New technology means we are more switched on than ever when it comes to work, but we desperately crave play also, Sinead Brady explores finding the balance and ditching the guilt
Work hard then play hard is the modern-day equation for success. One engrained in our psyche since childhood, dinner first, then, and only then, enjoy desert. The adult version is work hard all week, relax at the weekend. Or work hard until retirement then really enjoy life. Habituated to believe that treats are more enjoyable after doing something deserving, this powerful yet covert rule elicits sharp pangs of guilt if broken.
A self-confessed offender, I struggle to ‘settle’ when things ‘need’ to be done. A mum to two young girls, a self-employed solopreneur, I don’t have a set start and finish time and I always have a never ending ‘to do’ list. Having fun is always a treat. Work hard then have fun, makes sense – right?
A new study by Professor Ed O’Brien, knocks this ‘work first fun later’ theory on the head. Its findings show that activity order doesn’t matter and fun is just as fun even if you haven’t “earned it”. In fact, by mixing things up and giving yourself that treat before you “deserve it”, you may become more motivated and tend to work smarter.
The science bit
This research doubles down on previous research on the importance of rest and time out. You don’t get better at anything by simply pushing harder and harder. You get better by taking on challenges and pairing them with smart rest periods. By having fun, taking a break or having a rest, even when you are at your busiest you step back. This allows you to absorb what you are doing, which improves output and productivity.
It’s a no brainer – but why do I feel SO guilty
Rest and fun are good for you and your career – fact.
But why do I feel so guilty? A mindset shift of this magnitude is hard and breaking a mantra drummed into us since birth is challenging. And of course, having ‘happy hour’ as an important deadline approaches is not always realistic. What is realistic is giving yourself permission to loosen up and break the rule of work first then fun. Granted it’s not always easy but it is 100% possible.
Here are some evidence-based practical tips to build play into your work and become more productive at the same time.
Work in blocks
Set aside timed work blocks of 25 minutes. At the end take a 5-minute break away from your desk, have a coffee, get some fresh air, touch up your makeup or whatever refreshes you. Go back to your desk and get straight back into it. After four 25-minute sessions take a longer break.
In my head certain things happen at the weekend – I meet friends, get my nails done or go out for lunch. Give yourself permission to indulge in a ‘weekend treat’ midweek and notice the boost in your energy.
Use annual leave cleverly
Use your entire annual leave every single year. Forget about saving holidays. Sit down and plan your leave. Book your holiday time-off at the start of the year. Punctuate longer periods at work with a midweek day off or make a non-bank holiday weekend a bank holiday.
Reframe 5 minutes
‘I only have 5 minutes I don’t have enough time’. Anyone who has heard your gym instructor shout ‘Only 5 minutes left’ knows exactly how long 5 minutes can be. So far from being not enough time, 5 minutes is long enough to do a million small, meaningful and fun things. Dance, skip, jump, phone a friend, draw, sketch, doodle, listen to music, call a friend…The list is endless.
Enjoy the simple pleasures
Get outdoors, read a book, listen to a fun podcast or walk through the shops. Factor think time into your day. Indulge yourself even at the times you feel like you shouldn’t.
There is no magic routine and it’s not about being super strict with yourself. What is important is that you create a routine that gives you permission to see work and fun as inter related rather than mutually exclusive. Sure, it takes a little time to get there but giving yourself the chance to enjoy guilt-free fun during your working life will pay dividends.
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