Make Time to Play

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Updated November 3, 2022

You’re reading an excerpt of Creative Doing, by Herbert Lui. 75 practical techniques to unlock creative potential in your work, hobby, or next career. Purchase now for instant, lifetime access to the book.

“Without play, only Shit Happens. With play, Serendipity Happens,” wrote David Weinberger in The Cluetrain Manifesto.

“Work which remains permeated with the play attitude is art,” wrote philosopher John Dewey.

The difference between work and play is largely intention. Play is intended for amusement, joy, and perhaps mastery, with the main intention being to continue to play. Work is intended for results, benefit, and sustenance, with the main intention being to continue to survive or provide for yourself.

We already know how to play—to do something for its own sake, to explore, to imagine. It’s just that sometimes we go without it for so long that we may forget. No wonder there are classes to teach us how to relearn this valuable skill that was squished out of us. If you need ideas, go do improvisational comedy or try a new instrument or a sport. Rent a bicycle and go for a ride. Buy a Lego set and build. Draw a cartoon. Feed your creative practice (and well-being) by making time for play.

Even if you’re doing it for work, you may find infusing your work with the spirit of play to bring about an interesting opportunity or idea that wasn’t obvious to you at first.

Lose Yourself

Let go of your external expectations. Immerse yourself in the task at hand.

Bono wrote about Frank Sinatra, “Fully inhabiting the moment during that tiny dot of time after you’ve pressed ‘record’ is what makes it eternal. If, like Frank, you sing it like you’ll never sing it again. If, like Frank, you sing it like you never have before.” This philosophy is applicable to your craft; you can pretend like it’s the last time you’re doing your work, the last chance you might be able to contribute to this piece of work. This immersion naturally lets expectations, hopes, and fears fade away; none of it matters. Treating your work like a craft will help you let go of external measures of quality and focus on what’s in front of you. Everything else is an unnecessary distraction.

Whenever a thought of comparison comes across your mind, notice it, and then let go. If you catch yourself ruminating about it, tap it away like a feather duster cleaning a glass and bring your mind back to whatever you are doing. As composer, band leader, and saxophonist Charlie Parker said, “Don’t play the saxophone. Let it play you.”

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