How twirling in a gown made me better at work

“The future of work” is a trending topic that we aren’t tackling in the right way. If we want a successful working culture we need to focus on play, not just work.

My LinkedIn feed is full of articles about work. 

There’s advice on how to work better, how to adopt a “work from anywhere” culture, how to be more productive, how to engage your teams better, how to intelligently structure your day…

These are important topics, and at FLOWN, being experts in deep work, we obviously write about these topics as well. 

But these articles are wearing me down. 

Why? Because this last year has been shit. 

Our lives have been void of stimuli and sparkle. We’ve gotten by, but we haven’t been our best selves. If we try to build a “future of work” on this foundation, we are going to fail. 

I’m going to share my last year with you…

My husband of 15 years left me out of the blue. I struggled to balance my work alongside my mental well-being, and for the first time in my life I didn’t have someone standing by my side to lean on. I had to deal with a lot of legal and financial stresses (aren’t lawyers fun?). I had to figure out what to do with my life, and my memory-filled apartment. I tried to find “acceptable” ways to let off a lot of steam, often getting the balance of acceptable and unacceptable wrong. My father became ill. I almost spent my birthday (aka Christmas Day, aka my 40th) completely alone in my apartment. Oh, and a pandemic hit. Two weeks before my husband left, actually. 

I didn’t know whether to be relieved that I had an excuse to be isolated in my flat with almost no options for what to do with myself, or if I should smash some plates and scream. I think I did a bit of both (my new plates are lovely).

Fortunately, humans are adaptable. I pushed through, and found a way to get by. Even had some genuinely good moments.

Unfortunately, humans are adaptable. I got used to living a life that was almost entirely void of stimuli. 

Wait! Where’s my mojo gone?

I think this is a feeling nearly everyone can relate to. We found a way to get by, but we lost some spark. Furthermore, the means to which we got by (for many) involved either bingeing on a routine, or just bingeing in general (Netflix, booze, Amazon, food etc).

Think about some of the things people have lost these last 12+ months:

  • Taking a peak at what your colleague is wearing and realising you can totally wear it better and rushing out to Zara on your lunch break to find the same outfit
  • Meeting your office fling / arch nemesis / future best friend
  • Overhearing a senior manager tackle a tough conversation and mimicking them when you find yourself in that same situation, months later
  • Walking into a party and thinking, yep, I’m looking fiiiiiiine today
  • Shazaming that awesome song you heard in the shop and then playing it on repeat for weeks on end until you hate it
  • Absorbing the sounds, smells, lights of a restaurant and then being outraged when you get the bill and realise how much that cocktail cost you
  • Getting lost in Rome and finding a cute cafe that serves amazing pasta, knowing you’re going to struggle to ever find the place again but that you’ll still tell everyone about it
  • Hearing a crowd laugh at the cinema – kind of hating that they’re bothering you but somehow finding the movie funnier because of it
  • Feeling smug when you’ve engaged in some good ol’ mental jousting with a stranger, and hit them with the wittiest comeback in record time

Maybe these things don’t seem that important on the surface, but they have a ricochet effect. 

Any one of these small encounters can shift how you behave tomorrow. They light something in you, be it something amazing or something awful and that flame gives us our mojo.

Without this ricochet effect, without our mojo, how are we supposed to create truly great work? 

If we only experience the exact same sights and routines, how do we view a new problem in a new way?

So, when I read all these articles about work, I get frustrated. Instead of reading advice on how to work better, I want to remember how to play better. There is zero point to implementing any kind of productivity/work strategy if I’m feeling….blah.

Introducing… the playcation

OK, so what are we going to do about this?

I’ll tell you what I did. 

I had a short, local, playcation (yep, another term to throw into the mix).

I treated myself to an overnight vacation somewhere local (London), where I played.

I was tired of my flat, I was tired of my routine, I don’t always have the time/energy to travel to far flung parts of the UK that are crowded with Londoners seeking an escape, and honestly, shallow as this may sound, I was tired of having fabulous outfits that I have NO OCCASION TO WEAR. 

I wanted to treat myself and stay somewhere close, lavish, and allow some frivolity into a random Friday night. And yeah, I want to feel sexy. Sue me. 

Lucky for me, FLOWN has a curated collection of properties and so I chose the eclectic, quirky, decadent 40 Winks for my night of play.

40 Winks is hidden away in East London. David Carter (the property owner) describes it as an immersive experience, an invitation to lose yourself in another more fabulous, more magical world. 

He’s not wrong. The moment you enter you feel you’ve gone through the looking glass and entered a world of curiosities, and mayhem. It has only two rooms (literally a micro hotel) available to book, and I booked them both which meant I had the place to myself and my new boyfriend (hey, I never said lockdown had no play).

A bottle of pink Moët in hand, I donned various dresses, did my best Vogue poses, froclicked through the rooms, soaked in the tub, bantered with the host, stayed up most of the night, and basically… had fun.

Why the hell not?

A playful brain-jolt

We need to experience things that inspire us, see things through different lenses, be energised, feel sensuality, have chance encounters, laugh, get silly, be surprised and get pulled out of the ordinary so that we can be and feel extraordinary.

In short, we need all the things that we’ve been deprived of this last year. And if we haven’t had the opportunities then we just have to make them. 

If we rely on our adaptability and go through the motions, that’s all we’ll be doing – existing, not thriving. 

When I stepped out of 40 Winks on Saturday morning (albeit a tad hungover) I was stunned to find myself on Mile End Road. I’d been immersed in another world for over 20 hours and that world was vastly different to the ho-humness of my usual surroundings. I felt different, and that difference had a butterfly effect that touched on my work and non-work in the days that followed.

At FLOWN when we talk about “deep work” it really isn’t just about work. Or at least, we recognise that to achieve deep work, you need to expose yourself to new things that allow your brain to draw new connections, new neural pathways.

What’s the moral of this story? 

The over-simplified version is this: take yourself somewhere special, put on a pretty frock, play. Employers: stop solely focusing on work, and help your staff remember how to play. Work won’t get better by working harder or even smarter, it will get better by allowing just a tiny bit of reckless abandonment. A bottle of Moët wouldn’t go amiss either 🙂

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