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How to reframe your thinking about the worst parts of your job

The people who love their jobs are the ones who see how their work serves a bigger purpose. That requires seeing the forest rather than the trees.

How to reframe your thinking about the worst parts of your job
[Photo: as3d/iStock]

Even people who absolutely love their jobs still have aspects of the work that they can’t stand. It might be an annoying task that has to be done frequently, like turning in receipts to get reimbursed for expenses. It might be something more significant, like dealing with a client who talks for a long time without saying much.

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There is a temptation to magnify the discomfort of these tasks. It creates something that is easy to whine about with your colleagues.

But there are several reasons not to focus on the things you have to do at work that you hate.

When you think negatively about something, it highlights the negative over the positive in general. Feeling bad about one task in your job can actually make you feel bad about your job altogether, which really saps your motivation.

The negative tasks of your job also focus your attention on the work you’re doing rather than on the mission of your organization. Lots of research on job satisfaction makes clear that the people who love their jobs are the ones who see how their work serves a bigger purpose. That requires seeing the forest for the trees.

Eventually, the tasks you decide you hate turn into dread that you have to do them. Dread is an anticipatory emotion. You feel it even before the negative thing starts. As a result, you take a single task you hate and spread the negative feeling out over a longer period of time than is necessary.

That means you need to develop strategies to think differently about those aspects of your job that drive you crazy.

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If you can, try to turn those tasks into a social event. For example, I have colleagues who dread having to grade final projects to finish off the semester. So they get together with several other people who have to grade papers to make it a communal experience.

Also, keep reminding yourself of the importance of the job you do. That way, even when particular tasks are a drag, you are aware of the broader impact of your organization.

Don’t procrastinate the tasks you hate. You want to minimize the amount of time you have to dread something you don’t like, so take care of it quickly. And while you’re doing that task, pay attention to how you’re actually feeling. Often, the task itself isn’t as bad as you fear it will be. By recognizing that it isn’t as horrible as you remembered it, you might make it easier for you to do that task in the future.

That said, as I wrote in an earlier column, don’t start the day with the thing you hate most. You can actually sap your motivation to work if the first thing you do is something you hate. If you have to kiss a frog, do it after you have had at least one success that day.

In the worst case, feel free to bribe yourself. Save something enjoyable to do as a reward for getting through the thing you dread. That way, you have something to look forward to. However, don’t use this strategy unless every other attempt to reconceptualize the task has failed. When you tell yourself that the only reason you can get through that part of the job is to get the reward afterward, you will have a hard time seeing it as anything other than a chore.

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