Ever since I ran away and joined the circus (true story!) I’ve always seen my work as a form of play. The harder the work, the harder I have to play to get through it.
I learned this from the Seven Dwarves. They worked all day in the mines, and they didn’t grumble and complain (except for Grumpy, of course, but he was just staying in character). They used a simple technique that I have found very valuable:
Whistle while you work.
The Seven Dwarves from Snow White by Disney
No matter what chores you have to accomplish, or how bad the drudgery you must endure, you always have the option to enjoy.
How can you turn your work into a game?
The more you can stay entertained with your work, the less internal friction you will feel. We all have boring work to do. It’s how we handle it that matters.
Recently I spent most of a full week dealing with taxes. This is not the highest expression of my work in this world, but for a time, it was necessary. So I used some simple gamification techniques to incentivize my progress, and reward my completion of boring milestones.
When I finished a complicated spreadsheet, I bounced on the trampoline for five minutes. When I collected all my invoices and receipts into one file, I made a delicious snack. When I composed an email to my accountant with detailed answers to her detailed questions, I spent fifteen guilt-free minutes cruising Twitter as my reward.
Any work can be fun, if you can find a way to play at it.
Play Makes Work Better
In his book The Game Changer, Dr Jason Fox says that a game is anything that has goals, rules, and feedback. A good game balances all three of these against one another, to make an experience that is so compelling that it can be addicting.
Work can be the opposite. Unclear goals, arbitrary rules, and confusing feedback (if any) can lead us to resent our work, procrastinate doing it, or contribute only the minimal effort required to stay on the job.
But work doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t play games that way. If you can gamify your work, there are a myriad of personal and professional benefits.
“People don’t play games to avoid work. People play games to engage in well-designed work.” — Dr Jason Fox
A game, according to Dr Fox, is anything that has Goals, Rules, and Feedback.
Every project is a game. Every task is a game. Every meeting is a game. The goals and rules might be explicit, or they might be inferred. The feedback might be dynamic and immediate, or hidden and subtle.
ADPRI surveyed 50,000 workers to predict the qualities that led to greater retention, performance, engagement, resilience, and inclusion. They analyzed thousands of journal entries from the top performers to identify the common qualities of their best days, where the most work was accomplished, and their satisfaction with their job was highest.
They found the most powerful predictors for these five qualities (retention, performance, engagement, resilience, and inclusion) were positive answers to these three questions:
- Was I excited to work every day last week?
- Did I have a chance to use my skills every day?
- At work do I get a chance to do something I’m good at and I love?
In the Harvard Business Review, Marcus Buckingham commented on the ADPRI survey, and said, “These findings suggest that only when a company intelligently links what people love to their actual activities will it achieve higher performance, higher engagement and resilience, and lower turnover.”
You may have had a job in the past that you really enjoyed, because work felt like play. It’s hard to leave those jobs. If you’ve ever had a job you quit with no regrets, I’m confident there was not much play involved.
Play improves our capacity, culture, and collaboration, three critical areas we need to nurture in our work.
Fun requires less effort.
Nobody has to convince you to play your favorite game. You are willing to play because you like the game. Boring work is something you would only do if you were bribed with a paycheck. But if you think of work as a game, and money as how we keep score, then you can reframe what’s boring as only one part of the fun game of life.
Games are inherently engaging. If we can combine gamified incentive structures with a formal work environment, we won’t have to try so hard to get things done. The culture will be composed of people who enjoy their time together, and their experience in collaborating with one another will enable them to solve hard problems better. Play lets us interact with our team, not just as co-workers, but as collaborators having fun. The stronger relationships developed through play will create a culture of people who support their friends.
You get more done if you enjoy what you’re doing.
If you can think of your co-workers as teammates, consider these questions:
- What game are you playing?
- Who or what is your opponent?
- How will you know if you win?
Instead of pushing upstream against the current of your boredom to get your work done, you can go with the flow of your interests by making your work into a game.
Pick a project in your work that you want to gamify, and write out the Goals, Rules, and Feedback to make it into a game. Write these headings on a sheet of paper, and list ideas beneath them:
- Project: the area of work you want to gamify
- Goals: all the outcomes (good and bad)
- Rules: rewards and penalties
- Feedback: interactivity with other players
- Game title: your secret name for this project
This experiment is a form of play. You are creating a new and interesting way to turn boring work into a game you enjoy. Hopefully, you will discover a method to gamify your work, and get more done in good cheer.
This article is an excerpt from my next book, Playful Productivity. To get notified when it’s ready, sign up for the wait list here.