Why more play makes you more productive

Updated to Business on December 14, 2022.

At some point we all learned time management. It went something like this:

1) make a list

2) follow the list (no matter what)

3) cross off the list

Good luck with that.

The average person is interrupted every four to eight minutes at work and for about eight to twelve minutes at a time.

Do the math on that, assuming a 50 work-week year, allowing for holidays and it comes to…

Yup, a pain in the ass.

Being highly effective, including avoiding distractions, requires more than a list – you have to want to do the work.

That’s where play comes in.


Let’s look at the four types of time you have: planning, production, personal, and play.

PLANNING helps you ration time and avoid over committing

PRODUCTION is single-focus, get-it-done work time

PERSONAL is for family, friends, and food (preparing, sharing, enjoying)

And PLAY is all for you

For me, play happens when I’m reading a great book, running the trails above my house, paddling the lake, playing my guitar, or taking in a yoga class. 

Play is when you are so in the moment you can’t think of anything else

Play is when time flies by (and you don’t care)

And play is what resets your mind, renews your spirit, and recharges your commitment.


Let’s do a quick test. You can do this in less than two minutes and it could change your life (it changed mine).

On a piece of paper make this chart (or click on the image and print it).

score cardNext, consider this week, or any typical week – how do you allocate your time in your day?

For each line: on a scale between 0 and 5, where “5” means “I consistently invest the right amount of time in this area” how would you rate yourself?

This simple exercise always gets an audience’s attention. Something clicks when you quantify what is normally hard to measure. 

When I first did this exercise, I scored myself a “2” on Personal and “3” on Play.

I was pretty good at Planning and Production – I’ve always been a focused, hard worker. But, work was beating out Personal time and even in my Play time I was thinking about work.


Think of the brain like a muscle.

With muscles, there are slow twitch muscles that are used for endurance and fast twitch that are used for acceleration and speed. You need both.

During the day we run on fast twitch-like brain power. Responding, typing, talking, and making fast decisions. Awesome for production. Now, try to sit down and enjoy a book or have a meaningful talk with your partner at home. You’re maybe good for about five minutes before you have to go slay another dragon.

The anecdote to fast twitch is play time. But, don’t think of this as frivolous, wasted time – it’s not. Play time as how you restore, rejuvenate, and refresh your brain to go back to slaying dragons.


More and more recent brain research is proving the effectiveness of Play time for developing healthy brains. Here are some examples:

** Exercise is known to improve the brain’s executive functions (planning, organizing, multitasking, and more).

** Meditation stimulates the left prefrontal cortex (generally associated with positive emotions), helps to reduce anxiety, and improve creative thinking. 

** Music can activate your brain’s reward centers and depress activity in the amygdala, reducing fear and other negative emotions.

** Video games can improve attention span and information processing skills, even (according to one study) your confidence and social skills.

** Playing cards, doing puzzles, or crosswords stimulates new brain connections, while reducing risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.


Nothing changes until you feel the pain. Revisit your score card above. Do you need to make a change? If not, thanks for reading this far – have a nice day.

If you want to change you need to agree a little effort in the right direction is an investment that will pay big time, with dividends.

Next, you need to decide what Play time looks like for you.


Here’s the rule book for play time:

1. you do it every day

2. when you are doing it you can’t think about anything else

3. you love it

And don’t tell me you like to go fishing. Nice idea, but unlikely you do it every day.

Watch my new Slideshare show about play time.



Here are my picks for awesome play time (send me yours in the comments below):

  • walking my dog
  • listening to music
  • playing guitar, piano, nose flute
  • knitting, macramé, needlepoint
  • painting, drawing, carving, clay-work
  • photography
  • reading fiction
  • creative writing, journalling, doodling
  • meditation, yoga, martial arts
  • trail running, hiking, cycling, walking
  • Sudoku, solitaire, crossword puzzles


Do you have enough Play in your day?

Here’s the deal. We could be having this conversation a year from now and nothing’s changed. 

Or you could start with 20 minutes of Play time today just for you.

Be selfish: you can’t take care of others unless you take care of yourself first. 

Now, go play.