@DaveCrenshaw is the author of The Power of Having Fun. He believes you can accomplish more by taking breaks, and I agree! Dave coaches his clients on how to be more productive, but he found their best productivity gains were on the days where they stopped working to have fun.

In this episode, we talk about why working first and playing second is actually hurting your growth, both personally an professionally. We also talk about how to increase your work satisfaction, how to better connect with the people you love, and how to live a more fulfilling life.

Listen in to Dave to learn:

  • How to schedule fun into your day to boost your productivity
  • Why you shouldn’t wait for retirement to start reaping the rewards of hard work
  • What it takes to start enjoying life’s little pleasures

What made you want to write this book?

Well, my background is in coaching entrepreneurs and small business owners, people who are trying to grow businesses. One thing that I kept seeing over and over was this mindset that enjoyment, happiness or fun, was something that came at the end, after the successful business.

“Fun came after my clients exited their businesses, but what happens when someone has that perspective of only at the end will all this be worth it, is that they lose motivation and they start to burn out.”

I’m a productivity guy and this book comes from a productivity standpoint.

So what I started doing with my clients one by one was to inject little moments of fun in their routine. We would schedule it in their calendar and get really precise about what they were going to do. I’d literally have to take them through the process of figuring out how they were going to use their “fun” time, as many of them had forgotten.

The result I kept seeing over and over again was that these little moments of fun had a dramatic effect, not just in their personal life but in their business life as well. These people became more energized, they were more creative, they were more focused.

All of the books that I’ve written have come from the experiences that I’ve had working with clients, and this was one that really was begging to be written because it was such a consistent, pervasive problem and such a simple solution.

Can you give us an example of how fun transformed your client’s personal and business lives?

There’s one particular story that I mention in the book.

It’s about a business owner who’s very well respected in his community, has a very successful small business with several employees and it’s growing rapidly. But he wanted help with his productivity.

Well, he was working close to 80 hours every single week. Now, I’m of the opinion that anyone working over 60 hours per week simply doesn’t know how to manage their time.

So I took a look at how he was spending his time, we tracked all his tasks throughout the day and found that he had a little secret that he tried to keep hidden from everyone.

For close to 20 hours of those 80 hours each week, he was really spending time in the World of Warcraft. When he was stressed out with work he’d jump online and check in with his level 47 shaman or whatever.

He would do this throughout the day but because it was segmenting his day into smaller chunks of productive time, it was actually adding to his stress.

“When we discovered this, he sort of hung his head and he said, ‘You’re going to tell me I have to stop playing video games, right?'”

I said “No, I’m not going to tell you to stop playing video games. Let me ask you a question, is this helping you? Does it help you to have this release?” He said “Yeah.” I said, “Well okay, let’s not stop playing video games, let’s just be more strategic about it.”

I asked him, “What was a more reasonable amount of time instead of 20 hours a week.” He said, “Well, probably five.” I’m like “Okay, five hours a week would still get you release and recharge?” He said “Yeah.”

So we created a schedule for him that allowed for five hours a week of Warcraft and along with a few other productivity hacks that we did, he was able to drop his work week from 80 hours to 55 hours almost immediately.

Then at the end of the workday, after he played an hour or so of Warcraft, he would go home and be more focused on his family and be better able to relax. He was using Warcraft as a transition period to mentally transition from all the chaos of running a business to his personal life.

That one story perfectly illustrates the power of having fun when it comes to productivity.

What actionable advice do you have for people looking to bring more fun (and productivity) into their lives?

The most important part to increasing productivity through fun is to understand the concept of the desert versus the oasis. These little fun breaks that I encourage people to take, I call an oasis because most people are in some part of their life, experiencing a desert.

A sandy desert stretches as far as the eye can see.

It’s like in the movies where you see travelers trudging through the desert for a long period of time before they reach the oasis. Well, we all have these moments where we have extended periods of deprivation or chaos that we’re pushing through. We think, “If I can just make it to the other side, then everything will be better. Then I’ll be happy, then I’ll be relaxed, then I can have fun.”

Instead, what we want to do is strategically place these oases along our journey.

Yet the typical way that most people think about this is that there are really only two options for taking breaks: retirement or vacation. In between those are huge stretches of desert, of chaos and stress.

What I coach my clients is that you want to have a daily oasis, a weekly oasis, a monthly oasis, and a yearly oasis. It’s up to you to determine what these oases will look like and to make them a regular, recurring part of your schedule.

“The problem that most people have with this concept is that they think that have to earn their oases first. They think that because they aren’t yet successful in their own eyes, they don’t deserve a break. But you do deserve it. You deserve it because you worked hard.”

If you’re struggling through the desert, do you deserve water for good behaviour? No. Water is a necessity, it’s a requirement.

That’s the same way that I encourage people to view these fun breaks. It’s not something that happens at the end of the day when you performed well, it’s a top priority that you schedule every day, week, month, and year to make sure that you’re energized and performing at your peak.

How do you convince people that are leading successful businesses that they need to work less to be more productive?

People are obviously sceptical. The first thing I say to them is, “I’m going to site some research, I’m going to give you some stories, I’m going to give you some field studies, but do not take my word for it.”

“Experiments of human behavior have little value unless you do it yourself. So, I encourage anyone who may be sceptical to just try it. Experiment with having fun for a couple of weeks and see how it affects you personally.”

How can start my own fun experiment?

First, grab a pen and some paper. Then, think about the desert you’re experiencing right now, or if you’re not in a desert at the moment, the last desert you experienced. It could be work or maybe a health issue that you’re struggling with, but something that’s stressful and requires your full attention.

Next, take 30 seconds and write down words or phrases that describe how your desert makes you feel. Maybe it makes you feel tired or exhausted, stressed or anxious. Whatever it is, write it down.

Then, immediately after you do that, write down, using a scale of one to 10, how much energy you have. Ten would be an overcaffeinated Jim Carry and one would be a sloth with the flu.

Now you have a baseline, a control for comparison, so we can now move on to our oases.

There are three options I talk about in the book, but I’m going to pick one that’s probably simplest for everyone listening. We’re going to pick something fun and meaningless.

Grab a pen or a pencil and put it on the back of your hand and see how many times you can catch the pen within a 60-second time limit. Time yourself and only focus on catching that pen. Do it in one smooth motion.

After 60 seconds is up, immediately write down how much energy you have using the same scale as before.

When I do this with live audiences, typically I see a full 50 to 100% increase in energy in a matter of one minute.

If you find that this simple fun and meaningless activity gives you an energy boost, start scheduling moments like these in at the end of your day. It doesn’t have to be the pen toss game. You do what you think is fun. You choose your own activity; you’ll get the benefit out of it regardless of what it is.

How did the process of writing this book change your own routines?

That’s a great question. The last stage that I walk people through is enjoyment.

We can have people go through the motions of having fun but it may not really impact them inside. They may not be getting real enjoyment out of the situation. So I provide a process of how people can learn how to regrow that enjoyment muscle, and that’s something I personally had a really hard time with.

I have a smattering of mental health issues that I grew up with, both from genetics and from the people that were in my life and abuse that I had experienced.

Anyway, there was a period of time in my life where I wanted to be a good dad, but my daughters would give me a hug and I would feel nothing from it. That’s a really hard thing for someone who believes that family is the most important thing and yet for some reason, I wasn’t feeling that enjoyment.

A father and his young daughter walk hand-in-hand.

And so in trying to help others with this problem, I helped myself. The trick I teach is called Head, Heart, and Mouth. First, you acknowledge intellectually that something fun or enjoyable is happening. So for instance, my daughter gave me a card that said, “Daddy, I love you,” well that’s something I can acknowledge intellectually.

It was very nice that she gave me a card, and in acknowledging that something enjoyable happened I’ve stopped my brain from being in that constant go-go-go busy mode and I’ve told it, “Look something fun happened.”

The next step is to ask yourself the question, “How did that make me feel?” Well, to get this card from my daughter, it made me feel good. It made me feel like a good dad.

Finally, the last step is to verbalize or express that feeling in some way.

You could do that in writing. For example, after my daughter gave me her card, I made a card for her and gave it back to her, but you can also just say it out loud or express yourself in some other way, maybe by dancing around the house, however you want to express that feeling.

That process is Head, Heart and Mouth, and I’ve had many clients start to use that and express to me how amazing it made them feel to be able to experience enjoyment out of little things in life again. Most of us forget over time how to experience joy and this is just a simple way to slow down and experience it fully.

Should businesses encourage employees to have more fun?

First and foremost, I’m coming from a standpoint of productivity. If you want your company to grow, if you want your employees to perform better and work harder, then you should make having fun a part of your business.

Look it’s great if companies want to focus on productivity, or if they want to prioritize time management, but I can show you how to make more money by adding more fun to your day.

This works on a number of different levels, not just for increasing employee productivity.

The Fortune 100 are great places to work, but the phrase that most closely correlates with, “This is a great place to work,” is “This is a fun place to work.”

“If you want to recruit good people, if you want to have high employee loyalty and retention, then you need to make fun a part of your strategy. I’m not talking about getting the office together for drinks or dinner once a month, this needs to be a strategic decision, just like any other major company policy.”

What’s the most fun you’ve ever had?

Boy, there are a lot of different things. I don’t know if this is the most fun I’ve ever had but one thing I talk about in the book is creating a family oasis with your loved ones.

Even if it’s not your nuclear family, it can be a friend group too, find time to do something with whoever you consider to be your family on a consistent basis, and actually schedule that time in your calendar.

So, one thing that I did recently, and let me preface this by saying that my wife hates amusement parks, it’s torture for her to go, is I flew with my daughter to California to go to Disney Land for two days, just me and her. Then I flew back to Salt Lake City with her, picked up my son, and flew back to California and did the same thing with him. We went to Disney Land and Knott’s Berry Farm the next day.

That was such a recharge for me and it also was a recharge for them, because they had the opportunity to feel like, “You know what, because of the work that Dad is doing we get to do something fun like this.”

It’s important to reward the people that surround you and are supporting you for your hard work as well as yourself.

What would Dave Crenshaw’s advice be for aspiring authors?

I mention a quotation in my book because it really sums up my belief in hard work. It’s one of my favorite quotations and it comes from a very unlikely source: Richard Nixon. Now he’s not known for many positive things but he did say this, “The skill needed to write a novel is an iron butt.” What he means is that if you’re going to write a book, you need to put your butt in your chair and you need to stay there and work on it.

I quite literary schedule “iron butt” time in my calendar when I write.

“Writer’s cramp or writer’s block is an excuse. You hear people say, “Well I am not ready to write. I am not inspired enough.” No. You are ready. Just put your rear end on the seat and start writing.”