What happens when you play at work?

Mary Poppins silhouette

I’m not talking about table tennis in the office. How do you view your work?

Is it a daily grind – something you need to get through to pay the bills and get to the weekend?

Is it fun? Does it get you buzzing?

I’ve been thinking about this a LOT recently – how I can work most productively, and get the best results. I’ve spent years feeling that for work to be any good it has to involve strife, long hours and churning out lots of things you don’t particularly want to. And it’s not surprising – here are some of the synonyms for ‘work’, according to oxforddictionaries.com:

Slog. Effort. Drudgery.

Bah.

I’ve come to realise that I write best when I work playfully. My favourite and most inspiring teacher, Rose, planted this seed 15 years ago, though I didn’t understand then – I was too schooled in the ‘work=pain’ tradition. Sorry it’s taken me so long, Rose…

I’ve also been watching a lot of Mary Poppins with my children recently, which has enlightened me. Here’s what Mary has to say on the matter:

In ev’ry job that must be done
There is an element of fun
You find the fun and snap!
The job’s a game.

What happens when you frame your work as play?

  • It takes the pressure off. There’s no failure if you’re playing, the point is the process, not the outcome. Yes, in the end you need an outcome – the work will have to get done. But what happens if you give yourself a window where that doesn’t matter? How does that change your thinking?
  • It’s creative. You get to look at something in a new way. There’s not a defined purpose so you’re not restricted by what you ‘should’ be doing. A problem that was dragging you down can become an interesting puzzle which you can solve one way or another.
  • You can let your mind roam free. This recharges it – rather than hammer the task into submission, going playful on it can let your brain quietly work it out in the background – and if the Harvard Business Review says so, it must be true.
  • You feel better. A definition of play is ‘something you choose to do for amusement’. Words matter, they affect how you think. Labelling your work as play, even just for a while, puts you back in control. You are not a drone – you are choosing to do this thing.

Treating work playfully doesn’t mean being unprofessional about it – work still gets done, on time, even the dull bits. But I’ve found it actually gets done better. And you’re happier. Double win.

So, here’s my challenge to you…

How can you be more playful about your work? Can you give yourself 20 minutes a day (or even 5?) where you treat your work as play? Can you re-frame how you’re thinking about your work and see where it takes you?

If you love what you do anyway, can you try doing it differently or in a new place? Can you ask someone to join you and bounce ideas around?

What would Mary Poppins do? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

2 Replies to “What happens when you play at work?

  1. Very well written words about something that most of us forget…..humans learn through play no matter how young or old we are! Myself and a colleague were only talking about this recently at work, we decided that we needed more play and should encourage others to do the same….

    1. Thanks Philippa! Sadly, I think it gets drummed out of us, but I definitely think my best work happens when I handle it lightly. Seriously, professionally (of course!), but playfully too.

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