Are you having fun right now? If you’re reading this at work (shouldn’t you be doing something more constructive?), the answer is probably “no”. And that’s bad for you, your employer, and your colleagues. Why?
Because fun is emerging as the difference between good companies and great ones. Evidence is mounting that suggests fun in the workplace can boost staff morale, increase our creative abilities, and (perhaps paradoxically) provide a productivity spike. More and more successful businesses are buying into the motto “work hard, play harder”.
One recent study from the University of Florida showed that employees that have fun at their workplace got more done, displayed more creativity in their work and problem-solving, and helped their co-workers more than their “all work and no play” counterparts.
Fun just makes everything better. Now, of course, you need to sit down and do some actual work, too. But many businesses provide ample opportunity for fun and good times, both on and off the clock. It’s not unusual now to see a workspace with a pool or ping pong table, or a pinball machine, or gaming platform like an Xbox or Playstation. The employees are encouraged to take short breaks throughout the day and let loose. Play some Super Mario Bros. (am I dating myself with that reference?) or Sonic the Hedgehog (and that one?). The studies suggest that 10-15 minutes of unadulterated fun helps us reset and refocus. We tackle our work with renewed verve and vigour after a rousing round of air hockey. Some workplaces look more like a dream game room...and that’s okay.
And the fun doesn’t stop at 5pm. Nope. Many companies sponsor fun activities and events outside of business hours. Paintball. Obstacle courses. Go-karting. Mini golf. Employees come together in their downtime. Not for meetings or training sessions, but for good, old-fashioned f-u-n. It brings them together. It creates a more cohesive and happy staff. And a happy staff is a productive one.
You can kickstart the fun revolution at your workplace with a few simple “toys” that you get for yourself. You might not have a vintage Donkey Kong machine in the breakroom, but you can pick up these items and play your way to greater productivity.
1. Egg Timer
I know what you’re thinking: egg timer? Fun? To which I say...yes! Think back to when you were young. Did you ever play with an analog or digital stopwatch? Many did. We timed ourselves for everything: how fast we ran, how long we could hold our breath, how many pushups we could do in a minute, how fast we could pick up all the toothpicks (or marbles, or whatever). And then we tried to break our personal best records.
I’m not suggesting you try and hold your breath for 2 minutes at your desk, but you can use a simple egg timer (or fancy Pomodoro timer, custom-built to increase your productivity with the Pomodoro technique) to get more done. Ever have to do a lot of something tedious? Gamify it! Use the timer to see how many you can get done in 20-25 minutes, take a short break, and then try and beat that mark. Or use the timer as a reminder to take a break when working hard on something. The Pomodoro technique suggests that we take a 5-minute break for every 25 minutes of work.
A timer can be used in many ways to gamify your work tasks. Make a game of it, compete against colleagues, and see how much more enjoyable even the most boring of tasks becomes.
2. Evernote Smart Notebook
Evernote is everywhere. You can use it to store, save, share, organize, and sync all the notes, ideas, and tidbits you come across online.
One of their latest additions is the Evernote Moleskine notebook. Is there anything more sophisticated than a Moleskine? It just feels great in your hand. The partnership between the two industry leaders has created the world’s first paper notebook designed specifically for digital archiving. It allows you to capture your hand-written notes and sketches, and then optimizes and integrates them seamlessly with your Evernote notebooks and notes. There are four models to choose from: classic, business, sketchbook, and journal. The product comes with a colour-coded system of smart stickers that allow you to “tag” your analog paper pages.
Again, I know what you’re thinking: a notebook? First, an egg timer, and now a book. Woo hoo! Let the good times roll.
To which I say...yes! Research suggests that taking notes by hand helps us to remember better. Beyond that (and here’s the fun part), doodling is also supposed to boost our memory and relieve stress. Use your notebook for business-related notes, lists, and ideas, but also take a break and simply draw. Sketch. Doodle. Scribble. You can digitize and save them to your Evernote account later. Admit it...you love to draw. Create a comic character. Have fun.
3. Rubik's Cube or Other Puzzle
Remember the Rubik’s Cube? Remember how friggin’ hard it was to solve? Still fun, though, right?
Physical puzzles like the Cube can be a great addition to your office toy collection. It’s a distraction, and when trying to work through a problem, or think outside the box, a distraction can be a wonderful thing. It’s why you often come up with solutions or great ideas while in the shower, mowing the lawn or sitting in traffic.
A physical (i.e. real) puzzle that you work with your hands stimulates and activates different parts of your brain. It can also be quite relaxing (when it’s not infuriating...I threw my Rubik’s Cube across the room on more than one occasion). Wooden puzzles, interlocking metal pieces, metal ball in an obstacle course or maze...there are a lot of options out there.
4. Stress Ball
A pliable stress ball can work wonders. You can pick one up in almost any office supply or dollar store. They’re small and squishy, allowing you to squeeze all your pent up stress and frustration out on them. You can also find them in the shape of famous or silly characters. Stress Paul by Suck UK, for example, is a purple fella in the fetal position, and their slogan says it all: Don’t get stressed...take it out on Paul!
Stress balls and characters help keep the mind stimulated and prevent it from wandering. Yes, you can use it when stressed (and squeeze the dickens out of it), but they’re also great for mindless fidgeting. Some early research suggests that doing something like this - with no goal other than the action itself - can actually boost attention and memory.
5. Baoding Balls
You might already have this without realizing it. Do you have a smooth “thing” - paperweight, marble, good luck charm - on your desk that you frequently pick up or touch? We often do it subconsciously, usually when deep in thought. The smoothness and repetitive fidgeting creates a meditative state in individuals.
Chinese Baoding balls (weighted and smooth balls made of metal, bamboo, wood, plastic, etc) have been around for centuries. You manipulate two of them while in the palm of your hand. They help improve manual dexterity as well as stimulate pressure points, reduce stress, and improve brain function. And some of them are practically works of art. They’ll look great sitting in their display case on your desk.
We know about the benefits of meditation, and you can get at least some of them by simply touching and manipulating a smooth object. If you don’t have one, get one.
Some people bring in actual toys from home to sit on their desk. It makes their workspace feel more like it belongs to them. Others “play” with whatever is handy...you can check out Fidget Widget on Tumblr to see a collection of user-submitted “doohickey[s] that you fiddle with at work” (everything from large clips, to pens, to silly putty, to jewelry, to tissue paper).
In the end, it doesn’t matter what it is. Playing during down times with your colleagues is beneficial, and the same is true for “playing” with something - anything - while working at your desk. Even something that makes you smile or happy just by looking at it is a worthwhile addition to your space. So bring on the toys!
What about you? What office “toy” do you rely on to get through the day? Leave your answers in the comments below...