Infusing Play into Mundane Tasks

Zen Habits

Hailing from Guam it's a pleasure to introduce Leo Babauta, who will be providing the frank community with inspiration and tactics on setting and achieving your goals each and every week, check out his blog Zen Habits

‘It is a happy talent to know how to play.’ ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

When I write about loving every moment and loving what you do, people often ask, “What about when you have to do something you don’t like?”

You can’t always enjoy what you’re doing, right?

Actually, you can. You just have to remember what it’s like to be a child.

Sure, there are things we have to do every day that we might think are boring: household chores, errands, routine tasks at work, being in a meeting that’s makes you want to pound your head on the table. But those are only boring because we’ve chosen to make them boring.

Happy Man

Let’s take my 6-year-old daughter Noelle as an example. She had to go to the dentist, which is a pretty routine thing for most people. We took the train and then walked a few blocks. In the train, she sang, found things fun to see out the window, played games with me. As we walked, she talked about how the building the dentist is in might possibly reach the blue stuff in the sky, and wanted to bet me that it actually did (10 hugs if I won, $1 if she won). The elevator ride to the 18th floor was like a roller coaster ride to her.

Everything she does becomes a game, an opportunity for wonder and exploration, or at the very least an opportunity to sing a song. She’s never bored. Why is that?

Because she doesn’t see anything as boring. Everything is new, and there’s always a game you can play.

We can do that too. Every chore can be turned into play. Every walk to the store can be infused with beginner’s mind, so that we see our surroundings afresh, ripe for exploration. Every boring work task can be turned into a challenge, a game.

My 8-year-old son Seth runs everywhere, jumps everywhere. We’re walking along the street and he’s a werewolf, a wizard, a superhero. A living room becomes a place to make a fort, styrofoam becomes a toy, and if there’s nothing to play with, he’s pacing around making up stories in his head. How can you ever be bored when you see life like this?

Though I don’t want to tell you how to play, by request, here are a few quick examples:

  • Sing as you do chores
  • Use dishwashing as a form of mindfulness practice
  • Make a game of computer tasks — see how fast you can get your inbox to empty (set a timer)
  • Give yourself points for checking off your tasks, and see how many points you can get each day
  • Skip instead of walk
  • Imagine you are in a movie when you walk into a meeting
  • Give yourself challenges
  • Make bets with friends when it comes to doing things you don’t normally like doing
  • Play music, dance around
  • Do a victory dance after you do anything good
  • Annoy your co-workers by calling them Jeeves
  • Only text people in Spanish
  • Play games to learn things
  • When you send an email, make fax noises
  • When you have to clean something, give a play-by-play of your actions with a Howard Cossell voice
  • Imagine that your co-workers are robots, or vampires
  • Talk to your computer, and give it a name
  • Pretend you’ve never been anywhere before, and that everywhere is new
  • Anytime you do something, ask, “What would Dwight Schrute Do?” (WWDSD?)
  • Try to rhyme your emails or tweets

OK, those weren’t all great, but I’m sure you could think of better ones once you get into the right mindset.

We’ve had the play pounded out of us, from years of schooling and work. Bring the play back, by watching a kid and seeing how amazing life is for them.

(This post was inspired by Suraj Shah’s post Last day living.)

‘We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.’ ~George Bernard Shaw

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