Friday, December 10, 2010

6 Ways To Make Work More Fun

"It isn't fun," a former colleague once grumped. "That's why they call it work." But as more companies feel the pressure to get competitive or go under, they're looking for creative solutions to their problems. And, according to Paul McGhee, PhD., (I love a professional whose name rhymes with his creds) top management is learning that to get the most creativity (and productivity) from their employees, they need to foster an atmosphere that makes work more fun. If you want to come up with the next creative insight for your business, try these tips:

1. Get creative with your workspace.
I like toys. Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza bobbleheads natter atop my computer table. Various action figures, including Xena: Warrior Princess, Spiderman, and Paul McCartney adorn my various pieces of office furniture. In my desk drawers are juggling toys, a ribbon box, and a Slinky or two. Sure, you can get away with this because you work from home, you might say. But even the most buttoned-up office environments are letting their hair down. Casual Fridays abound, and some companies, like IBM, have abandoned dress codes altogether, as long as you don't show up naked. Before the dot-coms dot-bombed, companies like Pixar treated employees to on-demand snacks and beverages, pool tables in break rooms and in the case of DoubleClick (now a subsidiary of Google), an indoor basketball court in their downtown NYC headquarters. They knew relaxing some rules and making the work environment a less-stuffy, task-masterish place to be for the long days employees tended to be there sparked creative juices and resulted in some great ideas. Too bad the money thing didn't work out. Maybe this happened in offices without pool cues and Red Bull on tap.

2. Build little rewards into your day.
Everyone's to-do list has those tasks you dread because, frankly, they suck. They still have to be done, but what "people person" wants to be stuck in an office, entering sales figures into a database? What incontrovertible introvert loves to plunge into cold calling, or longs to give a presentation to upper management? But if you promise yourself a small treat when you do finish these kinds of tasks, like coffee from the "good" place down the block, the task may feel less sucky.

3. Share a laugh with a colleague. Subjects in a recent study at Northwestern University more easily completed word puzzles after watching some stand-up comedy. As long as you're not making jokes at the expense of others, a good laugh can reduce stress and relax your overtaxed brain, putting you in a state more conducive to "sudden" creative insights. So if your boss doesn't like today's Dilbert strip, tell him or her it's for the good of the company.

4. Look for the pony. According to Peter Robinson, author of How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life, the former president's favorite joke was about an overly optimistic boy whose worried parents took him to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist brought him into a room piled with horse manure. But instead of the disgust the psychiatrist had hoped to engender, the boy scrambled atop the pile and began to dig. "With all this manure," he said, "there's bound to be a pony somewhere." I'm not suggesting you become the office Pollyanna or start digging in piles of horse poop. But even if you are in an untenable job situation, and must remain in it for whatever reason, find something to like about it. Preferably, something funny. At one former job, at which I was finding myself less and less of a "fit" as the company culture changed, I'd think, "At least I get free coffee and tampons."

5. Have a cup of tea.
Not the stale old Lipton's that's been in the break room cupboard for the last ten years. Chai tea, in particular, has been shown to boost creativity. Probably because the complex flavor palette (blends of different spices with tea) stimulates areas of your brain responsible for creative thinking. It tastes great plain, or with cream and honey. Enjoy.

6. Bring your sense of humor to work.
Popular work-culture books have recommended leaving your personality at the door. Maybe you don't want to strut around the office with your tattoos on display (depending on what kind of office you work in) or make jokes others might find distasteful. But if you're creative and have a sense of humor, it could be an asset to let that pop out now and again. And it could lead to your company's next great idea.

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