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18 Ways to Enjoy the Ride at Work, or, Why "Don't worry, be happy" Isn't Computable

"We have become conditioned to believe that working is a very serious business and any time we're having fun we are probably not 'producing'. Depressed people generally tend to be less productive. Likewise, people who take themselves too seriously create unnecessary tension in themselves and those around them. While there is a basic level of tension which can be very beneficial to performance, too much is counterproductive." -- Seize the Day!

I admit it - I'm too serious. I have trouble taking it easy when working. It's why I wrote my little 99 Playful experiments guide, and why it's a long term goal. Like anything, there's a ton of advice on this (some good [1], [2]), but I've found that many tips and aphorisms are declarative, rather than procedural [3]. "Don't worry, be happy," "Just get over it," or "Live in the moment," specify the What, not the How - they're not computable. Ironically, a common bit of advice is the polar opposite: "It's the journey, not the destination."

So how do we actually go about this? Let me share a few ideas specific to the work context. Tell me what you think, and please share yours!

  1. Cultivate your sense of humor. Actively look for the bizarre, the absurd, The Office-style nuttiness. For example, if you work in a large organization, I guarantee you have some process or result that could be seen as "wildly unreasonable, illogical, or inappropriate." Institute a daily routine: At the start: Prime yourself by asking "What funny things will I notice today." At the day's end ask, "Of today's events, what can I laugh at (if not now, then down the road)?"
  2. Savor expertise. Notice actions that come easily to you and are totally natural. These may be so internalized as to be invisible. Stop and reflect on just how good you really are.
  3. Acknowledge reversibly. Giving tasks and events more weight than they deserve feels heavy. Question: Have you noticed that many decisions we make are reversible or can be worked around? Unless you're in a life-or-death world (e.g., emergency work like at hospitals or police), maybe some things ain't such a big deal.
  4. Be awed by your mind. Were you whacked by an idea or a burst of creativity? Or did you remember something that slipped yor mind [4], then came back? Or how about a recovered Presque vu? Hooray!
  5. Celebrate surprise. I wrote about this in One Way To Enjoy The Ride - Celebrate Surprise!, and covered planting seeds and being open to it. (In fact, our brains seem to have a built in novelty detector. I didn't realize! ;-)
  6. Put some mustard on it. Add a little flourish to your work, maybe a little extra pizazz when typing, or a dramatic toss of a paper ball into the recycling bin. For more see What Does It Take To Work With Flourish?
  7. Gang up. It's too easy to hunker down and work by yourself, even in an office. Getting a fresh perspective, especially from someone funny, helps us lighten up.
  8. Insert humor. Watch a short funny video (Fry & Laurie - Haircut), read something humorous (Stephen Colbert's Address to the Graduates), or tell a joke. Bonus: It might even help [from] zoning out (see The Brain: Stop Paying Attention: Zoning Out Is a Crucial Mental State). (Question: Got a favorite funny video? Share it. I know I'll get some good ones from you, dear reader.)
  9. Make your space fun. Populate your office with playful stuff. Buy a Nerf toy, get some Silly Putty, or a physio ball to bounce on while thinking. (A great source of these is ThinkGeek.)
  10. Enjoy learning. If you're reading my blog, you're curious and like improving yourself. I like to say that no matter what the outcome, you can guarantee success: You will learn something. Notice when you adopt a tasty mental treat, and give yourself a little high five.
  11. Take satisfaction when things go well. Give yourself some credit - I bet you can find things today that worked out in your favor. Note that it might take some creative thinking and granularity adjustments. Here's a simple one that might apply these days: Getting a paycheck.
  12. Think Seinfeld. Become an observational humorist and tune into amusing situations, events, or thoughts. Example: When mountain biking yesterday I came across a medium-sized green spray bottle labeled "Absorbine All Natural Horse Spray." I thought, what if it actually sprayed out horses? (Hey, I got a chuckle out of it, which is what counts ;-) It might help to keep a little journal of these observations to help increase awareness.
  13. Notice when you lift someone up. Happiness is contagious. Here's an example: When I work one-on-one with clients I have a short ceremony where I give them a nice "official" printed certificate. It's really satisfying to sharing their surprise and delight at this. (One client immediately put it on her bulletin board, a valid use of it from my productivity perspective.) AKA bucket-filling [5].
  14. Dwell on the swell. Did you get some good news? Even a little? Celebrate! With practice I've become very creative at interpreting good news. For an email twist, try using Gmail's "star" to highlight goodness.
  15. Laugh at your own odd behavior. What do you do that, if an alien observed you, would make zero sense? Here's a test: Ask "Would this make a great story?" or imagine whether you could say "You're never going to believe this!" Examples, please!
  16. Celebrate others' joy. We have talented people all around us experiencing successes. Why not share in their feats? Example: While hitting a tennis ball around with my eight year old daughter in the yard, I got bored chasing it and lost interest. Then something shifted and I tuned in to her pleasure. Seeing her laugh and jump helped me get out of my head and have some empathy. Sweet! Any examples from work?
  17. Enjoy the sense of accomplishment. One way to view our work is as a steady sequence of small achievements. (Maybe that's all there is, in the end?) Did you check something off your list? Then host a micro-celebration like leaning back and taking a contented sigh. I find it helps to have a daily plan [6], especially a conservative one that realistically allows a "touchdown."
  18. You're already there. Finally, pay attention to hidden things that provide joy right now. For example, when work is flowing and you feel that satisfying sense of progress. A test: Feeling contented.


Reader Comments (2)

What a coincidence! I recently had an Aha close to your points 17-18! While other points are ways to support ourselves, 17-18 are really direct. Instead of focusing on "how much needs to be done before this is finished", we can enjoy each tiny step as a step forward. Including "divergent" steps. And GTD ensures that the steps are tiny. May be the bottom line is: "Enjoy the progress."

It also attacks the tendency of aimless browsing and other self-distractions, since that's not progress, and not enjoyable!

It may be just words, but I really see a difference between "enjoy the progress" and "enjoy the journey". The first is something truely positive, while the second is empty: not computable, as you say!

And yes, I am really thankful to you for making us aware of "divergent" steps in the other post!


July 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAbhay Parvate

Hi Abhay.

> "Enjoy the *progress*." It may be just words, but I really see a difference between "enjoy the progress" and "enjoy the journey". The first is something truely positive, while the second is empty: not computable, as you say!

I love it!

> ... Including "divergent" steps. And yes, I am really thankful to you for making us aware of "divergent" steps in the other post!

Thanks! That one's changed my thinking pretty significantly. I've heard that from others too. :-)

> It also attacks the tendency of aimless browsing and other self-distractions, since that's not progress, and not enjoyable!

Good insight.

July 18, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

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