Why Play Is Essential

Currently Reading: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown (affiliate link)

If you’re like me, you might feel like you have to be productive at all times. At home, at work, while you’re watching TV.

There’s a pang of guilt if we feel like a moment went by that we did not strike something off of a to-do list.

But I’m finally starting to give in to the fact that four practices are vitally important if I want the limited time when I should be working to be the most effective:

  1. Sleep: At least 7 hours of quality sleep
  2. Quiet time: Daily time to pray, meditate, read the Bible, and journal
  3. Exercise: Consistent cardio and weight training
  4. Play: Doing things simply for the fun of it (normally with my wife or kids)

It’s the last one – Play – that is the most difficult for me. The other three seem obvious. Everybody knows that quality sleep multiplies are work, that meditation or quiet time clears our heads, and that exercise provides needed blood flow and energy to spark performance.

But Play?

What does that even mean for a 44 year old?

I like Essentialism author Greg McKeown’s definition: “anything we do simply for the joy of doing rather than as a means to an end.”

Play Means Reconnecting

For this 44 year old fellow, playing always reconnects me to my childhood. When I sit down with one of my kids and help him with a Lego set, it always puts me in a different zone.

My child becomes a buddy with whom I’m creating, not an object of my parenting. It transports me away from the day-to-day and helps me to reconnect with the simple joy of doing things that are fun and have no specific purpose.

A side benefit is that it strengthens my relationship with my kids.

Play Helps Me Relinquish My Need to Control All Things at All Times

When I go to the local elementary school with my kids on the weekend (the place is better than the park for riding bikes, shooting baskets, and generally goofing off), I’m able to put worry aside.

It’s a wonderful time to forget about work projects, home projects, or the world’s problems and get fresh air and enjoy my children (and maybe get the kind of exercise you get when you don’t realize you’re exercising).

Being in a ‘play mindset’ helps me remember that I being a control freak isn’t helpful.

Play Sneakily Improves Productivity

In McKeown’s Essentialism, he points out three benefits to playing:

First, play helps us make mental connections and broadens perspectives.  Just seeing how my kids take riding on scooters and bikes and transforms it into some sort of spy-alien-superhero game is inspirational and perspective shifting. Playing is essential to help me see things I wouldn’t normally notice because…

Second, play helps us de-stress. And less stress means more creativity and more exploration and more general winsomeness so that people actually don’t mind hanging out with you.

Try this exercise: Go play (throw a ball, color or draw, wrestle with your kids) for one hour. Then sit down and write out 10 ideas to improve some aspect of your work life.  My sense is your brain will work much better than if you just came off a grueling 4 hours of meaningless work meetings.

Third, play actually develops skills that most executives need in the corporate world (or any other work-related world). Two types of play seem to dominate my children’s time: (1) creative exploration and (2) logic and problem solving games.  What better skills for work are there than learning how to explore possibilities while also learning how to figure out problems?

Play is Essential

I encourage you to figure out when you can go outside and play or take time to enjoy a hobby like drawing, painting, or woodworking.  I don’t think you’ll regret the little bit of intentional play time.

On that note, I have two seven year old twin boys checking in on me, waiting for me to come help them construct their K’NEX Amazin’ 8 Coaster Building Set.*

All work and no play makes this guy (two thumbs pointed back at myself) a dull boy. See ya… I got some buddies to hang with.

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*Links leading to amazon.com are affiliate links, meaning that if you click on them and buy something, I’ll get an extremely tiny commission, but you will not pay anymore than if you went there on your own.

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