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Making Mundane Tasks Meaningful: Tips for Adding Joy to Boring Work



We all have parts of our job or daily routine that feel tedious, boring, or painful. As much as we may love our work and find meaning in it, there are likely a few items on the to-do list that we dread. Replying to a multitude of emails, filling out paperwork, or performing repetitive data entry can make us feel drained and zapped of energy.


While we may not be able to eliminate these boring tasks completely, we can make small adjustments to our approach that help add a bit more enjoyment and satisfaction. By pairing a tedious task with something we love, we can transform the experience from painful to pleasant. With some creativity and consistency, we may even get to a point where we look forward to activities we used to dislike!


Today we will explore simple ways to integrate more joy into mundane and repetitive work.


Think of a Boring Task and a Fun Pairing


The first tip is to identify a boring task that is part of your regular work or home life responsibilities. This could be anything repetitive, tedious, or draining, from responding to emails to filling out forms to performing data entry.


Once you've identified your boring task, think of something enjoyable that you could pair with it to make it more fun. For example, you could listen to a favorite upbeat playlist while plowing through a batch of emails. If you have a lot of data entry to do, you could turn it into a race against the clock, competing with yourself or coworkers to beat your best time.


Some examples of potential pairings:

  • Listening to podcasts or audiobooks while doing paperwork

  • Having a dance party while cleaning or organizing

  • Doing a hobby like knitting or drawing during long phone calls

  • Chatting with a friend while prepping boring reports

  • Watching favorite TV shows when doing data entry

  • Listening to peppy music while exercising or doing household chores

The key is to get creative and think about activities, audio, visuals, and interactions that bring you joy on their own. Then, pair them with the boring task to create a more enjoyable overall experience.


Consistently Pair the Boring and Fun


Once you've identified a potentially fun pairing, the next step is consistency. Set the intention to match the boring task with the enjoyable activity every time you need to do it. The original text recommends doing this often enough that you may actually look forward to the boring work that you used to dislike.


The consistency is important in forming a new positive association. Here are some examples:

  • Make a dedicated playlist for doing that batch of monthly reporting and listen to it each time.

  • Bring your knitting project to every phone meeting you have to work on during down time.

  • Schedule walks or workouts right before your least favorite meetings to associate them with the mood boost after.

  • Cook an exciting new recipe every Thursday night when you do your weekly household chores.

  • Plan video game time as a reward immediately after finishing your most tedious work task.

By always pairing the same fun activity with the boring task, you reinforce the positive association in your mind. Over time, looking forward to the rewarding fun part can become enough that you have more positive feelings about the tedious task itself.


Adjust Approaches as Needed


As you work to consistently pair boring activities with more enjoyable elements, pay attention to what is actually making a difference for you. Experiment to see which pairings are most effective for transforming particular tasks.


For example, you may find:

  • Music helps document preparation go faster, but podcasts are too distracting.

  • Chatting with a coworker makes data entry more fun at first, but then becomes its own distraction.

  • Getting deeply absorbed into a TV show makes household chores feel like they go by quickly.

Adjust your approach based on what works best for particular tasks and your own temperament. Stay open to trying new pairings if the initial ones you picked aren't making the big difference you hoped for.

Consider rewarding yourself after completing especially boring tasks by pairing them with something truly special, like a movie night or fun activity with friends after. This can further help build the positive association.


Conclusion


While we can't always eliminate boring and tedious tasks from our work and home lives completely, we can make small adjustments to our approach that add more satisfaction. By consistently pairing activities we find painful or draining with something fun we enjoy, we can transform our experience. Over time, with the right pairings, we can even get to a point where we have positive feelings and look forward to aspects of mundane work we used to dislike.


With some creativity and consistency, even the most repetitive and draining tasks can become opportunities for enjoyment. By adding elements like music, social interaction, entertainment, movement, and play, we can bring more joy into our daily work and responsibilities. Give it a try with your most dreaded to-do list items - you may just find yourself smiling through activities you used to think were painful.

 

Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.



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