[Guest Blog] How to Expand Your Free Time While Volunteering in Time-consuming Activities

This post has been republished via RSS; it originally appeared at: New blog articles in Microsoft Tech Community.

As IT Pros with busy day jobs, we often feel the need to find interesting things to do during pockets of free time in order to break the mundane work routine. Yet, the challenge is choosing what to do within a very tight timeslot. 


For me, when I get to work, I typically start my day giving computer science courses as an assistant professor, conducting scientific research as a senior researcher, taking care of mentees as a student supervisor, and manage many other administrative tasks.


After work, when I get home, I need to take care of my two little children, as well as all the other things a young mom in Algeria is typically expected to do for her family - housekeeping, cooking, playing with kids, and preparing for work the next day. With this very busy schedule, I should never have to complain about routine. My day is so full that I can’t even feel boredom. However, there's always this nagging feeling within me that I need to find something meaningful and fun to add to my routine. 


Sure, like most other people, I have hobbies. My interests include reading, traveling, baking pastries, playing board games, social interaction, as well as learning and sharing knowledge. The last two are the key reasons why I chose teaching & research as my main job.


I often think to myself, "How do I satisfy all my diverse interests in the limited free time that I have?" I could never find an answer to that... that is, until I started volunteering.


The main part of my volunteering activities was with university clubs. This is where the combination of energy, motivation, and creativity reaches the apogee. The way young students brainstorm their ideas, create projects, organize events with very limited resources but with huge impact and success never fails to amaze me. To date, I have served as a coach during hackathons, a judge for tech competitions, and as a speaker for scientific events. Here's what I've learnt from all these experiences: You always end up receiving more than you give. Through these volunteering opportunities, I had the privilege to meet amazing people, expand my professional network, and share fun moments with others in the community. 


FB_IMG_1568294800686.jpgStudent Mentorship during "Imtiyaz Day" for professional and academic orientation.


Then, I decided to further challenge myself by taking the stage and becoming a serial speaker for a larger group in the community. In a local event called “Talks for Brains”, I was invited to explain the contribution of computer science in helping medical research. Under the topic of “rethinking entrepreneurship” at Wikistages El-Oued,  I tried to convince the young audience to see each project in life as an opportunity to make a profit, but not necessarily monetary profit. The greatest profit one can have to the ability to develop a true entrepreneurial spirit.


During “Social Media Camp”, I shared best practice of building your own brand. The challenge this time was to address more or less societal issues to an audience comprising from a wide mix of backgrounds (not only IT). This is where I could use my skills of social interactions to make complicated things easy to understand. I often use board games and hands-on activities to illustrate how to solve hard situations by logical thinking. I also share analogies between the way we play the game and the pattern we need to use for solving problems. You can often tell who is not ready to learn new skills just by observing them while playing a game party. 


The benefit of speaking at conferences is that I get to travel and discover local culture. However, the absolute best part of it is to share each incredible journey with my family and teach my kids through these experiences on how to be an active member helpful for (and also helped by) the community.


2019-09-16 (1) - Copy.jpgAttendees learning through games at Social Media Camp


My instinct of learning and sharing hits me again to think about enrolling in international activities. I’ve joined many mentoring platform including (Microsoft Community Mentors Program, mentor100kwomen...), served as judge for innovative competitions (Technovation Girls, Curiosity Machine), and accepted a consulting position as an academic and research advisor at IEACON. I discovered through the projects I was reviewing/coaching about the very tough challenges other countries are facing. I also learnt how a solution is always possible no matter how big the problem is or how limited the resources are. I concluded that creativity is not only for little hobbies like crafting or baking, but mainly for building a project from scratch with small budget to solve a serious problem and have a big impact in the community, especially when you have very basic technology background.


BaySplash.jpgBaySplash volunteering day at San Francisco


Next stage in volunteering action was to do things not related to computer science or technology in general like cooking/selling food to collect money for people in need, planting trees for the planet, or engaging in activities for undeserved community. Each experience was enriching and inspiring on how alone I could do nothing but together we could have great impact.


Between all the lines where I shared my volunteering actions and the first question where I try to find extra free-time to practice my hobbies, the answer is now obvious: I don’t need any! I could do it all (or most of it) through volunteering: I have traveled, shared great moments with my family, eat and cook food, played board games, and most importantly giving back to my community even so little. Eventually, I can trade my list of hobbies by one activity : volunteering; because volunteering not only helped me to shape my personal and professional life, but also make it possible to have fun while working.


Now, all what you need to do to make this recipe work for you as well is:

  • Pick the volunteering actions you want to be part of (i.e. considering your values, your competencies, and your entertaining interests). Think about actions that can make you valuable to the community while having fun. There is no best way to be impactful than engaging willingly. 
  • During volunteering, make community engagement your main priority. Personal interests are subsidiary, but you will definitely end up having both.
  • Find the right time to do it. Often, volunteering events tend to be held during weekends. Pick the ones which don’t negatively impact your social/professional life (leaving family, missing important tasks at job...). You can also set up your volunteering agenda (2 hours weekly for online volunteering, one event/trip monthly…).
  • Make sure to get other people involved as well, and always remember Muhammed Ali’s quote “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth”.

sahara.pngService to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth


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