Joy

How to do better work by having more fun.

There’s a tendency for consultants, especially new ones, to take themselves pretty seriously.

I certainly did. Knowing, as Benjamin Franklin once said, that “grave men are taken ... as wise men,” I fell into the trap of trying to be overly serious in my conversations, marketing, and day-to-day work.

That often manifested in a steadfast resistance to fun or celebration. I would focus on what was coming next, where we could still falter, and manufacture some reason why celebration was premature.

Of course, some of it was the simple knowledge that rolling out the Mission Accomplished banner too early can be dangerous, but I didn’t realize that it’s also possible to celebrate too late.

And worse, so many of us forget to celebrate at all. We may even worry that celebrating is somehow hubristic, and that it destines us for some future failure.

But not celebrating our wins, our successes, our daily achievements, is its own type of failure.

As Ingrid Fetell Lee reveals in her transformative book Joyful, “Research shows that celebrating positive events with others increases our feeling that they will be there for us if we encounter tough times in the future. And not only that, but celebrating with others boosts our own joy.”

As much as some of us—especially those of us with anxiety—would like to believe that having fun while we’re working is somehow a crime, it actually makes people more productive.

“Believing essential activities are, almost by definition, tedious, we are more likely to put them off or avoid them completely,” according to Greg McKeown in Effortless. “Fun becomes ‘the dark playground.’ Separating important work from play makes life harder than it needs to be.”

It’s not about being childish, or not doing our necessary tasks. It’s about recognizing our achievements and infusing joy and fun into our work so that we’re more likely to like it and do our best.

As David Ogvily said, “People do their best work in a happy atmosphere.”

I recommend taking a moment to consider whether your workspace is a joyful place to be. In these times we may be working in places we normally wouldn’t, but to the extent possible, make it a fun and interesting place to spend your time.

As IDEO’s Brendan Boyle said, “Space is the body language of a company,” so it’s important to consider what kind of body language our workspace is communicating.

And maybe today think of your most recent accomplishment, and ask yourself whether you really celebrated it, or if you immediately moved on to the next item on your to-do list.

If we don’t celebrate and attempt to create joy in our work, where do we expect our motivation to push ourselves further—to take risks and set ourselves apart—to come from?

When our work is tedious, unnecessarily difficult, and unhappy, we’ll still work hard and try our best, but we won’t be able to do our best. Because it’s tough to be optimistic in a dreary environment. And as high-performance sports psychologist Michael Gervais said, “I haven’t met a world-class thinker or doer that isn’t fundamentally optimistic.” 

So if you want to do your best work, a little extra joy is a good place to start.

It might be simply making your workspace more fun and inspiring, or just taking a moment, here and there, to remind yourself of what you’ve accomplished recently.

It’s easy to believe that anything that makes us better has to be difficult, but sometimes the thing that makes us better is simply the thing that makes us happier.

Because when we like what we do, we’ll do more of it, and we’ll do a better job.

Try it and you’ll see.