One of the things I coach clients on is how to add more play into their work. Everyone loves the idea… but thinks they can’t do it.

“I’m not paid just to mess around” – they say.


“Work isn’t fun!”

Most people simply imagine that adding some extra play into their worklife is just about making it easier, and more relaxed. We’d all love that, but if I had something to share that would make everyone’s work easier I’d already be on the books of every company in the world. Because every company is looking for ways to make their work simpler and easier – or to use the commercial terminology: more efficient.

But Play isn’t about making work easier. That would generally result in the task become more boring and repetitive – and a raised expectation of getting more of it done. Moving from craft jobs to a production line makes a creator’s work easier, but more fulfilling? I doubt it!

The internal contradiction is that adding play almost always involves adding additional challenges – and yet people willingly adopt them.

Let’s look at some examples

Let’s go back to our factory worker for a moment. Adding play wouldn’t be finding the easiest, most efficient way to get 12 buns into a packet, removing all extraneous movement (rather than adding play, that sounds like subtracting something to me!) – though it’s possible play could be a route to discovering this method. Play would normally make things harder.

  • How about trying to get 12 buns into a packet while standing on one leg?
  • What if you made a specific silly noise after each bun makes it into the packet?

In each case that’s one more action to remember to coordinate. Suddenly, your work has just got more taxing.  And yet… and yet it is also more fun.

Let’s turn to those outside factories, where the efficiency / simplicity model is less apparent.

Even if you’re a lecturer, working with other people rather than buns, adding play might initially seem regrettably adding to your burdens. You could just talk to the class, making them listen in silence. Easy for you, and the way it was done for many years. Or you could add pop quiz questions, or get everyone out onto the lawn to enact the principle you’re discussing. You know what? That would make your life harder, a bit less peaceful.

But people add these elements of play, because they want the challenge. They want to overcome a hurdle they’ve set themselves, and really connect to their work. And, yes, it can not only make the work more fun, and make it go faster, but also tend towards more effective and efficient work. This is not a zero-sum game!


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