I recently went to visit my brother at Sheffield University, where he’s completing his Physics PhD. When we went to see his lab, he mentioned that one of the things that he loved about working there was that he could have ‘play fights’ with his colleagues; similar to the spontaneous fisticuffs that you might have had with a sibling as a child. Probably too much physical exertion for the likes of Leonard and Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, but then they do play Dungeons and Dragons – which is full of imaginary sword fights.
I enjoyed hearing that play-fighting is something that is normalised within his office and is an activity that he’s proud of taking part in. For my brother, it is an effective way to blow off steam after periods of sustained concentration. I then realised that I do something similar. As a freelance copywriter working from home, play manifests itself as doing a few handstands or cartwheels, dancing about and very recently, batting about balloons left over from my birthday. Admittedly, I’m lucky that I have the privacy of my own home to do these activities in – this is not so easy to do in an office and still be taken seriously.
By ‘play’ I don’t really mean watching cat videos on YouTube, chatting to people on social media or playing solitaire, even though they might be fun. Instead, it’s about getting away from your desk and creating snow angels, kicking a ball around or if you have a young child, creating a whole new kingdom together. Some of the benefits of these play breaks can be: An uplift in mood, a boost to your creativity and the ability to problem solve when you get back to your desk. In the long term, short periods of play can help you to be happier and more productive in your work.
One of the joys of being a freelancer, particularly in creative sectors, is that you have more opportunities to play than you might in a traditional 9-5 office job. Though on the flip side, this is only possible if you have the available time and flexibility. Work often has to take priority, especially when you are starting out. However, what’s special about play is that it can last as little as a few minutes or can go on for the entire afternoon. You can jump up and down on your indoor trampoline for five minutes or take the afternoon off to go to the park to enjoy the sun (You can always catch up the work later). Sometimes days go by when you have barely left your desk during working hours and that’s OK. Play can’t always be forced and, for me, most often occurs organically.
The way in which I make time for ‘play’ is by having a flexible schedule which includes time for spontaneous breaks when the mood strikes. By this I mean that I have a set number of tasks that I need to do in a given week, in amongst one or two meetings which are set in stone. From Monday to Friday I will work from around 8.30am until between 4pm and 6pm, depending upon how work is going that day. If my brain has become a little foggy from too much reading or writing, then I will stop early but if I’m on a roll, I keep going. After several years of working for myself, I know when I need a change of focus and I give myself the permission to take these breaks as and when needed. This is because, in the long run, they help me to be more focused and write more efficiently. It’s all about working with your body and mind to produce the best results.
I would love to know what you think that the role of play is in your working life:
- How does play manifest itself in your working day? Is it something that you don’t have time for/don’t see yourself as doing?
- Do you think that play should be left to children? Should adults play in a different way/the same way as children?
Images by Ryan McGuire at gratisography.com