Last year I attended a Startup Weekend event in Portland, OR. I left for it right after finishing a 40 hour work week at my programming job, excited to meet the other attendees and see what project I could spend my weekend designing and coding. Even though I had been coding eight hours a day every day at work, I wanted to spend my weekend coding as well, totally by choice, and I was excited to do it. Part of that excitement came from the opportunity to work on a different project, part of it was because I had friends attending the event who I’d get to spend time with, and part of it was the opportunity to code something because I wanted to, without any obligation.
Startup Weekends are very intense events, because your small team is trying to present a prototype project for judging after only about 48 hours of development time, including planning, design, and implementation. It’s not a low-pressure atmosphere; there’s a spirit of competition, and many people are going for the prizes that could help their small business idea take off. But even though it’s chaotic and stressful at times, I greatly enjoyed the experience.
As my team and I were frantically working to complete our prototype app with a little more than one day left before judging, my team leader said, “It’s surprising how little it takes to turn what we do from work into play.” I looked up and realized that I and everyone else had a grin on their face as they worked away on our project. We were definitely having fun. I even worked until almost two am, then got back to work at eight am, because I was enjoying doing the project so much. That has always resonated with me. What was it about Startup Weekend that made us consider it “play” when we were all doing the same thing there that we usually did as “work”?
I think the answer to this question lies in your mindset in how you think about whatever you’re doing. “Work” is generally something people are obligated to do, and they usually have to do it under someone else’s rules, guidance, or timelines. People often don’t have the same freedom at work that they do when they’re playing. Play involves imagination, fun, and often a different sort of energy than work involves. That energy is amazing, because it creates a passion and a drive to succeed and produce great work. Programming is almost always fun for me, but sometimes I do consider it work. I do not always have complete freedom and sometimes timelines mean I’m working on a project when I’d rather be doing something else. But I try to keep my work in the “play” realm whenever I can.
Working with great people helps a lot. For me, working on a good team is the same as working with my friends. Enjoying my time at work means being able to have fun at work. When I start having fun and feeling less stress, I am able to produce better work because my imagination is performing better, leading to better problem solving and superior work produced. The energy and enthusiasm I had at Startup Weekend is what I want to bring to my place of employment, team, and my life, every day.