Children are among the most creative people you’ll ever meet because their imaginations don’t have any limits. They’re encouraged to play make-believe games, build structures with Lego and chase each other around the playground playing tag — and although they might take this extremely seriously themselves, there’s no external pressure on them to do so.

And creative professionals have a lot to learn from this. Big dot-com companies like Google and LinkedIn encourage their employees to play and have fun during the workday, and judging by their success, they’re obviously doing something right. Here’s how, and why, you should be using play to boost your creativity:

1. Play Reduces Stress Levels

It’s true that pressure can sometimes help us be productive, but when it gets too much, it has the opposite effect. Being under enormous amounts of stress makes it virtually impossible to think creatively. Taking ten minutes to play with plasticine or indulging in a game of pool in your lunch break can help you lower stress and get your focus back.

2. Play Changes the Way you Think

Even the trickiest of problems can usually be solved by thinking outside the box. Imaginative play encourages the brain to approach problems in different and unusual ways, and can help you come up with solutions that never normally would have occurred to you. Keep a box of Lego on your desk and dip into it whenever you feel like you’re hitting a brick wall with your problem-solving.

3. Play Stimulates the Brain

Play means something different to everyone, so it’s important to understand what works for you. Whether it’s doing a jigsaw, playing basketball or a card game, getting into the ‘play’ mindset is a great way of keeping your brain stimulated during breaks without draining your energy levels. Even playing a game on your smartphone is better than nothing, but the ultimate forms of play take place away from technology. If you’re working on a computer all day, it’s even more important for you to take your breaks elsewhere.

4. Play Makes Work Fun

Play doesn’t have to be a separate activity — you can incorporate it into the work you’re doing by listening to upbeat music or chatting to coworkers. Something simple, like a set of alphabet magnets on the fridge, can make mundane tasks like coffee-making a brighter, more stimulating part of your routine. If you can make work feel like play, you’ll be far more productive and much happier.

5. Play Silences your Inner Critic

If the critical, editorial voice in your head is crushing your spirit and your creative efforts, you’ll definitely benefit from taking fifteen minutes out to play like you did as a child. If action figures were your thing, see if you can get hold of some online. If you were into Play-Doh in a big way, keep a tub of it on your desk. Don’t be afraid to be silly. The more embarrassed or stupid you feel whilst playing, the more you can benefit from it — allowing yourself to play openly is the first step to letting yourself think imaginatively and creatively at work.

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By Sam Wright

Sam Wright is a freelance writer working for Brand Republic. He’s much more creative when he takes time out of his day to play with his dogs.