All work and no play: why finding time is a mind game

As kids, playtime was scheduled, taking place at allotted intervals… but what about now?

3 min readAug 15, 2021
Photo by Rock'n Roll Monkey on Unsplash

Playing by the rules — stuck in a timetable

During school, moments for study, assembly, lunch, and sleep were all divvied up by location, time, and length, usually on a series of drab timetables. Science. Swimming. Sunday school. So on.

These rigid, inescapable schedules were designed, I presume, to ensure that you and I found our footing and developed into sensible, functioning human adults.

If we played at playtime and paid attention in class, we could theoretically grow to become a doctor, teacher, pilot, or lawyer (jobs that require discipline!).

If we fooled around, our designated playtime was taken from us and replaced with menial, unnecessary work (an intentionally wasteful ‘detention’). The future’s down-and-outs.

But the system was flexible. Ye gods! My cunning knew no bounds: I could stay up later by being quieter, wake up earlier by sleeping sooner, and with a little imagination, I could play whenever I liked.

But what if I played all the time?

Balancing newfound freedoms — breaking free

As a teenager, I realised further freedoms: I got a flat, slept when I was tired, ate when I was hungry, and watched movies at 4am. I’d go for a walk at any time of the day or night.

My routine disappeared. I was miserable.

Earning a living, paying the rent, and even remaining a social creature became more complex as my circadian rhythm betrayed me. Escaping the shackles of childhood was messy, weird, and draining. I passed from one day to the next, confused and lethargic.

Nowadays, if I end up without a structure, I’m teleported right back there (at 4am watching meaningless drivel on YouTube).

It’s easy for me to collapse into an unproductive cycle of sleep, sex, and snacks, so I’ve learned the importance of re-establishing a rhythm — and fast.

Strangely, I itch for the timetables I revolted against. Rather than aimless, endless, and unfulfilling play, I need structure to understand what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and to find purpose.

Don’t be a dictator — schedule the day you want

Like any good writer, I procrastinate by compiling goals and lists — because I’m at my best when my outlook and my actions are in sync (when life is more balancing than juggling).

So long as I’m operating on principles and passions, rather than rigid dates and deadlines, there’s always room for fun.

Alan Watts said:

‘This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realise it is play.’

It’s no use scheduling every day of my life so tightly that there’s no room left for rest and relaxation. I need room to breathe.

So, if I’m not having good days, I’ll avoid imposing a mammoth to-do list on myself disguised as a schedule. Rather, I’ll work out the sort of day I’d like to have. The kind that improves a little on yesterday and moves me closer — even by an inch — to my goals.

I’ve learned to be forgiving: I’ll try something one day and if it makes me miserable, I’ll change it the next. After all, if I try something and fail, it’s better than not trying at all.

Negotiate and adapt — but above all — play!