“All work and no play makes Roy a dull boy.”
Can I be vulnerable for a minute?
The last few months, I’ve felt this ever-increasing sense of anxiety. And disappointment. In myself, yes. But also, when I think of how others see me.
For the most part, I don’t think it’s true. That is, the feedback I’m getting from others tends to be positive.
But that doesn’t stop the stress and anxiety and ill-feelings. Because it’s an irrational development from my anxiety.
It’s not real. So it’s hard to look at reality for the solution.
This comes from taking everything too seriously.
There’s been a lot going on over the last few months. Work-related. But also because we’ve had a big home improvement project going. Plus kids and family and life.
As I’ve tried to stay on top of it all, I’ve taken getting it all done very seriously.
And yet, the more seriously I’ve taken things, the harder it’s been to get any momentum toward getting things done.
When you let it, the world has a funny way of handing you solutions…
Months, maybe years ago, I’d heard a podcast from a guy who made play a priority in his life.
He’d helped Tim Ferriss with a few marketing projects, and with editing one of his books. But like many of us, he got overworked, over-stressed, and kept working harder until he just couldn’t take it anymore.
So one day, instead of having a business meeting, he decided to go play catch with the person instead.
Yeah, catch. Like, throwing a baseball back and forth in the park.
It was a transformative moment. He made some dramatic shifts. It took time, of course. But he quit the work he was doing, moved to a city he felt more comfortable in (rather than being located where he saw opportunity), and made play a regular priority in life.
Then, he — Charlie Hoehn — wrote a book, Play it Away: A Workaholic’s Cure for Anxiety.
So in the last week or so, my mind reminded me of that podcast. I barely remembered the book. I had to do some searching. But I found it, and downloaded the audiobook.
I hit play in Audible, and immediately felt simpatico with Charlie. Too much work and too little play was creating this gnawing anxiety.
I do spend a lot of time outside of work, but I almost never play…
One of the biggest benefits of working for myself is that I haven’t worked a traditional 40-hour week since I quit my last job in 2010.
I’m there for my kids — a lot — in their earliest years. I’ve made the commitment that until they’re all in school (still a year and a summer away), that I will work less. And even when they are all in school, I’ll probably still be around a lot before and after school (at least until they want me to leave them alone!).
That said, there’s a big difference between “being there” and “being present.”
Being there, in body, often means that I’m half-on, half-off, with at least some conscious attention NOT there, and instead focused on work.
Maybe you know the feeling?
But being present means really being there, full-on, with both body and mind.
And often, that means actually playing!
Yet, while I’ve physically behaved like I value that time away from work (on the premise that it will recharge me and make me more productive while I’m at work), that hasn’t been happening… Because I haven’t made the conscious effort to actually turn on the play 100%.
This is exacerbated when I mix in the home-related work to the work-related work. And even when I’m not “working,” I’m frequently still doing something or another that could be called “work,” pretty much every waking hour.
And the worst part: the more you double down on this, promising yourself that you’ll get everything done and then play, the easier it is to burnout and see your performance drop everywhere. If you’re anxious, not playing, not creating fun in your life, you won’t be effective at work, either.
The solution is play…
Here’s the thing. You can make more of your work into play, too.
Creating a playful attitude outside of work also creates playfulness in your work. Which increases flexibility and creativity — two critical components for problem-solving and value creation.
The secret: create more intentional space to play. This means actually choosing to set aside time in your day to play.
I loved Charlie’s idea of having business meetings at the park. Go play catch, or Frisbee, or something else. Do something fun, that’s accessible enough that if you also need to carry on a low-key work conversation, you can do it (if you’re doing this as a meeting).
But also, it is critical that you set aside play time where you’re just turning work off. Your brain needs space to reset and recharge. It needs time away from work to be at its best when you come back to work.
More time at work does not equal better time. You need the push and pull of time away and time there.
And so find ways to play. Throughout your day. And throughout your week, when you can play for longer.
It’s okay to play. In fact, we NEED play. Most of the research that’s out there is done on children. Because in our culture it’s socially-acceptable for children to play. But adults need to play too.
Try it yourself. Start with some play this week. Step away from work, from responsibilities, and refresh yourself with play.
Here’s some play ideas to get you started…
Yesterday afternoon, by the time you were getting Breakthrough Marketing Secrets, I’d taken off with my kids and was ice skating. We’d gotten a voucher months ago and it was about to expire, so we went. Because it’s summer, we had the place to ourselves, and had a blast skating all over.
We also have memberships to the neighborhood pool, and we take a lot of afternoon trips there throughout the summer. Richard Branson reportedly swims up to two hours every day and says there’s nothing better for his work productivity.
Going for a bike ride or even a walk or jog can be good, as long as it’s done in a playful spirit, and not taken too seriously. Going hiking is wonderful, and even here in Nebraska there are beautiful parks with great hiking trails no more than 30 minutes away.
Sports are awesome, especially when you play them with others.
I like to make music, but because I tend to do that alone, it doesn’t have the same value in recharging me as it would if I were playing with other people.
Playing with kids is great — as long as you let them lead. They haven’t gotten their imaginations beat out of them yet, and their creativity will astound you.
Board games are great, especially when played with friends.
This is, in hindsight, a big reason why I got into improv. Stepping into a scene for a moment requires you to forget yourself and let your imagination run, and it’s incredible for creating those moments of presence. Find an improv class near you, and take it!
At my last job, we had frequent whole-office Nerf gun battles. Sometimes it drove my workaholic self wild, but it was no-doubt part of what helped us nearly triple the business while I was there.
A couple big rules for better play: put the screens away, and do something involving multiple people.
Much of our work and life today involves being alone with a glowing screen (notably, including me writing this). That’s fine, but too much of it will numb your brain. And lead to all that anxiety and negativity. The good news is a little bit of play with others and without the screens goes a long way to recharging you.
So: what does this have to do with marketing?
If you’re asking this, maybe you’re too far gone… 🙂
But I’ll entertain the question.
People are naturally attracted to what makes them feel good.
And whether you realize it or not, your output (writing, content, etc.) will reflect your internal state.
So if you play a lot, and you feel good, your writing or content or ads or marketing will reflect that and make your prospects feel good.
And the more you’re living a playful life, the more playful everything you do will feel.
This is the je ne sais quoi of great marketing, and great copywriters. When you read a great Halbert ad, when he was at concert pitch, you could tell he was playing more than working. The same with many great copywriters.
It might just be a breakthrough.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
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