Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

How to Balance Work and Play

Woman on beach; balance work and play

I probably have a relatively relaxed life compared to the average person. I sleep late, meditate, and soak in the hot pond almost every day.

That’s a major improvement from when I worked 6-7 days a week and took phone calls from Europe in the middle of the night, completely messing up a restorative sleep pattern.

So you can imagine the surprise I felt when recently, during a Lomilomi treatment (a healing practice from native Hawaiian healers), my friend suggested I needed more play time. He recommended a 1:2 work to play ratio for me.

A 1:2 work to play ratio means:

  • 2 hours of play for every hour of work
  • 4 four hours of play for every 2 hours of work
  • 6 hours of play for every 3 hours of work

Mind-boggling, don’t you think? I had to do the math more than once in my head, trying to make sense out of the numbers. Being who I am, I wanted to negotiate immediately, “Does it include evenings and weekends?”

Try a Mini Work/Play Assessment

This particular prescription is specific to me, taking into account my unique health considerations. But, maybe you could also benefit from exploring your ideal work to play ratio.

If so, try out this mini work/play assessment:

  • How often do you play?
  • What’s your current work to play ratio? Make two columns on a piece of paper, one called worked and the other called play. List your work activities on one side and your play activities on the other, along with the amount of time you spend on each.
  • How do you differentiate work from play?
  • What constitutes play in your life?
  • Does your current breakdown of work and play support a happy, healthy, and balanced life?
  • Would you benefit from more play and less work?
  • Is there something that keeps you from playing more?

Your definition of play might be different from mine and that’s okay. I loosely group all enjoyable and relaxing activities – the ones when I don’t feel a sense of responsibility – into play.

For me, play can be anything from reading a book, to taking a nap, to hanging out with my husband or friends. It can be physical activities like walking, swimming, and yoga.

The key is to:

  • Know what feels like play to you
  • Find the right work/play balance for you

Why Don’t We Play More?

My friend’s recommendation reminded me of the advice given, many years ago, by a Tibetan doctor to a woman with fatigue. He told her, “Don’t do anything.” That included avoiding television and driving in cars, activities we may take for granted without realizing how inherently stimulating they are.

Most of us don’t recognize how much downtime or fun our body needs when it’s compromised, or we’re walking the narrow and dangerous path of too much stress. And, even if someone tells you, there’s a good chance you might not listen. Because, there are many reasons that might keep you from getting sufficient play and relaxation in your life. For example:

  • Fear of open space (or nothingness). If you’re used to being busy, slowing down can feel threatening.
  • Fear of having to face yourself. Busyness may keep you from facing what’s not working in your life.
  • Fear of letting go of your identity, which may be entwined with your work.
  • Fear of being left behind or left out, given all the expectations at work.
  • Fear of financial loss, especially in these challenging economic times.

Other subtle patterns may dictate the pace of your life. For example, I have my “pusher,” an inner voice that prompts me to keep going and to do more no matter what.

Some of these may be reasonable fears that need to be taken into account.  But often, we’re held back by old beliefs that no longer fit or enhance our life.

Make More Time with the 80/20 Principle

On one level, I was surprised to hear I need more play. But, deep within, I’ve been yearning to do less. I just needed a gentle kick to heed the wisdom of my body and the intelligence of my inner voice.

In a sense, I’ve been given permission now.  So I’m eager to make more time for play.  I’ve started by applying the Pareto or 80/20 Principle to my work. Although this idea can be expressed in different ways, this form works perfectly for my purposes: 80% of profit comes from 20% of one’s work activity.

I’m examining my work time to see which activities:

  • Make the most money?
  • Have the most positive impact?
  • Are low producers?
  • Are time wasters?
  • Are most enjoyable?
  • Cost too much in terms of my emotional or physical well-being?

I am also sharpening my capacity for:

  • Listening to my body
  • Paying attention to my inner voice
  • Being aware of when the “pusher” comes on stage so I don’t cave into it
  • Learning to consciously stop

It goes without question that people come first in my world. I’m here to serve so it’s not just a matter of a mathematical formula. But, I also know you can’t serve effectively when you’re drained, wasted, and burned out. The 80/20 formula is just a skillful way to start getting a handle on your life.

Is It Time to Inject More Play Into Your Life?

Refining my work-play ratio is the perfect unfolding in my “year with less pressure.”  However, I know it can feel disorienting at first when you have more space and time.  So just go at it slowly, and you’ll find your capacity for play naturally expanding.

I want to be clear there’s nothing wrong with having a full and meaningful work life. But, it doesn’t necessarily have to occur in 40-60 hours per week.  “40” hours is just a culturally endorsed number for the work week in some parts of the world. But, in others, people work far less.

If you find your joy, health, or relationships are compromised, maybe it’s time to explore your work to play ratio too.  Or, maybe it would be smart to inject more play into your life before you’ve damaged yourself.

What do you think?  Would you be keen to have more play in your life?

 P. S.  Want to let go of some stress?  My self-paced Living with Ease, The Mindful Way to Dissolve Stress e-course is a systematic guide, which shows you how to live with more ease.  Why not check it out right now!

Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious!  Don’t forget to sign up for my e-letter and get access to all the free self-development resources (e-books, mini-guides + worksheets) in the Always Well Within Library. May you be happy, well, and safe – always.  With love, Sandra


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  1. Hi Sandra,

    This is a good reminder for all those who want to squeeze in more work into 24 hours! There is a time, probably in everybody life when we don’t care about ‘play’, when we are busy chasing our dreams and could happily contribute all the hours to accomplish those. At that stage of life we wish days could be longer, the paucity of time is felt with each passing day.

    I too was one of those and then slowly wisdom dawned in and I understood the truth communicated through a poet…’He has made the night for souls who bleed’. We learn only through experience, the good advice often is scoffed at till a particular age! My inner voice is always giving a call to keep going, to do something more but I have been quite successful in merging work and play into a reasonable ratio, though half heartedly.

    Thanks for another fantastic flurry of words.

    • Dear Balroop,

      Our life does flow in different seasons, just as you say, doesn’t it! And so the work/play ratio we have at one time in our life may be perfect then, but not fit at a later date. We’re all so unique! So this is surely a process of personal discovery.

      What a beautiful line of poetry! I’m glad you found your way to a reasonable work/play ratio. But, I see that you still face some resistance. I do too and I feel that uprooting my own resistance is part of the process I need to work through to come to a more balanced place. So slowly, slowly!

  2. I absolutely LOVE the work/play ratio. It’s going right into my life today!

    Thanks, Sandra.

  3. Hi Sandra, I love your target to play twice as much as work. I’ve had times like that. And great reminders to prioritize, balance and savor life. I believe we need play and pauses to fully appreciate our lives. I hope you make your target! blessings, Brad

    • Thanks for your good wishes, Brad. It’s a transitional time for me and it is a bit disorienting. But, I know I will move through that and enjoy more open space. I’m glad you know the importance of play.

  4. Jean Sampson

    One of the things I try to do in my life is turn all my work into play! 🙂 I am successful in some areas (teaching painting and painting) and I find that I IF I become very mindful and “be with” the house work or any other kind of work, I can make if feel like play because I am being present with it, not trying to just get it over with, etc, but noticing the trees out of the windows when doing dishes or even just noticing how the water and soap suds feel, being grateful for all of the good food when I am cooking, loving the colors of the veggies, enjoying the shine when I clean the bathroom. There is one chore I have NOT been able to make into play and that is cleaning the cat box! I guess everyone has to have one area that they really cannot transform into something enjoyable. I am always really glad to have that over with and it is NOT play! 🙂

    • This is a great approach, Jean! I agree that mindfulness brings so much more ease to all that we do. Some types of work might be difficult to transform into play. 🙂 Like, bookkeeping, although actually a part of me likes to make everything match. But, I agree, attitude makes a huge difference. Thanks for saying that.

  5. Hi Sandra,

    That sounds like a brilliant ratio. Instinctively I’d like to say I need a 1 to 1 ratio but more play sounds better. Luckily some of my work can feel like play becasue I love writing, talking with people and helping them with their digital marketing. But even then we need to leave lots of space for offline activities and completely work free activities. Reading and walking for me 🙂

    • Hi Annabel,

      I think 1:1 is a great start! It’s all a big experiment and we can have fun finding out what fits for us. I’m so happy you find a good part of your work playful! Going to the bird aviary certainly seemed so and if the writing about it is fun too, you’ve got a good thing going.

      Right now for me its gardening and swimming or soaking! But, amazingly, I’m finding more time to read now that I have more downtime. Yeah!

  6. Ohhh juicy topic Sandra. I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently. I realize I’ve been dividing things up into work and play, even within my business and not letting myself do the things that are not directly money making – like taking photos, making graphics, doing SoulCollage, Pinterest. I suspect my revenue is much more closely connected to the amount of fun I have, than I think. I’m wondering what would happen if I allowed myself to do these things – even in a 1:1 ratio?

    • That sounds like a terrific experiment, Vicky! I’m definitely counting enjoyment as one of my important variables in terms of work. I would love to see how this turns out if you try it out. Work can be fun too if we let ourselves bring some play in just like this!

  7. TinaPete

    Thank you for giving the incentive for defining play in my life. I will be thinking about this over the next few weeks. Having just lost a beloved cat, I am happy for healthy cats when I clean the catbox. 🙂

    • I’m so sorry for your loss, Tina. I know how hard it was when we lost our cat. My heart is with you.

      I’m glad you like the idea of defining play in your life. It’s such an important first step. Good luck!

  8. Hi Sandra,

    Play is SO important! So important that I included it in my eBook, “30 Ways to Positivity.” Today, I went for a bike ride…play with a few extra benefits…good for the heart, good for the glutes!

    When we make time for play, we’re showing the world and giving everyone else permission to recharge and take care of themselves!

    Great article!

    • You know how to play, Peggy! That inspires me so much. And, I know you’re right, it’s a great model for others too. Out to play now. 🙂

  9. Darling Sandra,
    I Love my play time…and am so happy your healer suggested it to you. I often use this suggestion with many of my patients. Works wonders. And believe me…play means many things to many people.
    To me play is having fun with my daughter and generally playing with my family and friends. Oh and I also cherish my PC game time. I have to have a few hours a week to just mindlessly play and unwind. I encourage my little one to play more too….our pretend tea parties and Barbie fashion shows are the rage these days 🙂
    I started infusing more play in my own personal routine about a year back….since then my positive outlook has multiplied 10 folds. Go figure!
    Love this post!
    Much Love,

    • Dear Zeenat,

      I’m not surprised you love to play! You have such a light and beautiful spirit. Having a child can really help us reconnect with play if we are open to it. I love the “before” and “after” perspective – knowing that you started and year ago and are really reaping the rewards and year later. 10-fold! Yeah!

  10. p.s. just see my latest FB profile pic to see what I did on my latest play date with my girlfriends 🙂 Proof on my madness/playfulness!!

  11. Hi Sandra
    Good point there you make about play and work.Physical activity that takes you away from the incessant chatter of your mind does you a lot of good.Surely.Also it adds to your overall happiness index.Now that means that we are all doing everything to be happy ,essentially.
    So what do we do to increase our happiness ?To make a paly out of our happiness itself?
    Make a two hour goal to be happy. Commit yourself to remain happy at all for two hours;if not more .Sometimes this may sound like a tall order considering that you have a repertoire of long drawn out episodes of getting upset at fluctuating incidents of life.A two hour happiness play is a good game to begin with.Mind you this is not to substitute actual ,physical play;but only to complement it.

    • That’s a wonderful challenge, Mona! And a beautiful complement to play. I’m very much into experiments at the moment. We can learn so much about ourselves when we do an experiment like this. Thanks for this precious idea.

  12. What a wonderful reminder Sandra. Like you I have a great life but sometimes I take it all just a bit too seriously! Thankfully I have a hubby who makes me laugh every single day. And as some of your commenters said, play is what we decide it is. I love the idea of having the right ratio. 🙂

    • How wonderful to have a husband that makes you laugh every single day, Elle. I’m so happy for you. Yes, I too love the idea that we each need to discover what play is for us, and that can be fun!

  13. Sandra, I grab every chance I get to lighten up and play. I get out as much as I can, even if it is for a short walk. Got to get that fresh air while it is still free, you see! But seriously, since I enjoy what I do, it seems like all I do is play. Consequently, I have people looking at me skeptically and asking if I ever get mad at anything. I am a stress-free type. Perhaps the only thing that freaks me out is when a lizard strolls in through the window and scares me to death. Still, it provides my family with lots of laughter, so I guess that’s a win-win too!

    Yes, all work and no play makes for a very very dull existence indeed!

    Hugs! I love how you broke this post up!

    • Dear Vidya, I love that you make everything into play and are a stress-free type, except for those lizard incidents. We have tiny lizards in Hawaii too and they can suddenly dart out of nowhere and startle you like made! Yes, attitude makes a big difference and your approach will no doubt inspire us all. I’ll definitely be working on my attitude as I spend more time in play. 🙂

  14. Sandra,

    This post came to me a the perfect time. As a young adult, I just started my first “real” job and have been struggling to balance my thriving personal life with a budding professional career. I feel like so many around me in the corporate world forget what it is to play and enjoy life because they’re so focused on profit and financial success, and I’m desperately afraid of becoming like them. This post has given me the courage and permission to start putting at 2:1 ratio into action!

    Thanks again,

    • Anna, I’m so happy this post resonated for you. You have clarity about what’s important in your life and that’s so beautiful! You’re a step ahead, really. I encourage you to stay true to yourself although it might be challenging with all these other ways in your workplace. Even a 1:1 ratio of work to play is a great start!

      I loved your past about falling back in love with Hawaii. There’s so much healing potential and power in this amazing place. It seems like a special place for you to be to reconnect and rejuvenate yourself from time to time.

      Thanks for taking the time to let me know this post make a difference for you. Wishing you well on your journey, success in work and play!

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