ranked up to 30% higher on performance than their colleagues who don’t engage in creative hobbies.

What’s especially interesting is that researchers let participants define creative hobbies any way they wanted, so a wide variety of hobbies — yes, even gaming — have the potential to be beneficial. Basically, if you enjoy a hobby that engages your mind and makes you learn a non-work-related skill, that activity could reap dividends in the workplace.

“Organizations may benefit from encouraging employees to consider creative activities in their efforts to recover from work,” Eschlerman writes. “Creative activities are likely to provide valuable experiences of mastery and control, but may also provide employees experiences of discovery that uniquely influence performance-related outcomes.” He points out that some companies actively encourage their people to do this; at Amazon-owned online shoe store Zappos, for instance, staffers bring in their own personal artwork to decorate their offices.

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