In an ideal world, you would be able to delegate all the tasks you dread. It is an important ideal because the quality of our work is so much better when we do something we’re good at and/or enjoy than when we plod through something that drains our energy. But, life happens! People call in sick, deadlines are brought forward, other urgent matters arise meaning that on occasion we have to just get down and dirty and complete some tasks we actually don’t want to do (I’m looking at you, Taxes….)
When this happens and you have to be an adult about it, here are some very useful ways to ease the burden.
Give it Meaning
Have you ever noticed that your energy spikes when you work on a project you believe in? Before starting this task you dread, take a minute to reflect on the greater purpose behind it. You’ll find yourself with the bigger picture and more motivation to get the work done. Yes, some tasks like folding laundry don’t really have a ‘higher purpose’ in the general use of the term, but it does have advantages. Taking proper care of your clothes keeps them in better condition for longer, saving you money and kerbing waste.
If you can’t find the higher purpose of a task, aim at least to find the advantages. If the task has neither, should it really be on your or anyone else’s to-do list?
Divide a Big task into Chunks
Your brain releases dopamine when you complete a task, but it starts doing so already once the finish line is in sight. When the end is not in sight, your energy may drop. Overcome this by dividing big tasks into smaller chunks. This way, every time you finish the chunk you’ll experience a spike in your dopamine levels, giving you more energy and making you feel happier before you tackle the next chunk.
If the task is really big you should also consider celebrating a little after each completed chunk. For e.g., after you’ve completed the first half of your taxes take a coffee break and have that cookie, and then continue the next half. How about, after calling 10 sales leads you ring a bell in the office? I sometimes just cross the item off my to-do list with a fat, dramatic red marker…. It may sound childish, but that doesn’t matter, because it’s just the way our brains work!
Turn Distraction into an Ally
We’ve all heard of how counter-productive distraction can be, but we’re drawn to distraction because it works. Think about workers singing long songs while carrying the harvest from the fields, prisoners of old ‘drumming’ beats with their hammers or just yourself watching shows while folding the laundry. Boring work can ‘pass quicker’ if we use distraction to our advantage.
Naturally, not all tasks are suited to distraction, but if it’s a long yet simple task listening to stimulating talks via YouTube or podcasts works great.
Delay that Treat
Saving something you enjoy to use as a treat or reward for completing a dreary task works well as an external motivator. Yes, a delicious brownie works well, but it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) always have to be food-related. I have a friend who, when she finds a good book to read, puts it aside for her next long flight. This not only makes her journey more enjoyable but she ends up actually looking forward to it. Or how about a massage for after the 10km race you committed to? Or a steaming bath after doing the DIY-job?
Mix it Up
We all find excitement (and thus energy) in novelty. Something new and different gets us going again. We’ve inherited a brain that responds to variety, so find ways to build it into your day. You could go write the next chapter of your book at a coffee shop or sort your receipts on a blanket in the park. Complete your workout in a different order or incorporate new ingredients when you cook dinner. A new route to jog, another location to work in, a fun task in the middle of the dreary one, doing old tasks in new ways. You may think you don’t have the energy for this, but you might get a surprising boost.
In the end, these strategies will have limited results if you’re not healthy. Nothing can substitute for proper sleep, nutrition, and work/life balance and these should be your first priority.