Work isn’t play…except when it is.
“Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.” – Mark Twain
What is the difference between working and playing? We get paid for one, and the other is something we do for fun. Why don’t more people manage to combine the two? We often hear “follow your dream”, “do what you love”, and other platitudes. But based on this survey, most people in the US do not like their jobs.
A big part of the problem is that once you get paid for something, it stops being fun. Intrinsic motivation is fickle. Just by paying someone to complete a task, we reduce intrinsic motivation and replace it with less effective extrinsic motivation.
Google has cleverly managed to hack this motivation conundrum with their 20% time arrangement – engineers get one day a week to work on whatever they want, using Google resources. The “play time” projects should be unrelated to their day-to-day work tasks. Although Google’s employees are still technically paid for this time, they are not paid for the tasks they engage in, allowing them to mentally separate the 20% play time from the extrinsic motivation of pay.
It comes as no big surprise that this 20% has led to some of Google’s most interesting products such as Google Suggest. According to Dr. Neil Fiore, play is critical for getting our creative juices flowing and for improved productivity. These benefits spill over from play time into those more mundane tasks we call work.
Not everyone has Google-esque bosses who are willing to give up a whole day. Instead, try a couple hours. Or even just 1/2 hour each Friday afternoon. Spend that time brainstorming, writing, decorating your work space, or doing anything within the bounds of your work environment that you find personally satisfying. It might help to keep a few toys around for inspiration – crayons, silly putty, action figures. The catch is that play can be anything you want it to be, but it shouldn’t be related to your “real” work projects and if it stops being fun, move on to something else.