I have given a lot of thought to how to achieve a state of play in my work. Not only am I more productive, in both quantity and quality, but its more fun too. It feels a bit odd to be applying such conscious thought to constructing a playful attitude, but I believe that it is no different from professional entertainers or the people who craft a good game. Humans have a long history of structured play. Why not make our work a form of play?
caveat: I must acknowledge that these ideas will not apply to all work. If you work on an assembly line or a 7-11, you’ll need an entirely different approach. These ideas apply to those who are privileged to have work like mine, where creativity is valuable and you have some degree of freedom.
In observing myself and others in both fun and not fun situations at work, I have come up with a few rules for the game:
1. Eat Breakfast
Anyone who has spent a lot of time with very young children quickly sees the connection between mood and physiology. Tired, hungry, or sick means grumpy. The same applies to grown-ups.
2. Switch Tasks
Do something different for a little while. Something that still needs doing. Something that will make you feel better once it’s done. It may not be your #1 priority, but doing it will be fun. This is not the same as procrastinating. Fun begets fun. Sometimes once you’ve had some time successfully completing some other work in a fun and satisfying way, you can go back to your previous dreary assignment and uncover new challenges or interesting aspects that can let you sink playfully into the task.
3. Take a Walk
Even a short walk down the street or around the block can help. Get away from your desk for a few minutes, see a change the scenery, take deep breaths and give the problem a broader perspective. Walks are good for a bit of unstructured thought. A little space might give you the freedom to connect ideas or let you to consider other approaches. Even if going for a walk doesn’t generate any new insights, it will make you feel good.
Also known as being optimistic, supremely confident, or outrageously naive. Tell yourself you can do the impossible. Tell yourself to just spend 15 minutes on the problem (or an hour or whatever length of time feels short, yet still lets you dig in and get hooked).
Try something that has a very slim chance of success, tell yourself the outcome doesn’t matter, learn something from it. Do something practical near the problem area that will not lead you to solve the problem at hand. Give yourself permission to fail, to be unproductive, to be impractical for a specific span of time or in doing a specific task.
6. Change the Rules
Think about what really needs doing and what doesn’t. Make different plans. If you aren’t having fun, you aren’t working effectively, so something needs to change. Do your work in a different order. Write the conclusion first. Change the premise. There are often fewer real rules than there seem to be.