Bob Keeshan, also known as Captain Kangaroo, said, “Play is the work of children.”
Most adults I know use play time as a reward for getting work done. Play becomes an incentive. It’s like a carrot. It works well for racehorses, and often works well for humans as well. For many, to play before the work is done often brings a great deal of guilt. Sound familiar?
Now, when I talk about play, I’m talking in a broad sense about the things that bring you amusement, enjoyment or relaxation and are often considered fun. You know, the stuff that’s first to get cut when something else more “urgent” comes up or when the to-do list grows out of control. They’re the things you love to do, just because. Gardening. Golfing. Scrapbooking. Baking. Fishing. Reading. Writing. Painting. Walking. Sightseeing. Sleeping, too. And yes, even sex.
Vacations are included, too, as they are usually extended periods of time that include many of the previous activities.
The problem is this: the work is never done. There’s always another email to be checked. There’s always a project around the house that needs doing. There’s always a junk drawer somewhere that needs to be de-junked.
“Work first; play later” often turns into “Work first; play never.”
Don’t get me wrong. I am saddened by our culture’s incessant need for instant gratification. I am not against hard work and I am not advocating a slacker’s mentality. I think using incentives as inspiration to create new habits, or slog through a tedious project or exercise routine is a great strategy.
I just don’t think play should be used as an incentive.
Our world is getting busier, not slower. Stress is increasing, not decreasing. We need play now more than ever. Recreation is not a reward, it is a necessity. To “recreate” literally means “to bring to existence again; refresh mentally or physically; revive.” Play literally builds us back up, fills our cup, and allows us to have more to give.
Play is the miracle drug we’ve been looking for!
But that guilt thing is HUGE. It paints for us a scenario straight out of a Highlights magazine: Goofus lays on the couch eating Cheetoes and watching reality TV as bills go unpaid while Gallant works three jobs to support his family and 17 stray cats.
I know people who run themselves ragged for a cause, in the well-intentioned quest to help others. They see taking time for themselves to play as selfish, especially with so many people in need. It saddens me to see them making less of an impact than they could be.
If your work (as an employee, entrepreneur, parent, teacher, adovate, etc.) really is important to you, then your emphasis on play should be equally so. We work best — we are our best selves — when we are coming from a place of energy. When your work has you running on fumes, whether your work is finishing report due by Friday, organizing a fundraiser, or finding a job, the best solution is not to press harder until the work is done, but to step back, remove yourself from the situation for a brief time, and just play. Play allows us to disconnect from our current challenges, recharges our batteries, and creates an opportunity for new connections to be made in our subconscious mind. Connections that help solve problems that have may have been plaguing you for weeks, months, or years.
No one has ever contributed anything of value from a place of exhaustion and burnout.
Quite frankly, if you are not scheduling in regular time for play, your work is suffering. You are not performing as well as you could be. Your impact is drastically minimized.
If you are waiting to play until after the work is done, you might want to try a different strategy.
Play first, work better.
Seems crazy, but it just might work.