Blur The Line Between Work and Play


Many who study productivity know the balance that needs to be maintained between work and play.

Work without any play can become mundane, tedious, and non-fulfilling. But play without any work can become aimless, misguided, and unproductive.

Whether we are at work, school, or home, we should find ways to integrate playfulness and curiosity to help fuel our creativity, motivation, and commitment to whatever it is that we are doing. And although it’s been said many times before: when we are passionate about what we do, we are more likely to develop a focus that yields the best results.

Each semester during my college experience I would become immensely interested in the subjects I was learning about in class. As my passion grew, I would often be motivated to take out books from the library and look up articles on the internet that stretched well beyond the curriculum. I found it fun to learn, reflect, and ask myself deep questions about the material. I became even more interested when I found ways to apply what I learned to my everyday life. As a result of all of this, I was more likely to go to class, do my homework, study, and get good grades.

Of course, it also helped that I often chose classes that I already had a small interest for. I imagine there are some subjects that no matter how hard I try I couldn’t find the passion I needed to really get into them. I think when choosing any course of action we need to be very mindful of our values, interests, and preferences. If we try to pursue something that we are incapable of developing a passion for, then we will have a hard time stay dedicated.

So the same goes for choosing a college degree as it does for choosing a career or a new hobby or healthier habits. When we make things more entertaining, we are more likely to stick to a productive routine. Instead of thinking of going to the gym as an annoying chore, you can think “I can’t wait to finally get on that treadmill today!” (or something like that, you get the idea). It’s not about just choosing activities that you enjoy, but also making things you want to do more enjoyable – thus increasing your motivation and consistency to actually do them.

Reframing is when we think of an event from a different perspective. And when we reframe work or chores in a more fun and uplifting light this can be a powerful force in changing our behavior in productive ways. I came across a great recent example of this where a group of people redesigned stairs into a piano (that actually makes sound when you step on it). After doing this they noticed a 66% increase in people who chose to use the stairs over the escalator. Check it out.

One great example of making a tedious activity fun:

We don’t always need to be this creative when trying to make activities more fun, but examples like this are really eye-opening to the different possibilities. The more imaginative you are, the easier time you will have reframing an activity in a more enjoyable way.

Things you can start doing to make your work more like play:

  • Working with a group of friends (for example, some guidelines for group study from the University of Minnesota).
  • Listening to music, as long as it’s not distracting (for example, music makes us exercise harder).
  • Making a game out of something.
  • Decorating your workplace or changing your environment. (recent research shows it improves health, happiness and productivity).
  • Enticing yourself with a reward (although incentives work best for routine tasks, not creative problem-solving: Dan Pink’s lecture on the science of motivation)
  • Focusing on aspects of the activity you enjoy.
  • Being creative with aspects of the activity you don’t yet enjoy.
  • Joking about work-related frustrations to employees, friends, or family. (that’s joking, not complaining)
  • Seeing your work in the context of a “bigger picture” and being proud of it.
  • Being more mindful of negative self-talk while working (“I don’t want to do this. This is lame. Why is Timmy such an a-hole?”). Replace these with something more inspiring.
  • Understanding that happiness is a more productive state of mind (see happy people really do work harder).

As you can see, there are many ways we can make work more fun and enjoyable. I hope you try to integrate some of these things into your daily routine and see how they work for you.

Interesting side note, but I sometimes refer to this philosophy on work as the “Google Mentality” – because the work environment at Google is about both working hard and playing hard. Perhaps that is why they are such a successful company. Imagine how much better off the economy would be if more individuals and companies adopted this work ethic?

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