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Playing Hooky as an Adult Feels Great!

Garfield playing hooky...cartoon credit Jim Davis

The origins of playing hooky

The origin of the saying “playing hooky” is as colourful as the activity itself! Hooky at its core is defined as truancy and is thought to originate from the Frisian hoeckje, meaning corner, and the Dutch hoeckje spleen which translates as hide and seek. It morphed from being attributed to schoolboys (in the 19th century) to the current reference of skipping out on a commitment (such as school or work) to engage in a more important activity (as we each see it). 

However, let me challenge our current notion. It has a connotation of being deceitful because most of us know it as skipping out on something, usually through some sort of “white lie”. For instance, a sick note that was written on “behalf of a parent”, or the premise of the coming-of-age classic film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I challenge our notion, as adults, because taking the time to engage in important personal activities or pastimes we love offers significant benefits to our health and wellbeing. 

For the first time in over two years, I did not publish a Monday morning blog last week – I did so purposefully (apologies to those of you that missed it and messaged me). Why did I do this?

I took the week off to spend it with my family, and I am very happy that I did. It allowed us to do many things together, a nice change after two years of pandemic insanity! What did we do? We worked as a team to get several renovation projects done in our home, things we had been putting off for a while because we were worn out. Seeing the progress is rewarding itself, however, how does this example relate to business?

Productivity needs hooky occasionally

As a coach, I often hear: “ I need a better work-life balance, and I just need the company to do XYZ to have it”. The challenge with this thinking is that we delay acting ourselves to improve how and where we spend time and energy. I also see decision-hesitation because of a fear of how peers or leaders will react to our subsequent work-life changes. This situation is more common than you might think, and it is the reason we are sabotaging ourselves. Why?

Two reasons:

  1. Strategies around boundaries need to align with our own workstyle preferences (for example: being a morning person versus a night-owl)
  2. Individuals have different energy and creativity periods, so rigid no emails from 6pm-6am (for example) just don’t stick.

These simple time management challenges can quickly spiral into full-on burnout when left unchecked. This is where hooky comes in. When I say playing hooky, I mean using what would ordinarily be hours within a workday (or the workday itself) to engage in things that help us recharge our batteries, relax, or even deal with personal things (like caring for a child, or aging parent, or going for medical appointments ourselves). 

Remember – playing hooky is a sporadic activity rather than slacking off (that’s a topic for an entirely different blog). I also advocate honesty versus lying when you take hooky time because candidly, an employer that doesn’t support the need for mental wellness or personal days is probably not someone you want to stay with. 

Get more done in less time

Establishing time schedules in our lives is an important step to protecting ourselves, the people we care about, and our passions (golfing for some, quilting for others, and everything in between). I wrote about strategies to get more done in less time, which includes some helpful tips and tricks. 

As humans, we have naturally built-in work and rest needs (or cycles). A great example is the concept of physical exercise. To build cardiovascular strength, we need to engage in sufficient aerobic exercise to push our muscles (including our heart) to build up and become stronger. In doing so we build muscle tone, strength, and release endorphins (feel-good hormones). This cycle builds long-term strength, resilient recovery, and improves energy. How does this example relate to the way we work when under pressure to deliver more in the same amount of time?

The way to address this is to combine periods of focused work and focused breaks. The idea behind it is to develop the ability to change gears between work and “play” allowing us to recharge. The “play” or “relax” mode will allow us to unplug from a work activity entirely. 

Establishing boundaries

Establishing boundaries is the more sustainable way to balance our work and personal time allowing us to take the time we need when we need it and do so guilt-free. 

The fundamentals are simple when you start to think about them:

  1. You can say no (guilt free) 
  2. Your needs are on an equal footing as the needs of other people 
  3. Someone else’s monkey (problem) doesn’t have to become yours to carry 
  4. Expectations are personal, we live up to our own not those of others
  5. We all make mistakes, we are human after all 

Being clear about our boundaries helps us save our energy for things that really matter to us. It will ensure we avoid feeling drained, minimize wasted energy, and generally create a feeling of balance in our lives. Boundary setting helps us learn more about ourselves which in turn improves self-confidence and allows us to be the kind of person we want to be.

Final Thoughts

I believe that it is incredibly important to stand up for yourself and do what you need to do to be a healthier and happier employee. When playing hooky is done smartly, by being considerate and honest with our team members, we will boost our productivity and contribute meaningfully to the bottom line (at work and home). What will you do with your playing hooky time?

Your turn

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Give it a try!

Cartoon credit: Jim Davis

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