Want To be More Productive? Play More

By Ellesse

No, I’m not joking.

In fact, this is such an important concept that I’m repeating the message again.

If you want to be more effective and produce quality work for your major projects, spend more of your time on leisure and recreation activities.

Now, before I explain why this is so, let me share with you a true story about ST.

ST’s Story

ST was the regional IT network manager in one of the group of companies that I’ve implemented in my last job. Working with ST was a pleasant experience as he never failed to accomplish the technical upgrades that myself and my colleague had instructed him to do, even though he might encounter a few issues here and there. Overall, he came across as someone who was passionate in his work. A rather competent and efficient worker. What impressed me further, was the fact that despite his numerous roles and responsibilities, he seldom stayed back after office hours. At least, that was what I thought.

It never occurred to me what could be the “secret” to his efficiency. Until…

I was at his office for a regional conference after office hours one day. While making a casual comment to another staff about him, I realized that he was in the company’s server room playing interactive computer games with his colleagues!

It suddenly dawned on me. ST was able to keep to such high productivity levels because he knew he had time for his recreation. His conscious effort to incorporate a session of computer games assured him of the fact that his busy day at work wouldn’t deprive him of time with his hobby.

He cleverly scheduled it after his official working hours so that it inadvertently acted as a reward for working hard in the day. He would try to use creative thinking for solving problems in the least amount of time and effort so that he would have sufficient time and energy after work for a full game. Most importantly, he always looked forward to going to work everyday! Because work was fun for him. Literally.

No wonder he was always full of energy!

Why is Play Important?

Interestingly, what ST went through coincides with the observations from Dr Neil Fiore, psychologist and author. While working as a counselor at the University of California, Berkley, he studied a group of graduate students who were procrastinating in their doctoral thesis. He noticed that those making good progress toward finishing their projects were dedicated and committed to their leisure time.

They played more, spending almost the same if not more of their time trying different forms of sports, catching up with friends and other social activities, as compared to doing their research. After their activities, they were usually so rejuvenated that they would effortlessly gear up momentum for their projects.

Because they don’t see their projects as robbing them of pleasures in life, they slowly gravitate towards achieving a natural balance.

That’s not all. It’s also through play that we get to learn new skills. For example, playing squash in my spare time allows me to know new friends who’re interested in the game. It improves my social skills. Writing for Goal Setting College as a hobby previously allows me to improve my literary and technical skills.

How To Incorporate More Play, Without Compromising Productivity

While it’s fascinating to know that play doesn’t have to come at the expense of quality work, there’s still a risk of total play indulgence! After all, we’re humans!

That’s where the Unschedule comes into the picture.

What’s an Unschedule?

Due to the inherent nature of procrastination, Dr Fiore recommends in his book The Now Habit for everyone to commit to start 30 mins of quality, uninterrupted work time a day. Every 30 min blocks of such is then recorded onto a weekly calendar that is pre-tabulated with social appointments, recreation and other non-work time. This calendar is called the Unschedule.

He believes that such impromptu bursts of work in fitting a schedule of prearranged non-work activities subconsciously create a desire to contribute a greater amount of quality work. Some people may be skeptical about this method. But having tried it for myself, I’ve to admit it’s a simple and nifty tool. In fact, this article you’re reading now is a byproduct of such 30 min blocks!

Unlike other conventional methods, the Unschedule reverses the psychology that work has the first priority in anyone’s time table. This paradoxical thinking forces one’s subconscious to revolt, gradually increasing the 30 min work blocks. And when combined with Dr Fiore’s other instructions for filling out the Unschedule, I’ve achieved higher productivity in this week than I’ve ever attained in one month!

Cool, isn’t it?

Now before you start rushing to create your own Unschedule, do remember this. When you work, work intensely. Likewise, when you play, play to your heart’s content. Nothing infuriates the mind as much as thinking about work when you’re watching a movie or fantasizing about your favourite sport while in a business conference call. Trust me, it can be more disconcerting than you thought.


7 Responses to “Want To be More Productive? Play More”

  1. Pamela at 6:48 am

    I agree. As long as we plan our activities right, we have every right to enjoy a moment of leisure. Of course, it wouldn’t mean more productivity if we do those activities during working hours.

  2. Ellesse at 2:18 pm

    Pam, the essence of increasing productivity is more of improving the quality of the work we do during those office hours. In the case of my ex-associate ST, engaging leisure activities after his work improves his focus during office hours, enabling him to do more within the same span of time. But depending on your industry or company regulations, incorporating certain breaks within your office hours can do wonders as well. For example, my financial planner would go to the gym during her breaks in between her client appointments. She was one of the top 3 rookie agents in her first year with the company. In the industry I used to work in, some departments would often go for coffee breaks with other colleagues or even plays pool (yes, there’s a pool table in the office!). Yes, they seldom fail to deliver too.

  3. Pamela at 2:36 pm

    I think the key is focus, no matter whether it’s on work or play. One mistake many people make in taking action on their goals is saying to themselves, for example, “I’ll spend 30 minutes on this” rather than saying, “I’ll finish this much in the next 30 minutes.” Sounds similar, but it isn’t. The first is time-oriented, the second is results-oriented.

    Another way to focus is to use downtime to get tasks done, like your financial planner going to the gym between client appointments. Many of us would fritter that time away on what Stephen Covey calls Quadrant IV activities, those things that are both unimportant and not urgent. True productivity and re-creation happens in Quadrant II – those things that are important but not urgent.

  4. Dave at 1:16 am

    ST’s story is wonderful. I’m also motivated to work when I know that there’s a fun activity waiting for me after work. It’s like having another reason why we should finish our work.

  5. Ellesse at 3:34 am

    Great insight, Pam! I absolutely agree with you that the key is focus. It’s a rather common misconception.

    Dave, welcome to Goal Setting College! I was equally impressed with ST’s story that I knew I had to include in this article!

  6. Patricia - Spiritual Journey Of A Lightworker at 6:03 am

    Ellesse, thanks for sharing ST’s story. It makes sense to schedule time for fun activities too. Sure is better than burn-out from too much work.

  7. Ellesse at 7:29 am

    Hey Pat, another take is that if you’re doing what you love, you don’t feel so easily burnt out. That’s exactly what I personally feel even after many hours in front of the computer, be it writing articles or checking out other people’s blogs for inspiration. Top it up with a jog or a drink with friends and you’ll find your productivity going nowhere but up…!


Got Something to Say?