Play – The Powerful Weapon to Unlock Tremendous Results

Conventional Wisdom

Play is something that kids thrive on. It helps them learn. As adults, we play much less, primarily because of all the commitments of adult life. But what if I told you that play holds the key to increasing your effectiveness and productivity?


Conventional wisdom says that to achieve more, you just need to follow a very simple formula.

# of hours worked = amount of productivity

But that idea is a fallacy.

Before I get into that, though, I want to make sure we’re speaking the same language, so let’s first define a couple of terms: effectiveness and productivity.

Effectiveness vs. Productivity

Effectiveness is your ability to produce high-quality work in any given moment. It's basically a measure of your creativity and critical thinking ability. Being effective requires that you have a high level of both energy and focus. There's no shortcut to this; you can’t fake it or brute force your way to being effective, but more on that later.

Productivity, on the other hand, is a measure of how much high-quality, high-value work you accomplish in a certain period of time. The high-value distinction is important, because that's what separates true productivity from merely “busyness”.

Your Body Isn't A Machine

While it seems logical that you must keep pressing on if you want to get more done, this mode of being “always on” does not give you the results you think it will. It’s very easy to be deceived by constant activity, though. When you work long hours, you usually feel very productive, but the reality is that you're not being nearly as effective as when your energy level was higher (I talk more about that in another video). The deceptive part is that the decline is gradual, so you can’t usually gauge how effective you are in the moment.

Your body is not designed for continuous output like a machine is. The harder or longer you work, the more recovery time your brain and body need. And, yes, while everyone is a little different, this is a physiological reality, meaning you aren’t the exception to this rule. There are scores of scientific studies that confirm this fact. Elite performers of any kind, and particularly elite athletes who play at the highest levels, know and adhere to this principle religiously.

If you work long hours for a day or two without giving your body and your brain the opportunity for play and recovery, your effectiveness will taper off later in the day, but you can still be effective for much of it. However, when that long work day becomes your version of normal, even your baseline, fully-rested level of effectiveness will start to degrade pretty quickly.

The Effects of Stress?

Even if you're “only checking email”, just thinking about your response or what you need to do about them adds mental and often emotional stress that gradually increases your fatigue, slowly reducing your focus and your motivation. That “always on” mentality can lead to burnout, and you eventually start to resent work because you feel like it prevents you from doing the types of things that you enjoy, even when the lack of play and leisure time is self-induced.

There are also significant health consequences from having high levels of stress over long periods of time. Now, you might be thinking, “but my work doesn’t get me stressed out, so that doesn’t really apply to me". I should clarify that I am referring to stress in the clinical sense here. For many people, the word stress elicits thoughts of fear and anxiety about something out of your control or something that frustrates you. But, in the clinical sense, stress simply means something that requires your body or mind to do work.

So, when you go to the gym or play a sport, those exercises put stress on the muscles in your body. Similarly, when you do work that requires any kind of thinking or decision making, it places stress on your brain, whether or not you consider the things you're thinking about to be “stressful”. Your brain automatically responds to that stress by releasing different hormones (like cortisol) into your bloodstream. I’m not gonna get into details of body chemistry here (primarily because I’m neither a doctor nor an expert on the matter), but it’s important to understand that, while these hormones are necessary for your body to function properly and are not inherently bad, long-term exposure to them can be.

How Play Helps

So, how do you maximize your effectiveness?
The irony is that, when you make it a priority to schedule play time and recovery activities into your day, and make sure you get adequate sleep, you're more able to sustain motivation and focus. When that happens, you’re more effective during the times when you are working, which leads to greater impact and higher productivity overall. Your effectiveness also gets a boost because you are likely to laser focus when you are working, knowing that you'll have an opportunity to rest in the near future. The ends of your scheduled work periods also act as convenient deadlines that psychologically motivate you to complete whatever task you are working on before the end of that session.

When you start getting a lot of quality work done, you naturally feel good about it, which increases your motivation and you enjoy your working time more. Then, when you do play or stop to recharge, it allows you to enjoy that time and truly relax without feeling guilty. Getting that rest in turn allows you to be more effective during your next work period. It's a virtuous cycle that leads to increased motivation and effectiveness and, therefore, increased productivity. I've recently started using this strategy in my life and so far I’ve noticed that I am definitely more focused and energized during my work periods.

Please leave a comment below this video to let me know what you think, or to share your experience using this strategy in your life. I can’t wait to hear about your experience.

I want to help you overcome your motivation challenges. If you have a specific issue you are struggling with that you would like help with, you can reach out to me directly at I read all my emails, and I love to hear from you.

The idea for this post was inspired by concepts in The Power of Full Engagement, by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

and The Now Habit, by Neil Fiore.