Workaholics and procrastinators can't win when it comes to play. If you play, you feel guilty; and if you don't play, you become so tired that you can’t do your best work.
In my blog called "The First Step Toward Beating Procrastination," I explored why we procrastinate. I talked about how we freak ourselves out over simple tasks and how simple it is to make a task easy to do when we take the first step toward beating procrastination. I talked about how to create powerful momentum just by changing how you talk to yourself about the simple tasks that you do in your life. Rather than turning simple tasks into life-threatening situations, I talked about how we can turn them into doable situations.
In this blog I want to discuss something that most procrastinators don't have in their life.
When I was in pharmacy school, I remember studying until the wee hours of the morning. I suffered and toiled to memorize pointless structures that I immediately forgot after my exams. I didn't dedicate myself fully to studying for exams and preparing projects, papers, and assignments. I struggled with working on these projects because they honestly didn't seem all that important. Instead, I found myself focusing on studying or just giving myself a break rather than working on minor projects.
Whenever I started to think, "Man, I should really on work that project,” I found myself playing a video game instead. I would justify my actions by saying, "You've been working really hard and studying furiously for exams. You deserve a break. Watch an episode of ‘The Office.’”
The problem was that 1 episode would easily turn into 4 episodes and I would not have made any progress on the project. To make matters even worse, the entire time I was watching "The Office," I had this nagging thought in the back of my mind telling me, "You can't enjoy this. You have something else you need to be doing right now."
That nagging feeling completely took the fun out of watching "The Office" to the point that I was unable to enjoy all of its comedic humor. Unfortunately, I still have this problem today. I have dozens of projects up in the air that I'm juggling, and because I have so many things going on in my life—just like you do—I tend to drop a thing or 2 because I procrastinate. I tell myself things like, "Oh, you can get that done later," or, "You should answer emails right now," or, "You worked hard all day. Just enjoy the night."
The 1 thing that most procrastinators lack in their life is guilt-free play.
In his book Peak Performers, Dr. Charles Garfield shares that those who achieve the most in their work are very likely to achieve the most in their play. There's interesting research that shows that very effective people place the same amount of importance on their play as they do on their work.
There are countless examples from history's greats that points to this truth. Albert Einstein was famously known to play the violin whenever he was stumped with a problem, only to find his solution through the act of playing.
On the flip side, the procrastinator doesn't think of prioritizing play. Play is something procrastinators use to escape the stress that comes along with any task.
Play, when used correctly, can free you from the anxieties that face you on a day-to-day basis. If you're like me—a procrastinator but a workaholic—you see the idea of play as being nonsensical. “How can you possibly spend your time playing when there's so much work to be done?” you may ask yourself. By asking this question and failing to prioritize play, you create guilt around any kind of recreation.
A common question that has popped into my head over the years is, "How could you spend your time doing this?” Workaholics and procrastinators can't win when it comes to play. If you play, you feel guilty; and if you don't play, you become so tired that you can’t do your best work.
Peak performers create a sense of play that does not involve guilt: Guilt-free play, if you will. In his book The Now Habit, Neil Fiore talks about how to create this kind of play in your schedule. This kind of play should be family oriented, involve friends and create a feeling of renewal. There should be a sense of creation, where you create a deeper relationship with others or create in the sense of making art or music.
If you look at the word "recreation," you see the word "recreate," meaning “to be created again.” That's what recreation provides: restoration of your mind and a resetting that allows you to refocus on your work and draw new connections and insights that weren't there before.
Have you ever gotten a great idea while you were completing a routine or mundane task, such as taking a shower? This theory is why “shower thoughts” exist. When your mind is briefly “turned off” and not being constantly driven to make decisions and process new material, it's allowed to make deep connections within the brain that would normally not happen. If you haven't already had your own “shower thought,” I encourage you to try to not think about anything related to work for a while. Just let your mind wander, and you'll quickly see that you'll make new connections as new ideas come to your mind.
The next action step for procrastinators is to prioritize play. Look at your schedule and find a way to incorporate recreation. I use Google Calendar to plan out my life, and I schedule family time from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. every evening, no exceptions. During this time, I have guilt-free play because I know that when the play is over, I feel refreshed and energized—like I can take on more work.
When you schedule play into your life, you look forward to the end of that time because it means that you get to work on the things that you enjoy. Scheduled play time also gives you motivation to work on difficult projects.
Whenever I have lots of projects going on in my life, I love to reward myself with video games. When I'm done playing a mindless video game for an hour, I feel recharged. My mind feels rested because I've just had some play and I didn't have to feel guilty about it.
It's a freeing sensation to know that your play is actually almost as important as your work. Take the time today to look at your schedule and prioritize the things that really matter in your life, such as your family.
One of the hosts of the great podcast "Career Tools" shared this analogy when comparing work and the rest of your life to your family: If you were to compare the sun and a yellow M&M and hold them up against each other in the sky, you would say that they have a lot of similarities. To your eye's perspective, the sun is actually the same size as a yellow M&M. They're both the same color and they can both move in the sky, albeit that you hold one in your hand.
But that's as far as the similarities go.
In this analogy, the sun represents your family. Your other responsibilities, including your health, your physical fitness, your mental growth, your self-development and your job, are represented by the yellow M&M. If you think your job is more important than the size of a yellow M&M in comparison to your family, I encourage you to talk to someone who just lost their job. Then, talk to someone who just lost their son or daughter. You'll see a clear difference between the 2.
Prioritize your play time, prioritize your family and take a little time to recreate every day so that you can go out and do your best work.