When you sit down in the morning to start yet another day at work, do you have a feeling of curiosity, enthusiasm and playful optimism about the tasks ahead? Or do you feel overwhelmed, anxious or bored? Having fun at work and cultivating a sense of play in the workplace can help us be more productive, creative and innovative in our daily tasks.
What is play?
What is a state of play? Pinning down a definition is difficult, and yet every human being has an intuitive understanding of a state of play as opposed to “real life.” Play is a mindset: it has more to do with your motivation and attitude than a specific activity. You can be playful while doing anything, from washing the dishes to building a model airplane. A playful mindset is one that is relaxed, creative, imaginative and in flow.
The value of play and having fun at work has been researched and proven time and time again. Tim Brown, CEO of the firm IDEO, did a great TED Talk about it and tech startups and giants (like Google) have turned entire offices into play parks to help their employees think more creatively.
We all want to experience more joy, freedom, creativity and flow, and it all starts with the way you think. Luckily, there are also certain activities that feel more inherently playful and practicing these help us to train our brains to be in a more playful state more often. From games to making music to playing sports, anything that brings us to a mental state that is more relaxed and creative can help us to achieve a more playful state.
How you think about your world transforms your experience of it. It’s all about reminding ourselves that life—real life that we live moment to moment— is not that serious at all. After all, we’re really just little thinking animals playing with gadgets and trying to play together without pissing each other off too much. It all depends on how you choose to look at it.
Start having fun at work by first just deciding to do it. Then, practice some of these playful activities. And remember you always have choice, so adapt and change these suggestions to fit your specific needs.
The 8 great ways to have fun at work
1. Schedule play into your day
Life is full of distractions, and maintaining a state of play is going to require dedication. Give yourself a time slot every day that you only use for playful exploration—no required output, no expectation, no pressure. Just play. Use this hour or two to do something that you enjoy, and set the intention that you want to do it in a way that is playful.
Allow yourself to create freely, and don’t judge your output in any way. What you create here is not as important as the fact that you should enjoy the creating. Kurt Vonnegut wrote this inspiring letter to a group of high school students where he encouraged them to make art without worrying too much about the outcome. His suggestion?
- Write a six line poem
- Make sure it rhymes
- Don’t show it to anyone
- Tear it up and throw the pieces in separate bins
Other activities you can try on your own or with your team:
- Start your day “The Office”-style by recording a quick interview about how you’re feeling. Channel your inner Ricky Gervais (now there’s a man who has a lot of fun in the workplace!) and share it with your colleagues.
- Draw a quick cartoon to express your state of mind about a project or task. It’ll help you understand yourself and others better and help you identify what makes you feel more intimidated or inspired.
- Have a sing-along at the beginning or end of the day. Pick a song that’s uplifting and participate by drumming on the table, playing air guitar or bellowing the high notes at the top of your lungs.
No matter what you do, do it because you enjoy the creating and the process. The sillier, the better!
2. Use creative mantras
Mantras are powerful reminders and a great tool to change the story you tell yourself. Write your own—one that makes you feel happy, relaxed, free and confident—and repeat it to yourself as often as you can. Decide what it means to you to be playful and say it out loud so you can hear it. Don’t worry about sounding silly, that’s the whole point!
You can apply this to any task in your life. Mantras that I use include: I am playful, I am kind, I am free, I am curious. I enjoy doing weird things that don’t make sense to anyone else (like making up silly mantras) and it doesn’t actually matter at all!
Mantras are once again about setting an intention, so it’s also a great tool to use before you start a meeting. Set an intention that everyone can agree to (“When we discuss we communicate effectively, clearly and welcome different points of view. We also laugh together.”) and say it out loud.
3. Make having fun at work your #1 purpose
Seems obvious, right? Don’t take anything you do too seriously. This is about the joy of the process of learning. With this mindset, even failure becomes just another rung on the ladder, something we can look at with appreciation.
Fast failure means learning how to fail well and is one of the most effective ways to create a better creative output. As long as you’re having fun, you’re always succeeding. Almost every job can and should be fun, just ask Mary Poppins!
4. Change your environment with creative reminders
Start changing your work environment with little reminders of what brings you joy. Stick them to your computer screen. Put them in your diary. Every time you look at them, remind yourself how you felt when you created them: free and creative. Then, remind yourself to recreate that feeling at other points during your day. Maybe that graphic is the first step of an even bigger project. You won’t know if you put it in a drawer somewhere.
It’s really about reminding yourself in a million small ways that you can enjoy anything like a kid. But, you don’t even have to create something to start reminding yourself to be playful. Be excited to discover new joys in familiar things. The light catches your desk a little differently every day as the seasons change. Try to see magic in the mundane.
Here are some other ideas you can try out:
- Write your to-do lists as limericks. You could even work this into the minutes for your next meeting if you’re brave enough!
- Turn your inbox into a soap opera or a fantasy. Save your contacts under alter egos that make you smile.
- Leave yourself fun quotes. From Dr. Seuss to Roald Dahl, find anything that makes you smile and reminds you to not take life so damn seriously.
- Share your quirky observations on life with your colleagues. You’ll be amazed at how we’re all uniquely different, but also essentially exactly the same.
5. Do playful rituals before you start a difficult task
As you practice these tips, you might find that certain things get you into a playful state faster than others. Start combining these into short rituals that you can practice before you start with a difficult task.
It could be his simple:
- Read your mantra.
- Repeat it to yourself.
- Draw a little picture on a post-it note and stick it to your computer screen.
- Look at the job at hand, quote Simba from the Lion King: “I laugh in the face of danger. Hahahaha!”. (And then laugh. It’s important.)
Or it could be elaborate:
- Build a cave out of blankets where you can work.
- Spend time to make a playlist that inspires you and puts you in a good mood.
- Do a silly dance routine. And then laugh. (This is not a serious exercise. It is meant to bring you joy.)
The ritual doesn’t really matter, it’s just another reminder for you to slip into that mindset where you feel free, safe and curious enough to create. Now start with that difficult task. Is it really that difficult, or just a series of small, manageable tasks that can in their own way actually be a lot of… fun?
6. Allow yourself to dream and ask “what if” questions
Asking questions can be scary and liberating at the same time. It’s simply a process of wondering about the alternatives, and what’s the harm in that?
Wondering about different possibilities can open your mind to options that seemed impossible before. Working only four hours a week must have seemed preposterous to Tim Ferris the first time he thought about it, and yet now it has not only turned into his reality, but also his livelihood. Dreaming about alternatives can also lead to accidental solutions that might solve a completely different set of problems—like unintended scientific discoveries, for example.
Wonder about what it would be like have play rooms to meet in instead of board rooms. Imagine a meeting where all the directors and creatives can sit on the floor, barefoot, with crayons and pieces of paper to get their ideas across. Does that idea make you nervous? Or excited?
Try thinking of new ways of doing, and then apply them in small ways that can help you be more playful, innovative and fun at work. Make time to imagine different realities, and then see how they become more and more possible.
7. Repeat, repeat, repeat
This whole post is about changing the way you think, and the only way to do that is through the practice of repetition. It’s how we program our brains. All of these suggestions are worthless if you don’t commit to repeating them every day. Try it for a week, and see the difference. Ask yogis, mystics, athletes and musicians how they achieved their goals, and they will all tell you the same thing: practice, practice, practice. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Practice is fast failure in action. Every time you repeat an action and you evaluate the outcome, you can adjust your practice in small ways to make it more effective. Trying something and seeing how and why it doesn’t work is always a step in the right direction, so the result of every repetition becomes less important.
That’s why practice doesn’t necessarily mean that every repetition must be the same. In fact, it shouldn’t be. Every time you change it up slightly. Every moment is new and fresh, so why can’t your practice be, too?
8. Do whatever you do with pure abandon
When I see children fully engrossed in play, there is one thing that makes it especially charming and engaging. They play with abandon. They are in that moment fighting a dragon, jumping over lava, risking their lives.
When last did you do something with abandon and released everything you’re feeling? When last did you scream into the wind? Jump of a cliff? Pursued something with all your heart, acknowledging the risk and accepting it? When last did you allow yourself to simply express you?
Find a thing. It could be as simple as eating ice cream every day for a week. Or as big as an industry-changing project.
Choose something, and go for it. With abandon. And see your world change.
What’s your favorite to be creative and play at work? Let us know in the comments below!
This article was written by Maria Cronjé