7 Practical Ways to Play at Work, Feel Better and Achieve More

Gund snuffles bear with cupcake on nose
Forget your troubles, come on get happy. My last post was about playing your way to purpose at work.  Since play is critical to innovation, not to mention well-being, today’s post suggests practical ways to enter the joie de vivre zone.  Goodness knows it seems 98% of the people I talk to express significant feelings of stress and/or ennui; most of us could use a little more ‘chill’! It’s actually not an impossible feat.  There are things you can do that are really pretty easy. Here’s what I’ve learned from a variety of experts, with my own twists:

  1. Play Idea Ping-Pong
Image from Gaping Void
      The wonderful Hugh McLeod of Gaping Void suggests this metaphorically as a way to bounce ideas around your office.  What if we take him literally?  Consider bringing one of those portable nets into your conference room; then taking turns batting the ball back and forth across the table.  Each time the ball comes to you, throw out an idea. It’s fun, you’ll do it without over-thinking, and everyone will cheer you on! (Or just toss a beach ball around; for extra fun, go outside and toss a Frisbee).  Redefine brainstorming as “play-storming.”
  1. Designate a “Play Time”Just like parents set up “play dates” for their kids, how about setting up a regular play time for your work group? This promotes a playful atmosphere, integrating playfulness into the work week rather than making it a new job (it’s not going to work if you compartmentalize, stopping “business as usual” to say “OK team, stop working. It’s time to have fun!”). The goal is to get to a new normal. One group I worked with had a regular weekly meeting they called “Cocktails and Creative.”  It gave them permission to kick back and get a little loose, and they came up with amazing ideas during this period. Play time is something to which folks can look forward during the rest of the week.
Funny thank you with your generosity is only exceeded by your good looks
  1. Write a Funny Thank You . We don’t always have to be so stuffy.  Shannon Doolittle shares ways to thank our supporters that are warm, playful and, above all else, joyful.  Remember, hopefully your supporter was coming from a place of joy when they gave.  Help them stay there. If you chuckle just a bit when you’re writing, then you’ve hit the sweet spot.  Nothing crude, mind you. Here are two from Shannon that particularly tickled me: (1) If it wasn’t weird, I would have sent you a picture of myself. Because I look totally grateful, and (2) You’re kind of a big deal. Don’t believe me? Ask our clients. Think about ways to bring a smile to your reader’s face
  1. Set Fun Goals. I know an E.D. who agreed to be dunked if his team reached a specific financial goal. And another who agreed to shave his head. When a target is not just about numbers but is also about play, staffs enjoy the journey more.
  1. Personally Commit to Doing Something Fun Each Week.  It can be as simple as turning on music and having an impromptu dance party, or bringing in donuts for an unexpected coffee break. Give people permission to dress up (or dress down).  Above all else, give permission. Anything that’s spontaneous and disrupts the routine can begin to create a culture of playfulness. There’s no shortage of ideas once you begin to let your playful, creative side show.
  1. Consider a Play Retreat.  There are numerous resources out there to bring facilitated and interactive play experiences into the workplace (check out interplay.org; innovationgames.com; Lego® Strategic Play® ).  I don’t endorse any in particular, but pointing folks towards the available resources and demonstrated successful outcomes could be a good way to get started and introduce the concept to your group.  One person playing is good.  A culture of playing is transformative.
  1. Share a Few ChucklesI recently came across this  Nonprofit Humour Blog.  I happen to find it hilarious.  You might want to consider sharing it with your colleagues. A laugh a day keeps the doctor away?
graph balancing work and playIt pays to play.  You don’t need to create a Googleplex, but perhaps there are things you can do to create a more relaxed work environment. Finger blasters? To understand this reference, check out this great TED talk by Tim Brown, CEO of the innovation and design firm, IDEO. Brown talks about how kids play and see infinite opportunities.  Ever see a kid play more with the box than the gift? Somehow adults lose the security and freedom to explore and engage with open possibilities.
Make work play. Remember, there are simple ways to be playful, laugh, enjoy your life more and feel more relaxed at work. We do have choices we can make to bring balance into our lives.  And, as the brilliant sociologist and futurist Brian Solis reminds us, with balance, generally, comes greater clarity, equilibrium and productivity .
PLEASE COMMENT if you have any thoughts on the following:
What are some ways you play at work?
Do you believe you have a choice?
How does play help you to be more productive?
What will you do to bring more playfulness to your work?
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  1. I totally love this post. I am going to use this with our team. I am always on the look out on how to bring out the "humanness" of our people beyond the "workerbee". Thanks for great practical and fun exercises. Hah. Laugh out load GREAT FUN.

  2. Thanks David! Hope you have great fun and great success. 😀

  3. It's do damn easy to get caught up in the daily grind and forget to have fun at work. We've got to find ways to help NPO's make this a normal part of their culture. Great ideas here!

  4. This is the perfect post for me to read – I am the first to admit that I take things too seriously too often. My secret motto to myself when I feel stressed is to "relax and have fun". Thanks Claire!

  5. Personally, I like to put a cupcake on my nose…
    Thanks Natasha!

  6. Thanks so much Clay. I do find it's a struggle, as many NPO leaders think "this isn't ME; this is for 'wacky' folks like Google."

  7. This is great! It reminds me a bit of The Happiness Advantage in a way. Also, this is a big part of what the next generation of employees are looking for in the experience of a job. A good activity we had at one of my jobs was a biannual or quarterly staff fun day where we went bowling. Another one was the spontaneous Friday afternoon dance party. Thanks for this fun post!

  8. Thanks so much Emily. Love the idea of the Friday afternoon dance party! Most important is incorporating a spirit of fun into the entire work culture. When it's too compartmentalized it can seem forced and not really all that much fun. It doesn't work well when staff are told, "okay, it's 4:00 on Friday, now let's have some F U N (or else)". that's why I like the idea of making a personal commitment to doing something fun EACH WEEK. Hmmn… gotta think of what I'm going to do this coming week… 😀

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