I’ve noticed something interesting lately. A lot of adults are playing games.
No, I don’t mean Parcheesi or tennis.
I mean games specifically designed to enhance one’s experience of another activity. And I am convinced that this is one of the simplest and most powerful tools for improving your productivity while increasing your enjoyment of the process.
First, let me provide some simple (and potentially obvious) thoughts on games.
There are two types of games: competitive games and play games.
Competitive games are the ones adults typically play. These games have rules. You keep score. There are winners and losers.
There is an endless list of competitive games including Monopoly, tennis, football, poker. Board games, cards games, and sports fall into this category.
Competitive games have rules that are defined by someone else (the sport’s governing body, the game manufacturer, or accepted conventions). The duration of the game is dictated by a clock, the score/points, or the amount of money you have available. Winning is good. Losing is bad.
Contrast competitive games with play games.
Play games are the ones typically played by children.
Play games typically have no rules. Or the rules are made up in the moment by the players. There are no winners and losers. The “success” of a game is solely determined by the players’ enjoyment. The game has no defined ending. It ends when the players decide it ends. The process is all that really matters.
The key to making any challenging task more fun and productive is to treat it like a play game.
Think of an activity you don’t want to do such as cleaning the house, making cold calls, or approaching a stranger.
Next, think of a game that could be fun that incorporates that activity.
A friend of mine, Donna, works from home. One week, her husband, Fred, was away on a business trip. Although Donna wanted to make sure that the house was clean and in order by the time Fred returned, she dreaded doing the housework. To make the time pass, she decided to play a game. The game was clean as a way of showing her love and affection for her husband. It was no longer about the cleaning. The time passed quickly and she enjoyed the process. With every crumb vacuumed and dish cleaned, she thought of her husband.
Yesterday I spent the day with a great friend of mine, Susanne. We drove 2 hours to the casino for a day of fun and entertainment. The main reason for the trip was to see a fantastic sax player, Candy Dulfer, perform. Candy was scheduled to take the stage at 7PM for a general admission show. There were no reserved seats or even the guarantee of a seat. The doors opened at 5:30. And that posed a dilemma.
Our favorite American football team, the New England Patriots, was playing an important game that would not end until 7PM. What should we do? Should we watch most of the football game and risk not getting into the concert? Or should we miss half of the football game so that we can be assured of a nice seat? Susanne had a third option. She decided to play a game.
The game was to see if she could get us on the guest list. This would allow us to watch the entire football game and still be assured a great seat. Although Susanne’s game had a specific outcome, for her, it was the game that mattered, not the outcome. I have never seen her so motivated and energized. She spoke with everyone. First she befriended the pit boss at the blackjack table who suggested she try to meet someone associated with the concert. Next thing I know, Susanne disappears for quite some time. Upon her return she says little, but is smiling. A little bit later she disappears again. This time she has the news: she got us on the guest list and we had a private booth right next to the stage.
For me, this was an incredible treat. Yes, the concert was fantastic. But the greater treat was seeing Susanne so jazzed up. The game transformed her into a people meeting machine. And this, from someone who considers herself to be an introvert.
Games can turn drudgery into a delightful diversion. The key is to find a game that works uniquely for you. Feel free to change the game if it stops being fun. There are no rules. And you may be surprised to find that there can be a huge payoff to play.