12 cheap ways to kill time without using technology

In today’s technology-driven world, many people kill time by playing games on their smartphone or computer, or by watching television or movies. While there’s nothing wrong with these technological time-wasters, they can cost a fair amount of money to own and update. In addition, these passive technology distractions use a fair amount of brain power that can drain you, rather than refresh your mind and spirit.

There are many low-tech ways to kill time that can be more satisfying than computer games, TV shows and movies. Best of all, they cost very little or no money. Next time you find yourself with time on your hands—waiting for an appointment, a friend, an airplane flight or for paint to dry—have a few tried-and-true pastimes in mind.

Listed below are some of our favorite low-tech ways to kill time. We’ve arranged them from the absolute easiest and cheapest to those that might require some supplies, or more time and skill.

1. Daydream

The practice of letting your mind wander works best when you are alone and can relax and be in a positive frame of mind. Daydreaming is best as something to do when you’re bored at home. It’s not a good idea to daydream in public, where you may become unaware of your surroundings. It also helps if you are not hungry, thirsty or need to use the restroom. Music isn’t required, but can support a positive mood. Gazing in the distance or closing your eyes are also helpful techniques. For best results, avoid problem solving or negative thoughts.

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The general idea is to dream about things that make you happy. Some possibilities include: favorite places (preferably real or attainable, not fantasies), favorite things (raindrops, roses, whiskers on kittens…that sort of thing), new ideas, what you are grateful for or imaging yourself as a character in a favorite book or movie. 

2. Window shop or watch nature

If you’re looking to pass time without a smartphone, take advantage of your eyes not being glued to your screen. Look around and observe things. If you have extra time while in the city, window shop. You might come across a new fashion style you like, spot the perfect book to add to your library holds list or be entertained by cute animals in a pet store window.

In a more rural location, take notice of the natural landscape or the weather. Observe what the animals are doing or marvel at the delicate construction of a flower petal. Try to name the plants or trees you see, or find shapes in the clouds. Pay attention to all your senses; it’s actually calming to focus on things you can see, hear, smell, touch and taste. (Though we don’t recommend you pass time by licking unknown plants.)

3. People watch

While waiting in a busy, public place, such as a park bench or coffee shop, watch people (preferably without staring or eavesdropping). Some people find it such an enjoyable way to kill time that they will put down their phone in order to take in the people around them. You can focus on one particular aspect, such as how couples interact (or don’t), clothing styles or colors, the number of people with red hair or wearing a hat, or any detail that piques your interest.

4. Do calisthenics or chair exercises

If you have a little space (for example, in your office or hotel room), a basic calisthenics routine includes jumping jacks, leg squats, regular or knee push-ups, ab crunches and planks. Do 10-20 of each exercise in the order listed; repeat the whole set up to three times if you are able. The following simple chair exercises can be done by almost anyone, anywhere—even while seated in an airplane. Repeat each exercise up to 20 times and be sure to maintain good seating posture throughout the routine:

  • Feet/toe raises: place feet flat on the floor, raise and lower heels, raise and lower toes, repeat
  • Feet circles: raise one foot off the floor, make clockwise and then counterclockwise circles and repeat with the other foot
  • Lower body: squeeze knees and buttocks together for five seconds, relax and repeat
  • Core: suck in your gut, hold for five seconds, relax and repeat
  • Upper body: “hug” yourself for five seconds by placing your left hand on your right shoulder and right hand on your left shoulder, then relax your neck while you unwrap and shake out your wrists, andrepeat (alternate which arm is on top during the hug)
  • Neck: roll your head from side to side, dropping your chin to your chest as you slowly and gently swing your head from left to right and right to left, repeat

5. Review goals or New Year’s Resolutions

Review, or set, short term goals (may take up to 1 year) or long term goals (more than 1 year away). These might include pursuing passions, intellectual growth, professional development, healthy lifestyle, personal and family relationships, social values or anything else of importance to you. Busy people complain they never have enough time to think about these things. If you’ve got time to kill, put it to this useful purpose.

6. Plan the steps to complete goals

List the steps you need to take to accomplish a goal. Use the “SMART” method to define details: make them Specific, Measurable, Actionable (or achievable), Realistic (or relevant) and Time-bound. Worried you won’t remember your plan? Jot notes by hand in a notebook, on a piece of paper, even on a napkin if you have nothing else on hand.

7. Nap, meditate or pray

These techniques can relax and refresh you. For a nap, set a timer for 20 minutes, but try to rouse yourself with a simple ding or soothing music rather than a buzzing or clanging alarm. Simple meditation techniques include focused normal breathing and/or silently repeating a mantra (short word or phrase, spiritual word, or positive affirmation). Some examples of mantras include: om, grace, maranatha (Christain), El Shaddai (Hebrew), Allah (Islam), every day is a gift or I am filled with gratitude.

If you are new to meditation, two to three minutes may be all you can do and remain focused. But work your way up to 10 or 20 minutes for full effect. If you follow a spiritual practice, you may prefer prayer to meditation.

8. Clean or organize your immediate space

When you’re looking to kill time without electronics, cleaning is always a useful activity—and one know ever has enough time to do. Clean out your wallet, purse, auto glove box, desk, drawers, cupboard, closet or whatever else is nearby and in need of an overhaul. If you’re at work, do a good deed by cleaning out the communal fridge or washing dishes in the office kitchen. If you’re out, pick up trash.

9. Fold paper

You can make simple hats and airplanes by folding sheets of printer paper. Or take up origami (Japanese for “folding paper”), a technique that uses six-inch squares of thin paper and specific folding techniques to create animals and other fanciful shapes. If you’ve got company while you’re killing time, you can make a paper football and try to score a touchdown between makeshift goal posts.

10. Doodle, draw or color

Doodling or drawing is easy with any writing implement and any writing surface, from a white board to scrap paper or a notepad. Coloring requires crayons or colored pencils, but is a relaxing pastime that is not just for children. Engaging the artistic side of your brain can actually help you destress, focus and improve productivity.

11. Read

Time passes more quickly when you’re immersed in a story. Bring along a book or magazine wherever you go, and you’ll never be bored when forced to kill time. Fiction or non-fiction, technical manuals or spiritual guidebooks—anything that interests you will keep your mind occupied until your wait is over.

12. Work puzzles

While many games are available on smartphones, physical games and puzzles are also fun. Try your hand at crosswords, Sudoku, jigsaw puzzles or brain teasers. You can find these in the newspaper or in a book of puzzles. If you’ve got a deck of cards, solitaire is a fun game for passing time by yourself.

Next time you need to kill time, instead of turning to technology, try some of these tried and true low-tech ways to renew your mind and spirit. These pastimes are cheaper and can be a great diversion from using your smartphone, computer, or television.

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