How knitting and writing poetry can make you a better worker

Sarah A. Miller / Today
Margaret Byrum of Garland, Texas plays a song on fiddle along with her husband Chuck Byrum on a picking stick in the parking lot outside of the Museum for East Texas Culture earlier this year. New research shows that doing something creative outside of work can help you in your day job as well.

Here’s a reason embrace your inner guitar hero or secret poetry writing habit: It may be making you better at your day job.

Employees who did something creative after work – like knitting, drawing or even playing a video game that required creative thinking – were more likely to be helpful and creative problem solvers on the job, according to new research from San Francisco State University.

That was true even after researchers controlled for people who are naturally more creative personalities, said Kevin Eschleman, an assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University and one of the report’s authors.

The creative after-work activities also can be valuable even if you don’t totally disengage from work during that time, Eschleman said. In other words, you can check your work e-mail occasionally while drawing sketches after hours and still be a more creative problem solver in the office the next day.

Separate research has shown that workers can be happier - and potentially perform better at work - if they take a break from work e-mail and other office distractions after hours. But Eschleman said that wasn’t the focus of this research.

Eschleman – whose own creative pursuits often involve cooking and baking – said it can even be helpful to use the time you are pursuing something creative to think through work problems. For example, writing a short story may be a way to work through the frustrations of work.

The findings also suggest that companies might benefit from encouraging their workers to get creative. That could mean displaying employee art projects on the walls, hosting a baking contest or even negotiating a discount for employees who want to use the local pottery studio.

But Eschleman cautioned that employers need to make sure that staffers don't feel forced into painting a mural or writing a poem.

Also, if your job really isn’t that great, it probably won’t help that much to take up knitting after hours. Eschleman said the first thing people who are unhappy at work should probably consider is how they can get more out of their jobs.

“Creative activities aren’t going to solve everything, but it could be something that helps,” he said. 

Allison Linn is a reporter at CNBC. Follow her on Twitter @allisondlinn or send her an e-mail.