I play with pickaxes, swords and chickens.
You see, I’m a gamer.
At last month’s family gathering, I found out that my 6-year-old nephew likes Minecraft, too, a game where you manipulate pixelated blocks of stone to build castles and fight creepers.
After two hours of play and my mother-in-law’s subtle hints to let her grandkid play in the yard, I remembered why I now limit my screen time.
In my early 20s I’d fritter away whole weekends in my bachelor apartment, gaming in my boxers. (Sorry ladies, I’m taken.) Then I’d spend all week at work thinking about next weekend’s virtual adventures.
The nostalgia session with my nephew made me wonder: Why do many of us dislike work, but have the discipline to play 1,500 rounds of Angry Birds without a bathroom break?
Start ‘Em Young
“Here, memorize these dates or you’ll end up living in a van down by the river!”
I just summarized Western education; you’re welcome.
Our disdain for discipline starts soon after our first day of school and grows as the stakes are artificially inflated. We’re taught to pass arbitrary tests, but not why work matters.
We learn that work is drudgery, something that’s reinforced when we enter The Real World.
How do we opt out? You could always sell your worldly possessions and live in a Bhutanese monastery. (I hear it’s tricky to get a visa.)
But it’s far easier to change your mindset.
I propose a platform we can all get behind: Make Work Fun Again. Let me show you how.
1. Get clear on your “why.”
“The question we should be asking is not ‘How do I stop suffering?’ but ‘Why am I suffering—for what purpose?’” —Mark Manson
When I quit smoking after 15 years, it was easy.
I failed with the previous nine attempts because I didn’t have a compelling reason to stop.
Friends warned me about losing years of my life, and I hated smelling like an ashtray, but I kept smoking because I loved that first filthy drag.
One day I got sick of being a slave to the addiction. Taking back control of my life was a powerful reason to quit, and I haven’t had a puff in seven years.
With a powerful why, you need no discipline to chase what you want. Whether it’s pursuing a love interest or a dream job, or deciding to play hooky, if the result is valuable enough, you’ll buckle down and get it done.
Take time to get to know your reasons.
2. Gamify work.
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” —George Bernard Shaw
We grow up and fall in love with sports or video games, and if we’re lucky, never outgrow these passions. What is YouTube’s bread and butter? Pranks, extreme sports and feats of fitness. We all love to play (or at least watch).
If you make work a game, you’ll never work another day in your life.
Gamification takes mundane tasks and adds play elements, like point scoring. For me, crossing off to-do list items gives me a hit of the “doing” hormone dopamine that’s as strong as a triple shot of espresso.
Not a to-do list fanatic? Habitica is free app that turns you into a role-playing hero. Create an avatar and set goals, and you’ll progress through levels for real life accomplishments like hitting the gym.
What about the dishes? Like Will Ferrell says in Elf, “Anything’s a toy if you play with it.” Pick up a plate and enjoy watching the soap bubbles swirl; experiment with the most efficient way to load the drying rack. Enjoy your new toys.
3. Test work styles.
“Style is something each of us already has, all we need to do is find it.” —Diane von Furstenberg
I do my best work in the early morning with long stretches of quiet. My wife is most creative in the evening. Some people need to gab for an hour before work and others only work behind closed doors.
Experiment with different work styles and you’ll find one that makes discipline feel effortless.
Here’s what your experiment could look like:
- Day 1: Rise an hour early and work on one project.
- Day 2: Stay up an hour later to work.
- Day 3: Use the Pomodoro method all day.
- Day 4: Work without a timer and let your natural rhythms guide your work.
- Day 5: Do important tasks in the morning.
- Day 6: Do routine tasks in the morning.
You can also experiment with working inside or outdoors, with music or quiet, doing five tasks in a day or sticking to one.
Keep a written log each day of how you felt, your energy levels, and what worked and what didn’t. At the end of a week, you’ll have some usable data about your best work styles.
4. Banish worry and procrastination.
“Worry drains the mind of much of its power, and sooner or later it injures the soul.” —Robin Sharma
Worry is the best way to kill discipline. An anxious mind can’t do Great Work because it’s full of cortisol, the fight, flight or freeze hormone.
Fear of failure and feeling overwhelmed then leads to procrastination, discipline’s unemployed cousin.
To slay this two-headed beast, use Neil Fiore’s best research on habits in The Now Habit:
- Use the Unschedule: Block off time in your calendar for play, rest and fun with friends before you schedule work, and you’ll sidestep that feeling of overwhelm.
- Do the work of worry: Face your fears and they collapse. Instead of ruminating, set aside time to “catastrophize”: What’s the worst that could happen? Then create a plan to manage risks.
- Just keep starting: Look at a whole project and it’s overwhelming. Instead, sit down with the intention of just starting one task, not finishing. You may find that four hours pass effortlessly.
5. Make self-care non-negotiable.
“You can’t take care of anything or anyone if you don’t take care of yourself.” —Jen Sincero
Hard work is commendable, but it becomes workaholism when we prioritize it over our health and happiness; over living.
“Protect the Asset” is one of the cardinal rules of peak performers according to Greg McKeown in his book, Essentialism. Make time for sleep, healthy food, massages, rest and vacation, and your asset (you) will be able to maintain consistent output.
Work while you’re tired, burnt out or frustrated, and you can’t possibly enjoy it, or produce anything of quality.
Work when rested, invigorated, optimistic and in good spirits, and not only will you enjoy every minute of your work, but you’ll be able to tap into the creativity that’s at the source of all Great Work.
6. Play offense, not defense.
“Are you out there actually working off your own to-do list, or are you letting everybody else write your to-do list for you?” —Chris Sacca, billionaire investor
In 2018, I ran a monthly writer meetup in a café with brick walls and big windows. Our attendance was growing and so were leads for my company’s services for writers.
Then a new café manager took over and threw up roadblocks. We needed to sign a contract… Guarantee minimum bar sales… Bring our own bartender and point-of-sale hardware. Each hoop that I jumped through created another.
My new nemesis had put me on defense.
I polled my members and found out they didn’t care where we met, so we moved venues and I moved on with my life.
When you fight time vampires, you can’t focus on your most important tasks. I started working exclusively on high-value tasks and ignoring defense. Everything worked out great.
7. Show off.
“Here, I made this.” —Seth Godin
Social media is a place to both rant and show off. Let’s admit that we all love sharing our victories with the world. It feels good.
This is because when we post pictures of our new baby or the suitcase full of diamonds we found, our brain floods with serotonin, the hormone that encourages pro-social behavior.
“Serotonin is the feeling of pride,” says Simon Sinek. “It is the feeling we get when we perceive that others like or respect us. It makes us feel strong and confident, like we can take on anything.”
As long as you don’t let your primary motivation become the respect of others, it can be healthy to share your results with the world.
Saying “Here, I made this” is fun, and will incentivize you to produce more.
What can you expect if you practice these seven habits? You will never “work” another day in your life.
Alan Watts broke my brain with his lecture on work as play.
“Regard everything that you’re doing as play,” he says. “And don’t imagine for one minute that you’ve got to be serious.”
Work can feel like being a kid on the playground again. Just make it play.
Photo by GaudiLab / Shutterstock.com