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What on earth ever made you think that all work and no play was any way to live?

Fam Pract Manag. 1999;6(1):68

Time for recess! It used to be so simple. The bell rang at the end of math and you and your pals took off to the playground for 20 minutes of sheer recreation. But it all stopped about the sixth or seventh grade when you were judged too old to need recess anymore. Little did you know that this change in routine would signal the end of recesses for the rest of your life! You would begin operating with one admonition in mind: “You can't go out to play until all your work is done.” From that point on, play time became something you have to plan, prioritize and even pay for.

As a physician, you know all too well the impact of the beeper, pager, answering service, car phone and voice mail. The choice is yours: You can always be “on call” or lead a more balanced life that includes time out to play. “It's important for all of us to realize the direct relationship between play and leisure and good health,” says family physician Clint MacKinney, MD, of Cresco, Iowa. Doesn't that sound like something you tell your patients but fail to heed yourself?

We also know that recreation enhances your ability to produce more in less time — if you, as a player, are not consumed by guilt the whole time. Totally guilt-free play, scheduled routinely into your life, can effect better results than intense, lengthy periods of work. So how do you learn to play for play's sake?

1. Erase those old mental tapes

Stop thinking, for example, that time is money. This mentality produces workaholics. It also results in stressful vacations trying to get your money's worth out of your travel. Your time is your resource — use it to play or make money or do whatever you want.

2. Make rest and relaxation a priority

Get in the habit of scheduling time for yourself. Plan weekly what you want to do for play. Plan it first, put it on your calendar and make it non-negotiable, just like your other appointments.

3. Get lost in the moment

As a time management consultant, I am constantly being asked, “How can I create more time in my life?” The answer is: You can't. What you can do, however, is create the time of your life. When I ask people to think about the times when they were having the time of their lives, a smile comes to their faces. “I had no sense of time or work or stress,” they say. Athletes call it “being in the zone.”

Think back to those instances when you lost all sense of time because you weren't thinking of anything but what you were doing. Keep these memories in mind when you plan your play. You may end up doing something very different than you expected.

4. Think small

It's good to have a long list of activities you consider play. Not all play demands a lot of time, money or calories. Brainstorm a list of simple activities, such as a quick game of solitaire on the computer or blowing bubbles to relieve stress. Do you remember what you did in medical school to keep your sanity? Perhaps you should try it again.

5. Seek help with some responsibilities

One way to relieve guilt during play is to pay someone else to do the tasks that might be haunting you, such as household and yard maintenance and certain types of shopping. Time-saving services are on the rise. Check your yellow pages.

6. Get into condition for your vacation

“I find that I am not guilty or stressed during vacation; rather I feel pressed to be busy or doing something for several days until I unwind,” MacKinney says. As your next vacation approaches, get used to being on vacation before it starts. A week before vacation, take an extra 20 minutes a day for play time. Get the high priorities done, but wind down before your vacation begins. Then mentally “punch your time clock” when you leave the office the last day.

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Copyright © 1999 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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