Work and Play

(This post is the first in a three-part series on Work and Play.)

There will always be more work to do than we can possibly do. Does that mean we spend all of our waking time working? Of course not. And I know it can be fun to continuously do work that absorbs us and helps us add more value to the world by devoting more time to it. But, overdoing it can be a detriment to our work.

Technology has blurred the lines between work and personal time, which is both a good and a bad thing. It’s good because we can now work from anywhere without being tied to a physical location. But, with freedom to work remotely comes great responsibility. Though technology isn’t bad in and of itself, it’s how we use it that determines how productive we are.

On the other hand, it’s bad because we’ve forgotten about the value of having clear boundaries between our work and personal times. For most of us, we’ve let our work cross the boundaries between work and play.

Our ancestors set and held clear boundaries between their work and family life, and they honored those boundaries. When they were at work, they worked. When they came back from work, they spent time renewing themselves. They would work till 5, and then they would head home to “play” — spend time with family/friends, unwind, read, or whatever. In other words, they had a fixed schedule in broad terms. They knew 9–5 was work, while the rest of the time was meant for renewal; ditto with weekends, which were off from work as well. As a result, they never suffered from burnout and stress.

Robert Owen, a social reformer during the 19th century, has been attributed to having started the eight-hour movement to have people work no more than 8 hours per day. His slogan was “Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest”. I think having clear boundaries between work and personal time is required to ensure that we make time for all three of those areas without thinking about it.

I don’t believe in work-life balance; I believe in work-life separation. I call it Work and Play. Work and Play are two sides of the same coin. Work is the more reflective thinking state, and Play is the doing state. One is not a substitute for the other. You need both to live a life of balance. Work and Play are both vital to living a fuller, richer life.

Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher and poet said:

In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be fully present.

Well, we know that Work is needed to live a life of fulfillment and sufficiency, as it is our innate human desire to feel significant, meaningful, and purpose-driven.

Play is essential for doing better work for a variety of reasons (not just work), and it is also vital to living a fuller, richer life.

In order to avoid problems in the short- and long-term, we want to spend sufficient time working and playing. You need to get away from things (work) and renew yourself (by taking a holiday for instance) in order to come back fully refueled and engaged. Also, play is crucial to avoid suffering from burnout and stress; more on this later.

Don’t bring Work into your Play, and vice versa. I wrote about keeping them separate in Boundaries.

I define Work as the thing you’re passionate about that adds value to the world and lets you live a life of sufficiency.

Work is where we spend the majority of our waking lives doing things that matter and help change the world for the better. Showing up every day and doing the work is part of being a pro. But, it is imperative that we do work that matters in a way that is sustainable without burning out in the short term.

Your Work could be your legacy project that you give to the world while living a life of sufficiency. It’s the thing you’ll be most known for when all is said and done. I know, at least for me, this weblog is part of my legacy project, as stated in an earlier post.

By doing work that matters, we give ourselves purpose, mastery, and autonomy; these are traits that you can later leverage in exchange for career capital.

Making money is not a bad thing. We all need money to achieve a base level of happiness. The problem occurs when making money becomes the goal or the reason for doing the work, as opposed to being a result of doing great work.

I define Play as the time we spend to renew ourselves after a hard day’s work. For me, that time is typically between 5 and 10 every weeknight, and most of the time on the weekends.

Play is time spent for leisure and recreation, such as socializing with family and friends, learning new skills, pursuing hobbies, reading, listening to music, watching films, and doing fun things (not to suggest that work is not fun).

Play can also be spending time with yourself in the form of solitude or with others. It can mean doing things that you care about. It is the thing that you look forward to at the end of the work day. Personally, I know that during the end of a typical workday, I like to relax and unwind in the company of a good book, spend some time with friends and family, and maybe even watch an hour of internet content on my television.

This is not to suggest that you can’t have play times during Work — sure you can. “Play” is different than “play”. Play is what I call “downtime” — time spent away from work, whereas play could occur multiple times a day when we’re engaged and focused in our work; others call it Flow. Basically, it’s when we lose track of time because we’re so engaged/engrossed in our work; “play” also occurs in the form of frequent breaks that are required for self-renewal through our work day. I wrote about the value of taking breaks in a given workday.

The quality of your Play is more important than what you do with it. As long as you find joy in that thing you do, who’s to say that it’s not fun. And, last but not least, Play is guilt-free by definition, or at least it’s supposed to be.

Most of us don’t spend enough time away from Work. We could all do better in terms of having more Play in our day. There are a few reasons why you want more Play in your life:

  • You can solve pressing issues at work during Play. When you’re playing, the solution suddenly hits you, and you’re struck by its simplicity and profundity, knowing that the solution was there all along.

  • Think of Play as a source of self-renewal. Time spent on Play makes you excited about your Work the next day. It reenergizes you so you get back to work the next day more renewed, inspired, and excited.

  • Life’s a marathon that is made up of a series of sprints. Like an athlete, we function best when we alternate between Work (effort) and Play (rest/recovery). That means taking regular breaks at work, which also serves as moments of play here and there. Working in 90-minute intervals can help you get work done and take breaks frequently.

  • We tend to overwork ourselves in the short term and become burnt out. Rather, if we work less in a manner that is both consistent and sustainable in the short term, we gain momentum, and, as a result, amazing things can happen in the long term as a result of doing those things consistently. Don’t underestimate the power of doing few things consistently every day.

  • We tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in a given day and underestimate what we can accomplish in a week or longer. Don’t give yourself more than 1–3 essential things to do in a given day. Even better, plan your day/week in terms of your areas of focus. For more on that, I suggest reading Get Work Done.

  • When we spend time renewing ourselves by doing things we like to do apart from Work, our mind subconsciously works to find and solve problems.

  • Ironically, spending time Playing helps us do our Work better. Regardless of whether we are more introverted than extroverted or vice versa, we all need some solitude in our lives.

We all need to practice Work and Play effectively over the course of our lives. It’s in our best interests to do both in a manner that is consistent and sustainable to our well-being.

Both Work and Play are part of a self-sustaining cycle. Both are required, and neither works well without the other.

In the next post, I wrote about why it’s essential to create boundaries between Work and Play in order to practice both effectively.

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