After dropping my brother-in-law off at his house following a recent trip to the bowling alley, my father-in-law asked how it went.
I commented that, somewhat surprisingly to this non-bowler, it was pretty fun.
He replied that he was glad, and then added as I turned to leave, "You need to have more fun."
It was just a passing comment, but I thought about it as I drove home, and I've thought about it quite a bit since then.
I write every week about trying to build better work-life balance, and I firmly believe in the importance of working toward that goal. However, the "life" part of that equation for me often includes doing chores at home, as opposed to focusing on and enjoying the people who live there with me.
Each day seems to have so few hours and such a long list of time-consuming tasks. I am, by nature, a task-oriented person. If I see something that needs to be done, it's hard for me to relax until it's finished.
In many ways, this trait has served me well. It means that I'm driven to meet deadlines — which was especially important when I was a full-time journalist — and that I'm known to be fairly reliable. If you give me a job, I'll try to complete it as quickly as I can and to the best of my ability.
However, this also leads to a certain inflexibility in my nature. I'm always the person in our family who is asking others to pick up their toys, get ready for bed and hurry up, already!
I like to think I've mellowed a bit in this regard over the years, but it's still a challenge for me — and for my long-suffering wife and children. It also makes me a bit "fun deficient."
My wife, on the other hand, is a person who definitely knows how to have fun. She's always willing to take a break from a project — especially one that, while necessary, isn't really important in the grand scheme of things — in order to enjoy the people she loves.
I was reminded of this the other night. She was working on cleaning out her closet, which contained several bags of yarn left over from a church service project we led a few months ago. She was sorting that yarn on the kitchen table when she noticed that our 7-year-old son was playing with dominoes on the floor near her, trying to build them into shapes that he could then knock over to spectacular effect.
He was struggling with executing some of his more involved designs. She noticed and immediately left the yarn project to play with our boy. I was downstairs folding laundry at the time, but I heard her playing with him, so I jogged up the stairs to see what was happening.
For a few minutes, I watched their interaction — him sketching his plans for domino creations on a scrap of paper, and her painstakingly translating his imaginative designs into reality. The joy was plain to see on both of their faces, especially when the time came to tap that first domino and watch the rest fall with a satisfying clatter on the wood floor.
After a while, I took her place on the floor and enjoyed some time with my son, too, while she resumed her yarn-sorting. As I did so, I was struck yet again by her ability to know instinctively when it's time to work and when it's time to play.
As she has repeatedly tried to teach me over the years despite my difficulties with learning the lesson, it is entirely appropriate for playtime to delay work now and then.
Despite my shortcomings in this area, I have come to believe this principle for building joy at home also has application in the workplace.
Plenty of studies and anecdotal evidence suggest that people who enjoy their jobs are more productive at work. I've definitely found that to be the case.
A couple of weeks ago, I was assigned to serve as interim manager for an additional team at work. This team's manager left the company about five months ago and my boss has worked with them since then. However, with his ultra-busy schedule, that had become increasingly difficult, so I volunteered to help.
As I met with the team members in groups and individually over the last few days, I was struck by how much fun they have together. They're a self-motivated bunch, and they work hard to direct the development of excellent projects and meet deadlines. But they seem to have a great time while they're doing it.
In that way, they're much like the team I've managed for the last couple of years. Again, it's made up of smart, talented people who work their tails off, but who also genuinely enjoy each other and like to have fun while they work.
Several times during the last week, I found myself reassuring the team for which I've been given interim responsibility that I also believe work should be fun. Usually I would say something like, "We spend lots of time in this office, so we might as well enjoy it."
I sometimes think I do a better job of following my own advice at work than I do at home.
But if recognition of one's troublesome tendencies is the first step toward overcoming them, then I guess I'm on the right path.
I'm sure I'll always be a task-oriented person — it's a big part of my personality, and it's helped me succeed in many areas of life. But I've got plenty of examples around me of people who know how and when to put a project down for a few minutes to have some fun. I'll try harder to follow their lead in the weeks and months to come.
After all, those clothes that need to be folded won't be damaged if I ignore them for a few minutes. But time for family fun is fleeting, and I don't want to miss those joyful moments of playing with dominoes on the living room floor.
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