How to Get Through Tasks That Suck

However motivated, fired-up and enthusiastic you are about your life and work, there are going to be times when you have to force yourself to do something.

There are inevitably some parts of your job or home life that just suck. If you don’t handle them right, these can really drag you down: killing your mood, causing procrastination, and making you feel not only fed up about the task but fed up with yourself.

Whether your sucky task is cold-calling for new clients, cleaning the kitchen floor, data entry, or visiting your mother-in-law, here’s how to get through it.

  • Ditch It, If Possible
    If a task really sucks, decide whether or not you need to do it. Maybe you’ve been putting off organizing your DVD collection for months – does it really matter? Can you just strike it off your list?

    Some jobs do matter.

    You might loath cleaning the bathroom (I know I do), but forgetting about it altogether just isn’t an option. Can you pay or bribe someone else to do it? If hiring a cleaner for a couple of hours a week buys you peace of mind and knocks some boring tasks off your list, it’s probably well worth the money. If asking a colleague to lend a hand with that huge mailshot at work gets it done in half the time and without you feeling so stressed-out, it’s probably worth whatever favor they’ll want in return…

    As many time management experts have pointed out, the quickest way to get a task off your to-do list is to simply ditch it.

  • Make It Less Unpleasant
    If you can’t ditch the task or pass it to someone else, look for a way to make it less unpleasant. I won’t say a way to make it “fun” or “great”, because I’m being realistic here. But most tasks can be made bearable.

    If it’s really boring, make it more challenging:

    • Race against the clock with getting your essay for school done, or with cleaning tasks
    • Pick three unusual words and find a way to work them into a boring conversation with relatives, or a boring meeting at work

    “I especially found math and science classes so easy that I began looking for new ways to challenge myself. So I’d try to do my entire homework assignment on a 1″ by 1″ square of paper, or I’d do it in crayon on the back of a cereal box cover, or I’d color in my polar graphs with colored pencil and turn it into artwork. People thought I was wacky, but I mainly did these things to keep it interesting because the problems themselves posed no challenge.”
    (Steve Pavlina, The Meaning Of Life: Intro, StevePavlina.com)

    Listen to some music that you love:

    • Great for cleaning tasks, filing, anything where you don’t need to completely focus
    • Obviously this one won’t work well in meetings or at family events

    If it’s hard to make the task itself better, reward yourself with a treat afterward. Maybe there’s no way that doing your taxes will ever be anything but hell – but you could celebrate with a meal out with your partner afterward.

    One of the best ways to make a task less unpleasant is to just get stuck in. Putting things off builds up your mental resistance to doing them – the longer you avoid a task, the larger it’ll loom in your mind. Plus with some jobs (filing, cleaning, paperwork, emails, laundry), the longer you leave them, the bigger the mountain that you have to deal with…

  • Accept That It Sucks, And Do It Anyway
    Worst-case scenario, you’ve got a task that sucks, you can’t ditch it, and there’s no way to make it more bearable. Well, sadly, you’re just gonna have to grit your teeth and do it anyway. Seriously, if you approach this in the right frame of mind, you can get a perverse sort of pleasure in working on with a task that you hate.

    Face it, sometimes you’re going to have to do things that are hard, unenjoyable and unbelievably irritating (things that truly suck), and you have two choices:

    • Get frustrated, drained, and pissed off because you have to deal with the suck, or
    • Embrace the suck, and do it anyway, because you are an a$$-kicker like no other.

    (Dave Navarro, Embrace The Suck: How To Hate What You Do And Love It, Rock Your Day)

    Yes, your task sucks, but you’re going to get it done – “embrace the suck”, in Dave’s words – and you’re going to do it well. If you can manage that, you’re making huge strides towards improving your self-discipline and your ability to commit yourself to seeing things through.

    After all, it’s not much challenge to find the self-discipline to get on with something you (at least partly) enjoy, like starting up your own business, writing a novel, or getting fit enough to run a marathon. Real self-discipline comes when you’re facing something you really don’t want to do, but you storm through it regardless.

What are the tasks that suck for you? How do you deal with them?

Written on 3/10/2009 by Ali Hale. Ali runs Alpha Student, a blog packed with academic, financial and practical tips to help students get the most out of their time at university. Photo Credit: Katie@!

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