My observations of the homeless I care for has been extremely helpful in writing about the period of homelessness in my novel's main character's life. (Yes, my first novel, though not the first I started on.) Observing both patients and staff has given me insight into personalities, and some of the stories I have heard from patients would be fodder for great stories. It is indeed hard to believe what people do every day.
And, being in a largely male profession, I have had the opportunity to observe men up close. One colleague who read a few pages of a draft commented that he was surprised how much I understood of the male mind. Another commented that he could feel the character's beard growing. Likewise, seeing people from other cultures has given me insight into how to write about a given culture.
The downside of working is the time commitment, which means that I don't write every day. I wish I could, but I'm often just too tired after the kids are asleep. But, I observe, I read or just reflect on writing everyday. I have also noticed that I have learned a tremendous amount about my subject on facebook by becoming involved in groups on the topic about which I am writing my novel. Time limitation is the main reason that my blog posts are so sporadic.
Perhaps writing classes have been the most distracting when they are off topic and too directed. Yet, I know that learning craft also has a role, so have tolerated the absence from my novel, knowing that I will come back more skilled and will be able to revise my work with new eyes. And some of the directed assignments may grow into stories someday.
So, in a sense, I'm constantly working on my writing, even when I'm doing other things.