Six Ways to Stay Motivated during Hideously Boring Tasks

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Motivation can be tough. Even when you want to do something – like exercising regularly, eating right or keeping a journal – it’s easy to find your enthusiasm slackening off.

But motivation gets really tough when the task at hand is downright boring.

I

don’t know exactly what your most-dreaded things are, but maybe they look something like this:

  • Repetitive, boring data entry or copy-and-pasting tasks on the computer
  • Housework – laundry, cleaning, cooking, tidying, washing dishes…
  • Sorting and filing papers
  • Delivering leaflets door-to-door

They’re tasks that are repetitive, unchallenging and uncreative. There might be relatively little reward or recognition for completing them.

No wonder you put them off, or struggle to focus when you’re tackling them.

The problem is, you can’t simply ditch these tasks. For whatever reason, they need to be done. So here’s how to stay motivated (and sane!) while you’re tackling them:

#1: Remind Yourself WHY
Whatever the task at hand, there’s a why behind it. Sometimes, focusing on the why can help you feel more motivated to do a good job – even though the work itself is boring. Your why might be:

  • An end result that benefits you – e.g. a clean, tidy house that you can relax in
  • An end result that helps someone else – e.g. a happy client
  • Saves you doing more work in the future
  • Doing good in the world – helping charity or a political/religious organization that you support
  • Your paycheck – an important motivator for many of us!

#2: Think How Good You’ll Feel When You’re Done
Chances are, you might have been dreading this tedious task for a while. Maybe you’ve been putting it off for days, weeks or even months. It’s been hanging over you.

Think about how great you’ll feel once you’re done with it. You’ll have it off your mind, you’ll have a sense of accomplishment, and you’ll be able to get on with the rest of your life without dreading this one thing.

The faster you get on with the task, the sooner you can enjoy the benefits of having finished. Yes, I know that’s obvious – but we sometimes need to remind ourselves of it.

#3: Work in Short Bursts
You know what happens when you try to concentrate on something for hours on end … your attention wanders. Perhaps you manage 20 minutes or so, but then you’re onto Twitter, and you click on a link, and you end up reading web comics. Or you flick the television on and get drawn in.

By working in short bursts, you help yourself stay on task. If you spend 15 minutes cleaning the kitchen or 30 minutes entering data, before taking a break, it’s much easier to focus – you know the end is in sight!

#4: Crank the Music
I find that music distracts me from my more intense, creative work – but it’s ideal for boring tasks. You’ll probably want to choose something with a fast tempo and a bit of energy to it – maybe rock music, or whatever works for you.

If you’re not a music fan, or if you’re working in an environment where loud music isn’t appropriate, try audio books. Try LibriVox for classic books, read by volunteers – they’re free.

#5: Use Your Task as a Breather

This might sound odd – but you can actually use those dull tasks as a welcome break in the day. Sure, two hours of cleaning or data entry might drive you nuts, but spending 15 or 20 minutes doing something unchallenging can give you a chance to unwind, in between more intense tasks.

You’ll find that it helps to pay attention to the times of day when you’re most creative – and the times when you’re feeling a definite slump. Use dull tasks to fill your “slump” times, and keep your most important work for your best hours.

#6: Work With a Partner
You might not always have this option, but when you do, it’s often a great way to improve a dull task. Find someone else to work with. That might mean:

  • Doing the housework with your partner or kids
  • Asking a colleague to help you out at work
  • Getting a friend to come over and clear out the garage with you

…and so on. It’s motivating to have someone else along because you’ll be sharing the work (so it’ll get done faster), you’ll have someone to talk to, and you won’t want to slack off because you’ll be letting them down. Of course, you’ll probably need to return the favor in future…

What hideously boring tasks are festering on your to-do list? What could you do to make them a little more bearable?

Written on 5/28/2011 by Ali Luke. Ali writes a blog, Aliventures, about leading a productive and purposeful life (get the RSS feed here). As well as blogging, she writes fiction, and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing. Photo Credit: Samael Kreutz
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