The Fine Art of Having Fun: Four Ways to a Better Balance Between Work and Play

By Brian Gast

I’m getting closer to my vision of taking three months off each year. The problem is I’m fighting a headwind of guilt and fear. As I wrote the first sentence, I felt like I was coming out. I worried that my family and clients would think, “What a slacker!” I was raised with a very strong work ethic instilled in me, coming from a long line of Germans who knew the value of hard and productive work. Additionally, my work discipline has served me in many ways over the years. No wonder it’s taken me so long to learn how to have fun!

It looks like I’m not alone. Last month The Wall Street Journal published an survey that showed that 56 percent of the workers surveyed were more in need of a vacation now than in past years. More disturbing was that only 53 percent of workers who took vacations were coming back rested and rejuvenated.

I realize having a job in our current economic cycle is something to be grateful for. I also know there are people in situations where external factors or job structures don’t provide for significant time away from work. Yet, when it comes to their work, many executives and entrepreneurs are addicts. In spite of their ability to take time off, these people find it nearly impossible to extract themselves from their work life.

Executives around the world are not only working too much, they’re forgetting how to relax and have fun when they aren’t working (and I suspect while they are working too). This pattern is expensive. It saps creativity and engagement, creates health problems, and makes the transition to a traditional retirement a challenge.

The solution for poor work/life balance is a lot more complicated than just taking more time off. It involves meeting core needs that often reflect insecurities (e.g., what is our value or identity apart from our work) that compel us to over-commit and misalign our priorities with our schedules. Fun naturally emerges once we uncover our often hidden drivers to work hard. Paradoxically, in order to identify what keeps us addicted to work, we need to slow down.

Here are four strategies you can use right now to slow down, disconnect from work and increase the “fun factor” in your life.

  1. Get Present. It’s hard to have fun when you’re worrying about the future or trying to compensate for the past. Sometimes what is happening in the present is uncomfortable. Yet worrying, compensating and escaping discomfort drive us to multi-task and lead to addictions to email, texting or voicemail. Technology requires a discipline of strict boundaries to disconnect and have fun away from the office. Make a commitment to be fully present to what is unfolding and who you are with right now. What consistent habit keeps you from being present?
  2. Get Perspective. I plan to work most of my life. The “work very hard, sock away enough money quickly in order to live off investment income” is a torturous and out-dated model fueled by myths and fear. Why pack work into such a short number of years? Why spend so much of your time working while your kids are living with you? What will you do for thirty, forty, or fifty years when you retire at a young age? It seems to make more sense to mix periods of hard yet meaningful work with periods of play and parenting and to spread the mix over a lifetime. This aligns work with parenting, removes the self-imposed pressure of building up a massive financial nest egg, and sets up a sustainable work pace that feeds us well into our elder years. Who’s waiting to connect with you while you rush to retire in style?
  3. Get Support. Most of us are surrounded by strong colleagues, employees and family members, and many believe in God or some other higher form of support. Yet we choose to go it alone by not fully engaging the support of others. Perhaps deep down we don’t trust we will be supported. Going it alone is a sure path to a grinding-it-out fun-sapping life. Who’s waiting to support you in having more fun?
  4. Get Training. Who in your circle knows how to play? You could probably start with your kids. Observe them. Ask them to take the lead in teaching you (or reminding you) to have fun—either while you are working or when you take time away from work. You may learn your idea of fun looks a lot like work to the fun expert. Who’s waiting for an invitation from you for a play date?

Don’t miss the invaluable moments in your life this summer; set an intention to recharge and have some fun!