Work hard, play hard. We’ve habituated ourselves to feel like this is the only appropriate order of things.

We save up our movie nights and dance parties for the weekends. We hold out on that calming bubble bath until the end of the day. We don’t let ourselves Netflix and Chill until we’ve pushed through all (OK, most) of those backed-up emails.

Yet new research shows that waiting to have fun until after we’ve worked doesn’t necessarily make it more enjoyable.

In fact, the study shows that fun is just as fun even if you haven’t “earned it” and it can actually motivate us to work smarter.

Fun is just as fun even if you haven’t earned it.

Ed O’Brien, a professor at the Chicago Booth School of Business, discussed his new research in Harvard Business Review:

“We built a makeshift “spa” in the laboratory — with a massage chair and footbath — for 259 ever-at-work University of Chicago students. Students could choose to come during the weeks right after their stressful midterm exam period or during the weeks right before midterms began. (We had essentially the same number of students show up at both time periods, and they were of similar age, gender, etc.) They predicted their enjoyment before visiting and rated their experience afterward.”

The results:

“We found that while the students who visited the spa before midterms predicted that the experience would be less enjoyable due to looming midterms exams, they actually enjoyed themselves just as much as those who visited the spa after midterms.”

While happy hour before work might not be realistic (or desirable), the powerful message that not only are we allowed to loosen up in between all of our obligations -- but it can actually make us more motivated and better equipped to handle our busy days, is a welcome one.

How can we enact this in our daily lives?

By flipping play on its head and finding ways to start (instead of just finishing) with fun.

  1. Dance before you leave the house in the morning; you don’t have to wait until Friday night to do throw on some #TBT 90s hits or to let DJ Khaled remind you that ‘we the best’.

  2. Pre-game a big meeting with a funny video that puts everyone in a good mood or share a random fact you recently learned with the group.

  3. Swap a weekday / weekend routine; typically save dinner with a friend for the weekend? Get an extra boost of joy by going for a breakfast or lunch catch up during the weekday.

Whatever your version of fun is, remember: you don’t have to earn it. You already deserve to enjoy yourself and by incorporating more play at the beginning, you’ll give yourself a catalyst to stay motivated and keep hustling.