There’s been a lot of chatter about gamification in the past several years, usually in relationship to employee engagement and wellness. I get the fascination — no one ever wants to have less fun, and that’s what it’s about, fun, right?
Well, yes and no. In his hilarious essay, “Something Supposedly Fun that I’ll Never Do Again,” David Foster Wallace described his first and only cruise experience as “managed fun.” In one passage, he writes about the cruise ship’s brochure, which was written by novelist Frank Conroy: “It manages my experiences and my interpretation of those experiences and takes care of them in advance for me. It seems to care about me. But it doesn’t, not really, because first and foremost it wants something from me.” This also is a good description of gamification, which I’ve always referred to as “enforced” fun, which is not really that much fun at all.
It got me thinking: Why not take it in the opposite direction and workify our nonwork activities? This may seem absurd, as no one wants to take a nap under the threat of a performance review or watch an entire season of “Ozark” with a boss over your shoulder. But then I started experimenting and was surprised by the results.
- Dining out. Unfortunately, I’ve never been what you’d call a social eater. I tend to drift in and out of conversations, and am more focused on the process of ordering, sampling, eating and drinking. In other words, I’m Exhibit A in extreme “presenteeism.” Making this connection made me more aware of the problem and has prompted me to maintain eye contact with my dinner companions as I ladle calamari on my plate. It’s a start.
- Sports. When I step onto the court or course, I can do almost everything that I could do when I was 25 years old. For maybe the first three minutes. Then my Achilles tendon, hamstring, rotator cuff, right knee and lower back let me know that it’s been quite a while since I was 25. Here’s where a disciplined risk management approach has paid off. When I’m playing tennis, I’ve started to count and minimize all the Pyrrhic victories, where I spend so much energy winning a tough point that I lose the next four.
- Binge watching. Most of us have been there: The dishes pile up, calls go unanswered, and when you walk the dog or get the mail, you’re completely disoriented. This can’t be healthy. On the weekend, I ask my assistant to call me at random times — much like he’ll call me when I’m in a meeting to give me an excuse to bail. I don’t always take his call, but it’s good having the option to back out of an episode every so often.
- General leisure. Sometimes you just don’t feel like spending an afternoon antiquing or taking a nature walk with your significant other or family, but don’t want to disappoint or stand in their way. Here’s where you may want to try outsourcing and finding an agreeable replacement. Don’t overdo it, as you risk finding yourself on the other end of the outsourcing equation. Your free or discretionary time is too valuable to mess with. It’s one of the reasons you put in so many hours at work. Taking a business approach to your nonwork activities will pay dividends. Will it make things more fun? Hard to say, but it will definitely be a lot more fun than your company’s gamified health risk assessment.