Does Your Life Feel Like Work Or Play?

life work or play

Have you ever had the experience of something that you once did for fun turning into work or a chore?

Maybe you loved knitting in the past, but recent requests from friends for specific items have left you feeling that turning out a new hat or jumper has become something you dread. Perhaps the website design skills which you were learning purely for enjoyment’s sake became tedious to keep up with once you started charging for your talents. I found that reading novels (previously something I did purely for fun) felt like work when I started studying English literature at university.

We all know what work feels like. It’s something that we:

  • Do out of a sense of duty or obligation
  • Sometimes (not always) get paid for
  • Often have deadlines for, or other people overseeing our progress

But if you think about it, it’s hard to label any specific activities as being “work”. Is writing blog articles work or play? Well, that depends whether you’re a freelance, paid blogger or someone with a personal blog that you use for journaling about your life.

George Orwell, writing over half a decade ago, was keenly aware that “work” and “play” pretty much depend on your perspective:

But what is work and what is not work? Is it work to dig, to carpenter, to plant trees, to fell trees, to ride, to fish, to hunt, to feed chickens, to play the piano, to take photographs, to build a house, to cook, to sew, to trim hats, to mend motor bicycles? All of these things are work to somebody, and all of them are play to somebody. There are in fact very few activities which cannot be classed either as work or play according as you choose to regard them. –

George Orwell, in The Road to Wigan Pier

Breaking the “Work” Mindset

So, how can you get out of the “work” mindset? How do you turn your work into something more enjoyable?

Firstly, I want to admit upfront that I don’t think this is totally possible for everyone. If you work in a boring job purely for money, chances are it’s never going to seem like play. Here’s a simple test:

  • Can you imagine doing what you currently do for “work”, if you weren’t paid?

If the answer is “no way”, then you may need to give some serious thought to your career. (A good starting point might be How to Design Your Own Life.)

But if you do something which you went into because you quite enjoyed it – perhaps as a writer, designer, computer programmer, coach – and you’re starting to feel that it’s becoming more and more of a chore, you could benefit from breaking the work mindset.

Here are a few things that might help you:

  • Plan a “treat” during each workday; something related to your work which you really want to do. It might be reading a chapter of a brilliant new book in your field, keeping in touch with your network via social media, writing a post for your company blog… anything that you don’t usually do because it feels too much like “fun” to count as part of your workday!
  • Take a day off (easier if you’re self-employed). Only do things which you want to do rather than things which you feel you should do. Ironically, I often find I make good progress on significant projects or tasks that I’ve been stalled on when I give myself permission to have the day off “real” work!
  • Start divorcing your actual income from your daily work. By that, I mean generating some passive income that comes into your bank account regardless of whether or not you’re sitting at your desk. (For example, book royalties, affiliate sales on your website, running advertising on your blog.) It doesn’t have to be a huge amount of money – I make about $150/month from one of my websites – but you’ll be surprised how liberating this can feel.

Think about what else would make your work seem more like play. Perhaps you get energized and enthused by collaborating with others – can you incorporate more of this into your day? Maybe you love working from Starbucks or a deckchair in your garden – are you resisting doing this because it feels too much like “fun” and you think work should be a struggle?

Turning Routine Work Into Play

If you’ve set an arbitrary goal which bores you or stresses you, consider whether it needs to be in your life. When you can ditch something that’s never going to be fun, do!

Of course, some tasks pretty much need to be done, regardless of how dull or work-like they are. A good way to make these closer to play is to impose some sort of external structure on them.

For example, if your daily work can be a bit of a grind (but you need to stick with it until you find a new job), try Mark Forster’s time management method for giving yourself “points” for what you accomplish each day:

This exercise consists of a daily challenge in which you compete against yourself to score as many points as possible each day. To score points, you have to decide the previous day how many points you are going to attempt to score the following day. Then you write down a list comprising that number of tasks. So, for example, if you decide you want to try to score three points the following day, you write down a list of three tasks. …

The tasks should be simple and specific so that by the end of the day, you have either done them or you haven’t. Then you score one point for each completed task.

That sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? But there’s a catch. You score the points only if you complete every item on the list that day. If you haven’t completed every item, then you score no points at all for that day – no excuses accepted!

Do It Tomorrow, pg 40-41, Mark Forster

If you work with colleagues, an element of competition can help to make your day more fun and challenging. Many of us have a strong competitive streak: racing to see who can get the most data entry items completed in a day, or who can put together mail-outs fastest, could turn really boring jobs into something more interesting.

If you work alone, compete against yourself, or find ways to make routine tasks fun – perhaps you challenge yourself to incorporate a random word into all your emails for the day, for example.

At home, chores are another great area for competition (this works well with kids, too; seeing who can tidy up the most toys fastest can have their bedroom floor cleared in minutes!) How about:

  • Drawing chores out of a hat to see who does what (you might allow swaps)
  • Signing up for Chores Wars – could be a great way to get a household of computer game fans to clean and hoover…

How do you make sure that you don’t turn your projects and goals into something that feels like hard work? How do you cope with the inevitably “worky” elements of life to make them more fun and interesting?

Photo by Rodrigo Cayo

25 thoughts on “Does Your Life Feel Like Work Or Play?”

  1. Thanks for this post. I find that the tasks I consider boring or distasteful can teach me a lot about myself. Taking a close look at what thoughts and feelings are coming up while I’m “doing something boring” has been valuable for me. For example, when I just watched carefully and noticed what came up for me while I was paying bills a while back, I saw that I was thinking “I’m no good at doing this,” and that’s what was having the experience be so miserable. Just becoming aware of that belief helped me realize where I have room to grow.

    1. Good point, Chris, and I’m not sure I’d quite looked at it that way before.

      I loathe typing up minutes for meetings (it’s not part of my job, something I occasionally do for church) and I have exactly the feeling you do about it – “I’m no good at doing this”. I’m actually a passable minute taker (I can never manage to be as concise as I’d like), and I’m sure that people appreciate my efforts! I’ll try to focus on that next time I have to do it….

  2. Hiya

    I liked this article. Made me stop and relect on a few perceptions I have – had on work.
    Treating yourself regularly, discovering a fun perspective to work and Mark Forster’s competition game are good ways to transform those moments at work.


  3. Ah, I used to face the same problem! I found a lot of boring stuff in my life that felt like work. So I thought about it for a bit, and realized that the reason it was so bloody boring was simply based on my approach!

    So I figured out what makes the difference between work and fun, and then how to transform the former into latter. Here’s a blog post I wrote on the topic:

    Funnily enough, it’s the best way I found to cure procrastination! (I’ll paste the first two paragraphs below, so you can decide if you want to click that link.)

    One day, back when I still sometimes had to help clean around the house, I had to sweep the living room floor. Except I obviously didn’t feel like it. So I was like “I’ll just read a book for a bit, and then get to it.” After reading I thought “I’m feeling hungry. I’ll go buy some bread and eat. Then I’ll immediately get started on sweeping.” … “Ah, I’m feeling full right now. I’ll just pop online and play some bridge, then I’ll get to it.” and so on, and so on…

    I stopped myself! I realized I was procrastinating because sweeping the floor was bloody boring! So I thought about how to make it fun for myself. And I came up with a solution – make it more challenging! So I stood on one leg, lifted the other one up while bending my body forward (forming a T-shape) and swept the floor like that, hopping around on one leg! (I also started talking in weird voices and eventually fell over from laughing at myself.)

    1. Haha! I’m laughing just picturing you doing it, Vlad.

      It’s funny how even the smallest things can make a dull task easier. My hoover has a smiley face on it, so now doing the hoovering never fails to make me grin too!

  4. Excellent article. I just started my new job today, and in the office I was thinking, “This place needs a little more fun!” I love the idea of simply changing the way your mind looks at something we may dread to make it more interesting. It’s kind of like a relationship. You have to vary it, add some spice, and some stimulation of the mind. It’s a very good way to refresh something you may feel has become boring or drab.

  5. This is a great post! It’s actually something I’ve been thinking about lately.

    My wife and I own our own product design business, and I also run two blogs. So I am totally self employed, and doing what I love to do. However, I was getting negative about the design business because I have to spend so much time in production -filling orders. Plus, with the economic situation, money is tight which doesn’t help.

    I was able to improve my attitude by doing what I now call “The Grass Is Always Greener on the Other Side – In Reverse” method. It’s really simple: whenever I get down on what I have to do, I just remind myself of what it was like working for a corporation, sitting in southern California traffic constantly, doing a job I had no interest in, or passion for.

    When I compare those memories to what I do now, I realize I’m standing on some really green grass!

    1. Yes, I too often have to step back and remember that even when freelancing is a bit tedious, it’s a whole league better than worknig 9-5 in a tech support office all day…

      My grass is good and green too! :-)

  6. Thanks for the article Ali. I like the idea of the point scoring daily challenge. I think it might just work. But I think it’ll work better if you’re competing against a colleague or friend than against yourself.



  7. Hi thanks for that .. I like the idea of divorcing the two incomes .. so the passive income can add a bit extra and give you a bit of freedom .. perhaps ultimately expanding it to it becoming your main income ..

    Good idea ..and about re thinking one’s work .. it can apply to other areas .. I visit my mother everyday, sometimes twice a day, in a Nursing centre – two years+ now .. & I get fed up .. but I just consider the good things I’ll get out of going upstairs and making my Ma happy and pleased to see me & ensure she wants me back tomorrow .. until the rainbow bridge comes – nice description of moving to the other life .. I think.

    Hope that’s not too gloomy .. but we’re all in challenging situations and they’re not all work – though there’s that too!!

    Just be positive, be happy and have love in your heart ..
    Hilary: Positive Letters

    1. Thanks for sharing that, Hilary. You’re completely right that it’s not just the work bit of our lives that can be really hard at times. It sounds like a tough and challenging sitution with your mother but I’m sure it makes a huge difference to her to see you.

      Best to you, and to your mother,


  8. Blogging is an example of something that turned from play into work for me. At the start of Feb I stopped working as Editor for Pick The Brain, meaning I had been in that position for exactly a year. Although I loved the extra income each month, the truth is that during that time I wore myself out and blogging began to feel like a chore. This partly explains why my writing has dropped off on this blog…..

    That being said, I’m now rediscovering my passion for blogging as I no longer feel obligated to do it. Thanks for this interesting article Ali.

  9. Thanks Peter, and thanks all for commenting. Good to hear that you’re getting back into blogging! I actually find that I enjoy my blogging here on The Change Blog, and on other blogs I write for, more than I enjoyed running my own blogs (The Office Diet and Alpha Student), both of which are on hiatus at the moment. I get bored easily so I like being able to write on a lot of different topics!


  10. I love the idea of making chores a game and coming up with ways to make work more fun with self challenges. Another thing I like to remind myself is that this is now, this is the only moment you truly have…don’t you want it to be more fun? Thanks for the creative tips!

  11. Hi Ali,

    I find that making our work as a competition help me to be more motivated in work and it is rewarding when I completed all my tasks that I set for myself on that day. This definitely help me to increase my productivity.

    Personal Development Blogger

  12. Hi Ali,

    I like the idea of changing the “work” mindset into “play” mindset.
    I like games, everybody like games. We will never get bored with our work, if we consider it as a game. All problems will be solved.

    Thanks for sharing, Ali.

  13. great post, let me share my thoughts, i consider tasks like writing very interesting but tasks like marketing for my website more like work. I believe if id keep my website running without getting money from it i will only write but i wont do the marketing tasks

  14. It’s true that differentiating between work and play is, most of the times, a matter of perception and circumstance. However, being able to bypass the work aspects of your job has a lot to do with the type of activity you’re involved into.
    If you consider art related jobs such as writing, photography, graphic design, illustration, music production etc., it’s a lot easier to mix the two. On the other hand, at least from my perspective, i couldn’t possibly get the play part of accounting (i wouldn’t want my accountant to play with my money), law making, cleaning, office work or any other tedious, repetitive jobs that require doing the same boring thing over and over again.
    Being one of those privileged ones in the first group, i feel it starts to become work, when you don’t have the time to enjoy the process anymore and are solely concentrating on the deadline. While being pressured by time can act as an adrenaline rush, it certainly sucks the fun out of the project. This way, no matter how nice the destination is, you’re letting the journey pass you by.

  15. It was shocking when I went back and looked at my old posts to see how I’d improved. I feel that even though my writing might have been cleaned up a bit, my motivation back then was so much stronger — I could easily crank out two, three, four posts a day enthusiastically about topics in my niche. Now, I’d be lucky if I crank four posts a week (two posts a week sounds more typical), and I don’t feel enthusiastic at all.

    I used to think that the money was the problem and the distractor, but now I think I’ve got some revision and reflection to do on my own.

    Good post, and it really does make one aware of one’s thoughts.

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