Does Your Life Feel Like Hard Work Or Play?

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Have you ever had the experience of something that you once did for fun turning into work or a chore?

Maybe you loved knitting in the past, but recent requests from friends for specific items have left you feeling that turning out a new hat or jumper has become something you dread. Perhaps the website design skills which you were learning purely for enjoyment’s sake became tedious to keep up with once you started charging for your talents. I found that reading novels (previously something I did purely for fun) felt like work when I started studying English literature at university.

We all know what work feels like. It’s something that we:

  • Do out of a sense of duty or obligation
  • Sometimes (not always) get paid for
  • Often have deadlines for, or other people overseeing our progress

But if you think about it, it’s hard to label any specific activities as being “work”. Is writing blog articles work or play? Well, that depends whether you’re a freelance, paid blogger or someone with a personal blog that you use for journaling about your life.

George Orwell, writing over half a decade ago, was keenly aware that “work” and “play” pretty much depend on your perspective:

“But what is work and what is not work? Is it work to dig, to carpenter, to plant trees, to fell trees, to ride, to fish, to hunt, to feed chickens, to play the piano, to take photographs, to build a house, to cook, to sew, to trim hats, to mend motor bicycles? All of these things are work to somebody, and all of them are play to somebody. There are in fact very few activities which cannot be classed either as work or play according as you choose to regard them.” -George Orwell, in The Road to Wigan Pier

Breaking the “Work” Mindset

So, how can you get out of the “work” mindset? How do you turn your work into something more enjoyable?

Firstly, I want to admit upfront that I don’t think this is totally possible for everyone. If you work in a boring job purely for money, chances are it’s never going to seem like play. Here’s a simple test:

  • Can you imagine doing what you currently do for “work”, if you weren’t paid?

If the answer is “no way”, then you may need to give some serious thought to your career. (A good starting point might be How to Design Your Own Life.)

But if you do something which you went into because you quite enjoyed it – perhaps as a writer, designer, computer programmer, coach – and you’re starting to feel that it’s becoming more and more of a chore, you could benefit from breaking the work mindset.

Here are a few things that might help you:

  • Plan a “treat” during each workday; something related to your work which you really want to do. It might be reading a chapter of a brilliant new book in your field, keeping in touch with your network via social media, writing a post for your company blog… anything that you don’t usually do because it feels too much like “fun” to count as part of your workday!
  • Take a day off (easier if you’re self-employed). Only do things which you want to do rather than things which you feel you should do. Ironically, I often find I make good progress on significant projects or tasks that I’ve been stalled on when I give myself permission to have the day off “real” work!
  • Start divorcing your actual income from your daily work. By that, I mean generating some passive income that comes into your bank account regardless of whether or not you’re sitting at your desk. (For example, book royalties, affiliate sales on your website, running advertising on your blog.) It doesn’t have to be a huge amount of money – I make about $150/month from one of my websites – but you’ll be surprised how liberating this can feel.

Think about what else would make your work seem more like play. Perhaps you get energized and enthused by collaborating with others – can you incorporate more of this into your day? Maybe you love working from Starbucks or a deckchair in your garden – are you resisting doing this because it feels too much like “fun” and you think work should be a struggle?

Turning Routine Work Into Play

If you’ve set an arbitrary goal which bores you or stresses you, consider whether it needs to be in your life. When you can ditch something that’s never going to be fun, do!

Of course, some tasks pretty much need to be done, regardless of how dull or work-like they are. A good way to make these closer to play is to impose some sort of external structure on them.

For example, if your daily work can be a bit of a grind (but you need to stick with it until you find a new job), try Mark Forster’s time management method for giving yourself “points” for what you accomplish each day:

“This exercise consists of a daily challenge in which you compete against yourself to score as many points as possible each day. To score points, you have to decide the previous day how many points you are going to attempt to score the following day. Then you write down a list comprising that number of tasks. So, for example, if you decide you want to try to score three points the following day, you write down a list of three tasks. …

The tasks should be simple and specific so that by the end of the day, you have either done them or you haven’t. Then you score one point for each completed task.

That sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? But there’s a catch. You score the points only if you complete every item on the list that day. If you haven’t completed every item, then you score no points at all for that day – no excuses accepted!” – Do It Tomorrow, pg 40-41, Mark Forster

If you work with colleagues, an element of competition can help to make your day more fun and challenging. Many of us have a strong competitive streak: racing to see who can get the most data entry items completed in a day, or who can put together mail-outs fastest, could turn really boring jobs into something more interesting.

If you work alone, compete against yourself, or find ways to make routine tasks fun – perhaps you challenge yourself to incorporate a random word into all your emails for the day, for example.

At home, chores are another great area for competition (this works well with kids, too; seeing who can tidy up the most toys fastest can have their bedroom floor cleared in minutes!) How about:

  • Drawing chores out of a hat to see who does what (you might allow swaps)
  • Signing up for Chores Wars – could be a great way to get a household of computer game fans to clean and hoover…

How do you make sure that you don’t turn your projects and goals into something that feels like hard work? How do you cope with the inevitably “worky” elements of life to make them more fun and interesting?

Photo by Rodrigo Cayo