Next weekend my choir, The Conspiracy of Beards, is touring New York City, singing, goofing off, and stressing out because we’ve taken time away from our day jobs.
Today one of our bearded brethren called me, ready to back out of the tour. He has a lot of work on his plate and feels like he can’t afford to take the time away from it. A month ago he and I had booked about six days for the trip even though we sing for just three. We figured, why waste the long plane ride from California? Why not play a little while we’re on that side of the country?
Because. We have to work.
It would be a little easier to understand our dilemma if either of us punched the clock, but we’re both independent workers. Both of us are set up to work where ever we have an internet connection. I write and make drawings. He programs. Nobody is waiting for us to show up somewhere, but both of us need to stay productive to keep the money flowing.
So what’s the problem? Why don’t we just work while we’re there? The problem is this: we will be out of our normal routines, away from the triggers we set up to stay productive, seduced by a city that screams to be explored, distracted by all the opportunities we know we will miss if we actually sit down to work.
Parallel Play to the Rescue
Sociologist Mildred Parten was one of the first modern scholars to study young children at play. Included in the developmental stages she observed was what she called parallel play which falls between solitary play and cooperative play. In parallel play two or more kids play separately near each other, not interacting but occasionally mimicking each other and thereby influencing each other. Parallel play usually shows up around age two and is one of the first forms of social interaction.
My beleaguered brother beard and I decided we’d plan some parallel play; that is, we’d meet at a quiet wired cafe, second thing in the morning, to work near each other for a few hours every day. Our goal: work so we can play.
Here’s what we are counting on:
- We’ll behave differently in the company of another professional; we’ll act more professional ourselves.
- Setting the same time and place to be productive makes it easier to focus because someone else shares the same goal.
- We’ll rise to the occasion because we’ll have a witness in each other.
Parallel play is one of the many ways we can amplify our chance of success. I’m doing it now with my soon-to-be ex-wife who’s working across the kitchen table from me. Last week, I hung out with an animator friend so we could work quietly near each other.
This Week’s Tweak
Even if you work in a place with lots of coworkers, consider planning some parallel play. Take a project you’ve been dreading to work on, find a new place to do it, and set a specific time to meet one or a couple other people for a focused period of productivity. Pick people you can ignore while you draft off of their focused energy. Offer them the example of your own professionalism. Try a timer, and take along a tasty treat to tip your teammates for their targeted attention.