‘We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.’ – George Bernard Shaw
By Leo Babauta
For too many people, work is drudgery.
They dread going to work each day, procrastinate on doing tasks they’d really rather not do, and generally aren’t excited about doing tasks and projects assigned to them by someone else.
The problem is that they’ve found work to be boring, hard, repetitive, stressful. What they need to discover (or rediscover in some cases) is the concept of work as play.
It’s something that has changed my life, and the lives of many others like me.
Work doesn’t have to be boring — it can be exciting, something you look forward to, an outlet for your creativity and imagination. It can be play.
One of the problems is that for many of us, school was designed to prepare us for the working world, and as such it was designed to teach us to work in ways that are boring. It’s like eating your spinach (which I actually love as an adult) — you do it because it’s good for you. We did our homework and seatwork and drills because they were good for us.
Well, the fun of learning and doing was drilled right out of us. And as adults, we were told we had to work hard to get ahead, that work wasn’t fun but that’s just how life is.
Life is what you make of it. It can be drudgery, or it can be play. Or something else entirely.
I’ve discovered the concept of work as play, mostly because I’ve become my own boss, and can pick what I want to work on, and set my own schedule. As a result, I work on things that excite me, that I’m passionate about, and it’s fun. If something is drudgery, I either drop it or find a way to make it play.
As a result, I work harder than ever, but it’s exciting and fun. I pour myself into my work, and can’t wait to do it.
Turning work into play doesn’t mean you don’t work hard, or that you never do boring tasks. If you’ve ever played a sport, you know that you work as hard as anyone when you’re playing or practicing — but that’s no problem, because you’re having a blast doing it.
Learning is the same way — it can be boring and soul-crushingly repetitive, or it can be interesting and joyful and consume all our free time. I know when I become absorbed with learning about something, I can get caught up in it for days and learn vast amounts of information and skills, without once thinking it’s hard or boring. That almost never happened when I was at school, because they made it work, and I wasn’t in control of what I learned.
So there are a few elements that can help turn work into play:
- Freedom. If you set your own schedule and are able to work on or learn about what you’re interested in and excited about, it can be play. If someone else tells you what to do and when, you won’t be as excited or interested or motivated.
- Excitement. Again, follow your passions. Don’t be restrained. If something isn’t interesting, move on to something that is. Don’t force things.
- Playing with others. While I like to play with myself, playing with others can be so much more fun sometimes. And yes, I know that sounds dirty. Read it as you like.
- Pour yourself into it. You can skip from one thing to another, and that’s fine, but you might never accomplish anything that way. I find that when I get excited and really pour myself into a project, I can accomplish a lot and have a ton of fun doing it.
- Showing off. One of the reasons boys like sports so much is because they get to show off for girls (and at a younger age, for their mothers). There’s nothing wrong with this — I think we’re hardwired to want to look good in front of our peers (or the opposite sex). When you’re going to make something public, it’s exciting and fun (see how I’m doing my new book project, for example).
There are other elements of play, but these are enough to get you started. Some further thoughts:
- Coaches. Are you drilling skills into your players? Stop! You’re teaching a game, so teach it by letting them play games. Let them play, but structure the play so it’s not only fun, but instructive.
- Teachers and parents. Are you drilling knowledge and skills into your students or children? Stop! Learning should be fun, and it really is when the child is allowed to have fun, to play, to explore, to create as he wishes, to learn about whatever he’s interested in at the moment. Don’t make it unfun. See the concept of unschooling for more.
- Bosses. Are you forcing your employees to do drudgery type work? Do you control everything they do and when they do it? Stop! Give them freedom! Give them control over their work. Allow them to pursue things they’re interested in. When people can pursue things they’re excited about, when they can turn work into play, amazing things happen.
- Employees. Is your work drudgery? Turn it into play! If you are stuck in a job where you absolutely cannot turn work into play, look elsewhere. There’s more out there.
I can’t stress the importance of work as play enough. It has turned my life into something joyful, it’s allowed me to create and accomplish so much more than ever before, and I love every minute of it. I wish you nothing less than this simple happiness.
‘Work and play are words used to describe the same thing under differing conditions.’ – Mark Twain