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dabbling at the intersection of work & play

2011 May 24

sometimes i need a new perspective (photo from my first Secret Play Date)

Playing on the right side of the brain for serious problem solving is a theme I’ve been intrigued by and experimenting with for awhile…in private.

It’s no secret I’m a fangirl of smArts & culture‘s Maryann Devine. So when she started blogging about her weekly Secret Play Dates, where she gets things done in a playful, creative way, I had to try it.

code names & layer cake

A few months ago, she hosted the very first Society of the Secret Play Date, which has evolved into a biweekly gathering of support and accountability. Unlike most group calls, Society gatherings are not recorded (whew!) and members are encouraged to use code names.

Code names! And you wonder why I wanted to try this!

(By the way, if you do join the Society, you’ll have to guess which one is me.)

I started playing with photography, collage, or sketching, alternating the “play” with “work” projects, like:

  • outlining a proposal for a prospective client
  • sketching out a new program
  • tabulating survey results for another client

Maryann calls this the “layer cake” method, and gives Secret Play Daters a number of approaches to play that I had never considered. Apparently I need to open my definition of play a little wider. All fun, all creative and doable.

(Fingerpainting with ketchup, anyone?)

playing fast & loose and getting it done anyway

Your mileage may vary, but my most successful play dates are the ones where I don’t have a rigid plan on either side of the work/play equation. Before the play date call, I make a list of creative things I could do that are already set up, or easily accessible (e.g. watercolors, doodling with colored pencils or markers, collage, photography) and a short list of 3-4 projects I could work on that would move me forward that week.

Then I let myself play with whatever seems the most fun in the moment and choose the work project that has the most juice. Simple, right?

At the last Society meeting I attended a few weeks ago, I used the first twenty minutes to clear space on my art table, then the last forty minutes scribbling in my secret lab notebook, which helped me make a couple of important decisions that I’d been avoiding. I got on a roll and didn’t need to layer cake.

Playing lit me up, giving me enough spaciousness to get a bit of clarity that day.

In fact, I’ve surprised myself by getting lost in flow and almost forgetting to call back to check in a number of times.

Secret Play Dating reminds me that sometimes I need to get out of my own way and give myself a break when I get too serious. That there is always something I can try when I get stuck, including stepping away from it for awhile. That a little group support can be helpful, and even (gasp!) fun.

encaustic key detail (photo taken at a Secret Play Date, not the art)


9 Responses Post a comment
  1. May 25, 2011

    I’ve been doing this for years and never thought about it as a way to gain clarity or focus. I call it my reward system. I tend to be a burst worker, so I work for a while, then play for a while and repeat. Sometimes, if the work involves graphic art, I don’t bother to “layer” – it’s work and play combined, then. I love the concept of viewing it as cake. Mmmm… cake. Also love the idea of the secret play date with code names. Everyone’s life could use a little extra mystery and fun to keep us youthful and provide opportunities for childlike wonder.

    • May 27, 2011

      I’ve been doing this for awhile, too, just not in an intentional way. Like you, I work in bursts naturally, so this really works for me. Having the focused time helps–the reward system doesn’t work for me when it’s self-imposed! Plus, I always underestimate the group support.

      Completely agree with you about nurturing wonder in daily life.

  2. May 26, 2011

    don’t know where to begin with how much I love this! First of all… I’m reminded that when the student is ready the teacher appears!

    I was just told to add more fun into my life – and strangely my family motto has always been “frivolum est bonus” which is SILLY IS GOOD in latin! but frivolity and silliness has been seriously lacking in life lately!

    you reminded me that play is necessary . siliness is necessary. Willy Wonka said “a little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.”

    ok. now. implement! i’ve loved the concept of “artist dates” for years, but if i’m totally honest, that does feel somewhat weighty when i’m not feeling completely artistic!

    but now, PLAY! I think if i try, i can remember how to do that. I think.

    Joy, you have inspired me to give it a shot! the best advice is to get everything out and accessible so when the spirit moves me i can dive right in!
    oooooh i’m feeling a bit giddy !

    oh mister play mate! come out and play with me!

    • May 27, 2011

      First of all, I love that you have a family motto in Latin! Secondly, I love that you quoted Willy Wonka. You have play in your DNA!

      This process has been particuarly helpful because I too can get too serious with the work.

      Let me know how approaching work with play works for you!

  3. May 31, 2011

    Wow … this sounds like FUN to me, and if I had less to do and more time right now … I’d click the links to learn more about it. I’m choosing instead to celebrate with YOU for your process and stick with my own because I have clear priorities currently and desire to maintain my focus. Thanks for sharing and for the encouragement you’ve offered me … every thing helps 😉
    Hugs and blessings,

  4. May 31, 2011

    Hi again Joy,
    I’m back to leave a comment with my Giraffe Journal link to see if comment luv works with it. Interestingly, the link in my previous comment DOES take me to my Labyrinth Journal site, but not to a specific post … so I suspect there may be something ‘hinky’ with your comment luv installation since there are no such links on anyone’s comments. As I type in the ‘captcha words, I do notice a link to my most recent post at Giraffe Journal … (but no drop-down box with a choice of posts) … so we know THAT part works! Wishing you a simple quick resolution to the problem when time permits 😉
    Hugs and blessings,

  5. April 9, 2012

    Too often I look at my “to do” list as something that is painful. I’m a huge believer in play,
    but haven’t found a solution that works for me yet. I love the idea of a Secret Play Date. By giving yourself the freedom to do what you want, how you want and when you want seems very freeing.

    I know that when I’m in the right frame of mind (positive, fun and loose) I get so much more work done and a higher quality work as well. Now to just schedule this SPD on a weekly basis.

  6. August 29, 2013

    Nice. I’m going to do the same method. I badly need a break and focus on my tasks at the same time.

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