Integrating Play into Your Work

I love this quote: “I have to work so hard to play.”

For many of us, play does not come easily. Do you find yourself with smart phone in hand at the dinner table, at your son’s ballgame, your daughter’s recital? Or do you offer excuses and find yourself working on the weekends or in the evenings?

What if instead you told yourself, “I have to play to work?” Are there ways to bring a playful attitude into your work in order to achieve less stress and greater clarity? The answer is yes. There are ways to be playful, laugh more, enjoy life more, and feel more relaxed during our work hours.

No matter how demanding your work might seem, or how unbalanced your schedule, there are choices you can make that can lead to positive change. You can choose to lighten up, find ways to be playful, and take the steps necessary to create the life you want.

I love what Phil Porter, co-founder of InterPlay, has to say about work and play:

Get on: Take a step out there as fully as you can. Stay with it.
Get off: When you are ready, “draw a line in the sand”—the place you want to stop.
Get on with it: Go on to the next playful step. Create the life you want with greater balance, more ease, less stress, and more loving relationships, starting with yourself.

Redefining Success to Create Balance
If you are self-employed, you might find that your boundaries between work time and play time are blurred. (“Free time, what’s that?”) If you work for a company, organization, or non-profit, you may experience burnout from trying to stay on top of your game and believing that no one else can do your job better than you can. If you are a parent, you may be working as a full-time, stay at home parent, or balancing working outside of the home or in your home office with parenting. Even grandparents are often parenting their grandchildren at a time when they thought they would be retired—now there is a challenge in how to create a balance.

Try considering the idea that you are not your work. What makes you successful? What do you consider achievements? If your list of successes and achievements are all on the “highly difficult” side of things, then I would like to suggest a slight adjustment to how you define success. Are you successful when things come easily, or when you feel good about what you achieved?

Consider these questions:

  • What are some achievements that you feel good about?
  • What are your next playful steps to success?
  • What is your definition of success?
  • What are some ways to play at work?
  • Do you believe you have a choice?

Bringing Play into Work
A few ways to bring a playful attitude into your work life:

  • Take a cat nap or meditation time during the work day. If you are a new parent, take a nap while your baby naps. If you work from home, schedule 10-20 minute nap times on your calendar. Some businesses are now beginning to see the value of naps as well. Start your nap or meditation time with a deep breath through your nose. Fill up your abdomen, then breathe out through your mouth, exhaling twice as long as the in breath.  Tighten and release muscle groups, starting at the feet and working up to your neck and scalp muscles.
  • Take a walk, run, or have lunch outside. Do this when you can and improve your vitamin D uptake and your mood. In the Northwest, we usually have a deficit of vitamin D, which can be helped by getting out in the sun, but spending an hour outside each day is a minimum requirement for good health no matter where you live. Notice the people, animals, and details of the local area where you walk, or sit to enjoy the sun’s rays.
  • Buy yourself a new journal. Write down any intuitions, images, or dreams that present themselves as you explore how you can incorporate play into your work. If you were writing a book about your life’s purpose, what would the title be? (Consider placing that title on your new journal’s cover.)
  • Create an atmosphere of “play-storming” instead of brainstorming. Open up to all your body knows and play with your different styles—thrust-drive; organize-shape; collaborate-swing; vision-hang. Be open and play with all possibilities.
  • Put on your favorite music, especially when you are procrastinating or feeling off-balance. Create some new lyrics to a favorite song or dance to the rhythms—with the curtains closed if necessary! Enjoy! Let go!
  • Create a playful work setting by bringing in some of your favorite games, toys, talismans, props, costumes, colorful objects, flowers, creative posters, color crayons…you get the idea.

Other Play and Work Resources:

  • Move to Greatness: Focusing the Four Essential Energies of a Whole and Balanced Leader, by Ginny Whitelaw and Betsy Wetzig.
  • InterPlay (a variety of InterPlay leaders focus on Work & Play):
  • Creativity in Play:

© Copyright 2011 by Mary Alice Long, PhD. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Tudor

    February 17th, 2011 at 6:58 PM

    Although I try my best and make time away from work to relax and rejuvenate alone and with family,sometimes it becomes impossible to do so due to late meetings or a fast approaching deadline.

    At the end of the day,each one of us is trying to work hard to provide the best possible for our family.The irony is that the same thing keeps us away from our family.

  • vanessa

    February 18th, 2011 at 5:34 AM

    I find that doing work that I actually enjoy helps me and makes me more efficient at it compared to something I dont like. When I am disinterested in something I am unable to carry on and it seems like a burden.

    Although it is not possible to enjoy everything we have to do,finding a reason to like it will make the work far more fun and a lot more easier.

  • George

    February 18th, 2011 at 5:36 AM

    This playful side is something that my family has been hounding me about for years that I need to try and find again. They think that my work has kept me from being the playful man that I once was, and maybe they are right, but someone has to work to pay the bills, and right now I am the only one fitting into that category.

  • natalie

    February 20th, 2011 at 6:47 AM

    I think that I have posted here on this site before about how important exercise is to me and how I really believe that it fundamentally helps me to be a better person. That is my outlet for stressful energy and it leaves me with that good fun kind of energy that my family and I need together. Without that outlet in my life I know that I would be a whole lot more likely to take out that annoying stress on my family and that is not the kind of life that I choose to live.

  • Mary Alice Long, PhD

    March 4th, 2011 at 4:15 PM

    Thank you so much for your comments. Have you noticed that you are more productive after taking some time off or that your best ideas come while in the shower or when you are fresh at the beginning of the day? Play has devalued in our society and with that devaluation comes health problems, increasingly stressful lives, and difficulties in relationships with Self and others. Small adjustments in the way we work can pay huge dividends–Taking one minute per hour to breathe and check in with yourself can bring you huge rewards.

    For those of you interested in the 4 Essential Movement Styles [Shape,Swing,Thrust,Hang]–helpful in seeing ourselves and and those we play and work with in new ways–Go to:
    blogtalkradio (dot) com/creativityinplay/2011/03/04/choreographer-dancer-and-author-betsy-wetzig-on-coordination-patterns-in-play-and-creativity

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