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Make It Play

The new book “Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time,” by Brigid Schulte is a terrific read. There is a large section full of studies and examples about the importance of play to human happiness, innovation and productivity. Play has certainly been essential in my life, and helps me to accomplish many of my goals — and actually enjoy the process.

After my divorce in 1995 came the other downer D’s — dating, drinking too much and finally depression. I was so low that I was willing to try what I thought sounded like a crackpot therapy method called EMDR, which involved the doctor waving a pencil in front of my face, me following it with my eyes hypnosis-style and then reporting the first images that came to mind, unedited and unfiltered. And damn if it didn’t work.

The image that came to me was the memory of myself as a child at my great grandmother’s farm, up to my shoulder in a bag of chicken scratch, a mouse running up the length of my arm. That memory unlocked something for me, and I started seeking out activities that had delighted me as a child. I went waterskiing in Acapulco. I got a cat. I spontaneously went to a friend’s wedding in Montana and met my second husband. When I started playing more, my depression lifted, I was more productive and my work got more creative.

I painted my office a vibrant blue called “By the Sea,” that reminded me of days at the beach digging for sand crabs and collecting shells. Anyone who stepped into that office instantly looked younger. I kept a huge tub of Red Vines on my desk, further adding to the room’s popularity and my happiness.

Within a year or so of consciously adding more play to my life, I took my first David Allen seminar. Allen preaches “relaxed control,” that feeling of serenity and flow that comes from doing the “next right thing”— of course, being organized (in control) means that you’ve identified what that next right thing is. Simple, but not easy.

Funny how that relaxed control can only come about through letting go— of excess stuff, irrelevant tasks, toxic relationships, old perspectives that no longer serve (such as thinking you should be able to do it alone) — and then adding more play.

Pilots are famous for relaxed control. My grandfather, a pilot, treasured his memories of boyhood play like devising nooses out of long grass to catch lizards. To relieve stress, he would park at the airport near his home and watch planes take off and land or travel up to Ketchum and spend a week fly fishing.

Grandpa never second guessed or felt guilty about the extravagance of owning a small plane because he knew that in order to work as hard as he did, a fair amount of play was essential. I’m so grateful for his example of someone “at the wheel” of their own life. The name of his company? Perry’s Electric Motors and Control. That combination of the words electric (energy) and control says it all.

Giving yourself permission to play is the key. David Allen wrote a book called “Making It All Work,” but consider Making It All Play. I’m not talking about planning the ultimate vacation — that is often just more work. I’m talking about simple pleasures.

What brought you joy as a kid and could you incorporate that into your life more? What colors did you love? What music? What candy or foods? What aromas? Could you burn a candle at your desk that reminds you of a favorite Hawaiian vacation? Could you spray paint your file cabinets sunshine yellow or grass green? Could you keep a mini trampoline in your office to jump on when your thoughts get stale and you need to be reenergized through a little giddy play?

Not every task is going to be a barrel of monkeys, and your choices will have to be in line with your budget (there’s nothing fun and playful about credit card debt), but there is potential for playfulness in almost every organizational challenge — even planning a funeral.

Getting in touch with that will take you to a deeper, more heartfelt place, making you more authentic, confident, electric and in control. In other words, a success.