ADHD adults need to play to be productive. Here are strategies to motivate yourself to play more even though you have a full plate.
- Play is a biological need.
- ADHD adults need to play to do their other work more effectively.
- There are many ways to play.
- You should schedule play in your day.
Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, by Dr. Stuart Brown
Play? You thought I talked about ADHD and productivity, right? What does play have to do with that? If you’re feeling swamped by your professional and personal tasks, and don’t feel you have time for play, then you’ll definitely want to listen to this episode. Because play will help you operate better in all realms of your life.
You’ve tuned into Scattered, Focused Done – Reimagining Productivity with ADHD, a podcast for ADHD adults like you, who want to learn how to adopt the best strategies, tools and skills to be able to get your essential work done in a way that works with the way your brain is wired. I’m Marla Cummins and I’m glad you decided to join me today on this journey to reimagining productivity with ADHD. So you can get what is important to you done without trying to do it like everyone else.
If you’ve listened to my podcast or read by blogs before, then you know I define productivity as doing what is meaningful to you in alignment with your values. And, if play is important to you, as it is to me, then it can definitely be part of being productive. Yet, while you may agree with that, I know it can also be hard to incorporate play into your already busy schedule. But what if play helped you do your other work more effectively and efficiently? Would you be willing to play more? I hope so.
First, I’ll differentiate play from downtime, at least for the purposes of this episode. Downtime is really doing nothing. That is, you’re awake, but relaxed. Think about sitting outside and looking at the stars or hanging out in a hammock. Play, on the other hand, can be an activity or in some cases an attitude with which you approach an activity. The defining characteristic, according to Dr. Stuart brown, a psychiatrist and play researcher who is also the founder of the National Institute of Play, yes, there is a National Institute of Play, says that play is doing it for its own sake.
If its purpose is more important than the act of doing it, it’s probably not play. So, for example, if you’re painting because you want to make money by selling the finished product on Etsy, and that’s your main goal, that would probably not be play. But play could be an activity such as skiing, playing cards, hiking, knitting, or hanging out at a party. You might even create an environment of playfulness in the way you approach an activity by, for example, playing music and singing as you wash the dishes, setting a timer, to see how many emails you can get through in a certain amount of time or cooking with a family member or friend. So if you don’t have time to go hiking today, I bet you could adopt a more playful approach to a task you have on your plate.
But wait, isn’t play just for children to prepare them to be adults. I don’t think many of the people listening to this podcast still believe that. But just in case, remember just because children pretend to be race, car drivers or firefighters doesn’t mean they’re going to grow up to work in these professions, right? Yes, play is critical for children’s development, but it’s also critical for adults, including you and me. While there isn’t a lot of research, yet, there is enough to suggest play is a biological need just as sleep is. There have been studies to even suggest that, at least in part, one of the reasons people have challenges as adults, even the extreme as in criminal behavior, can be due in part to not having enough play growing up or in their adult life. I’ll let you consider that for a moment.
And even if you think play is good for adults and has its place, you may still feel work comes first. Because, after all, you have responsibilities. And, if that’s your perspective, then you may try to fit in play, well you can, if you can. But when you decided to research and learn more about ADHD it’s because you wanted to learn how to manage your ADHD better so you can reach your goals, right? And to do that you certainly need to meet your biological needs, such as sleep, nutrition, water, exercise, connection, etc. Because you know, if you don’t meet those needs, then that may exacerbate your ADHD symptoms. So, of play is a biological need, wouldn’t you want to include different forms of it in your treatment and symptom management for your ADHD. I think you should.
Though I know to convince you, I’m going to have to do some heavy lifting in demonstrating exactly how play is going to help you in order for you to consider incorporating it into your daily schedule. Let’s start with looking how play can help you manage the stress overwhelm and maybe even anxiety you might be feeling right now. The most obvious way play does this is that feelings can dissipate when you’re playing. That is, of course, if you can manage to not ruminate about the work you’re not doing while you’re playing.
This is where it becomes a sort of a chicken and egg kind of thing. At first, you might have to have faith that play is going to help you in the long run, though, in the short run, I know you may feel a little stressed while you’re playing because you have a lot to do.
But I also know from experience in time you’ll feel better after you’ve taken time to play. And then you’ll actually be pulled to do your work when you return to it. As long as it’s something that’s important to you, of value. Consider this. If you don’t get the play you need, I bet, while you should be working, you find yourself at times unintentionally surfing the internet or playing a game on your phone or doing something else that isn’t really important to you relative to your work.
While these activities will not really give you the benefit of intentional play or the respite you need from work. You’re unintentionally trying to fulfill your need for play. But you’re not taking the time you need to play because you feel you have too much to do, right? But without a real break from your work, you know you’ll burn out and then not be able to follow through on your commitments.
I’m sure you’ve had this experience a time or two. Now only does play help reduce your stress and overwhelm, but what you may not have thought about yet is that play also helps improve your executive functioning, which could help you work more effectively and efficiently, of course. As you already know, when a task is not interesting for you, it can feel like slogging through quick sand when you try to do it. That is, if you can even get started.
One of the reasons for this inertia is a lack of neurotransmitters, specifically dopamine that’s needed for the various parts of your brain to do their job and enable you to initiate focus, pay attention, and regulate your emotions.
But when you play dopamine is released, helping the various parts of your brain to carry out the executive functions necessary to be productive. There’s also a carryover effect for a while after playing. And, of course, if you can incorporate play as you’re working, this can help your executive functioning while you’re working. Nice, right? All from having fun. How can you be more playful in your approach to your tasks so you can be more productive?
Not only will play help you start and follow through on your work with greater ease, but it might even help you do it better. As play, you know, really gets your creative juices going.
Think of a recent time when you were trying to find the solution to a particularly challenging problem, such as crafting a report or an email, creating the right service or product for your business, deciding how to respond to a colleague, client, friend, or family member, figuring out a workaround to some obstacle in your content area at work. And the answer just wasn’t coming to you. What did you do? Maybe you sat there, racking your brain for an answer to little or no avail, convinced you should be able to come up with a solution by yourself.
So, when you couldn’t come up with an answer, maybe you just gave up and avoided the task. I bet that’s happened before. In addition to reaching out for help, if you think that might be beneficial, rather than trying harder, sometimes it’s better to take a break, step away from the problems. So you have the time and space to come back to it with a different perspective.
And, yes, one way to step away and get your creative juices going is to play. I bet there have been times when you’re playing and seemingly out of nowhere you come up with a solution to a particularly vexing problem. You may even have been surprised at how easy it was to come up with a solution when you weren’t even trying. If this has ever happened to you, you know how playing, rather than trying harder, can sometimes be the answer. Give it a try. Next time you’re stuck, I mean really stuck, stop working. Try playing instead of trying harder.
You know play can also help you form connections with others, which in and of itself can help you have the kind of life you want, full of joy, success, and satisfaction, for sure. In fact, making sure you keep up regular contact with a few good friends is on Dr. Ned Hallowell’s list of seven habits of highly effective ADHD adults.
And, when you feel fulfilled in this way, you may be able to work more effectively, right? It’s a lot easier to do your work when you feel better, no doubt. And play also helps you develop better relationships, in part because you’re enjoying the connection with play as the intermediary.
Of course, I’m not sure what the right balance between work and play is for you. You’ll have to do some experimenting to figure this out. But play is important. So, what can you do this week to include play in your days, either separate or as part of your work?
That’s it for now. I’m really glad you joined me and as always stayed until the very end. If you’re interested in learning more about my work with adults with ADHD, I hope you’ll check out my website, marlacummins.com. Of course, if you’ve learned a thing or two from today’s podcast, which I hope you have, please pass along the link to anyone else in your circles you think might also benefit. And until next time, this has been Scattered, Focused, Done. And I’m Marla Cummins, wishing you all the very best on your journey to reimagining productivity with ADHD.