WSJ: Work Before Fun? That Might Not Always Be Best

In the Wealth Management section of the Monday October 23, 2017 issue of the WSJ, Demetria Gallegos wrote the article “Work Before Fun? That Might Not Always Be Best” which cites a research article in Psychological Science by O’Brien & Roney (2017) titled “Worth the Wait? Leisure Can Be Just as Enjoyable With Work Left Undone.” My commentary and analysis is based on the WSJ article by Gallegos and the research article’s abstract.

This topic reminds me of Shawn Achor’s question about the order of success and happiness, and the overall subject of positivity as related to productivity. The difference may be that Achor focuses on the pursuit of success and happiness, whereas O’Brien and Roney are looking at the pursuit of fun and work. Both are looking to produce productivity gain.

But what if we took a fuzzy view of work/fun? That is, what if work and fun were not neat packages that could only be sequentially ordered? For example, what if work and fun could be in parallel? Yes, have fun doing your work. This is an idea I remember from Richard St. John’s “8 Secrets of Success” and I think is closely linked to the motivational feeling of purpose. In YCISL, most of our activities are framed as games – to promote the “fun factor” which I have learned from coaching youth.

We could also extend this thought to having work paired with fun. Not all work has to be paired (there are some things we have to do that we might not feel that it is fun) but we can influence productivity by selectively choosing specific tasks to have a fun component. In the chemistry analogies I like to use, work could be bonded to fun and it doesn’t have to be just a 1:1 combination. If I could bring in Daniel Pink’s ideas on intrinsic motivation, we could try to bond mastery, autonomy and purpose to work in order to gain that significant and sustainable productivity gain.

While these latter views of the work-fun system are more complex, I feel that a sequential order for work and fun (as designed in the published study) is not a sustainable solution. The actual problem may be bureaucratic policies that only measure work (at work) and try to stifle fun (at work) – to borrow from our basic program premise that schools stifle creativity.

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