Playful Work

Jumping into Work with Joy

How to create playful success at work

I stared into the faces of my colleagues and friends at a mastermind retreat. Through the tears streaming down my face, I said: “I’m so frustrated with how I manage my time and that parts of my work feel like such a chore. I know I’m making a significant difference, but I’m frustrated that I’m working so hard and exerting so much effort.” 

In response, they encouraged me to embrace my playful and creative nature.

My mind flashed back to all the exciting gatherings I had created. I have so many memories of these times, like hosting a “Bring Your Best-Dressed Spud” Halloween party where friends dressed up potatoes, and we handed out prizes for the best-dressed spud. This party left all of us rolling on the floor amid our howls of laughter.  

I remember the countless artist retreats that my husband and I went on, renting forest service cabins in the mountains. I would work on illustrations for my greeting card designs while my husband, a professional musician and recording engineer, would spend hours with his guitar.

Then there was the full-moon rafting trip late one summer where we went down the river in the company of good friends and the larger-than-life harvest moon.

It’s obvious to anyone who knows me well that I have a creative and playful side. “But come on,” I thought. “There’s a difference between play and work; they’re pretty much on opposite ends of the spectrum.” But are they? 

In his book, “Free Play,” Stephen Nachmanovitch writes about the sheer joy of playing. He describes play as a state of mind where we focus on the process rather than the destination. He encourages us to recognize the act of play in and of itself as the destination.

Remember a time when life proceeded at a slower pace? Is this why when we were younger, our days seemed to stretch out endlessly as opposed to our lives as adults, where we rush frenetically through the day, and each year flies by faster and faster? Is it because we’re so focused on the end result and getting somewhere that we’re not truly present for the task at hand?  

I realized when I’m coaching clients or teaching classes, I have an experience I would describe as bliss, aliveness and presence. Often, after I finish my coaching days, I’ll sit on my couch looking out at the mountains, feeling the energy and joy of my connections from the day. 

But the details of my work and running a business — that was another thing entirely. After talking to my colleagues, I found myself filled with inspiration and confidence. 

Before I began working, I would say out loud, “I am setting the intention to play, have fun and be creative at work today. I trust that this can be a fun process. I set the intention to notice when my work isn’t fun and then ask myself how I can change what I’m doing to make it more fun and playful.”

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Believe it or not, coincidences started unfolding. While working on an outline for a speaking engagement proposal I noticed my left brain kicking in and the taskmaster in me saying I needed to do more research and think about my proposal before sending it off.  

Because I had set the intention in advance to notice when I didn’t feel like I was playing or having fun, I was aware that my neck began to tighten. After noticing the tension, I told myself, “Well, I feel like I’ve done enough writing on this proposal. This no longer feels fun and playful, and my sense is that I don’t need a huge amount of detail in my proposal. It’s good enough as it is.” With that, I hit send. A few hours later, I received an email congratulating me on securing the speaking engagement. I just laughed. Was it possible for work to be this easy and playful?

I started applying this approach to other aspects of my business. When it came to selecting a guest for my upcoming radio show, I decided to allow my mind to be quiet and to see what kind of inspiration came to me. 

Normally, my radio show has focused on the practical sides of managing money, but I knew I wanted to talk about how we approach life on an internal level affects our external income. I had an instant insight about who I would invite. The radio interview was not only exciting and fun, but I received positive feedback from listeners.

When submitting an article for the International Chicken Soup for the Soul Series, I set the intention for my writing to be fun, playful and easy. I wrote my story in 90 minutes. I looked it over, decided it was good enough and promptly hit send. Several weeks later, I received an email that my piece had been chosen for publication.

I’m starting to notice if I’m integrating the spirit of play into my work. It’s been fulfilling, and results have been occurring with greater ease. I feel like a modern-day alchemist who once had a stack of straw that has now been turned into a pile of gold.

Where could you benefit from setting the intention to integrate a more playful spirit with how you manage your time in your business and life? Where are you currently feeling stress and tension in your work or life? Is it around managing your team? Having accountability conversations? Getting work projects completed on time without feeling too stressed? Running errands? Prioritizing your health and your time?

Wherever it is, clearly identify it. Before starting that activity, state your intention out loud.   

Notice when the activity no longer feels playful in the moment and then ask yourself what you can do to make it so. And remember — lighten up and have fun. The true spirit of play is about the process and not the result.