No matter how cool your job is, there are elements that are really boring. I have had the chance to write a number of books, and most of that process is awesome, but reading the page proofs is horrible. For about 5 minutes, you can get excited about seeing what the book will look like in print for the first time. After that, it is hours of rereading stuff you have already gone over many many times, as your last chance to make changes before the book gets printed and the typos are there for eternity.
If you can’t avoid boring tasks at work, what can you do to minimize how much they bother you?
See them as part of a bigger mission
Probably the best way to feel better about really boring tasks is to see them as part of the overall contribution of the work you do. Lots of research suggests that when you can view your work as a vocation or calling, then you feel better about your work life in general.
To see your work as a calling, you need to find ways that your job and the mission of your organization connect to something bigger than yourself. In what ways does your work make your corner of the world a better place?
Once you make that connection, even the boring parts of your work have some meaning. The task itself may not be enthralling, but the impact of your time makes it worthwhile.
Can you get some flow?
One of the things that can be boring is repetitive tasks. Entering a large column of data into a spreadsheet can feel like an endless task. Over my years of doing research, I have had to enter data from handwritten surveys into statistics packages.
Part of what makes the task boring is that you start noticing the time that you’re spending. Your brain wants to feel busy, because it is an expensive organ to run. If you’re able to notice the time going by, then you’re not busy enough, and your brain lets you know that.
So, see if you can pick up the pace a bit. Get into a rhythm of the task by doing it as quickly as you can while still being accurate. As you get some practice at that speed, you may find that you enter whatMihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls a flow state. When you’re in flow, you end up completely absorbed in the task, even if it is repetitive. Because you’re taking up all your cognitive resources, you don’t notice the time going by. And suddenly, the repetitive task isn’t boring.
A little reward never hurt
Worst case, you need to bribe yourself. Find something you like to do (or even something you like to eat) and save it for when you complete the task. Better still, make it a reward you will only give yourself after you do this particular task. Rewards that you get for doing something that have nothing to do with the task itself are called extrinsic rewards. There is always a danger in using extrinsic rewards, because they can diminish the intrinsic joy of the task itself.
But, if the task you’re doing has no redeeming qualities, then you have nothing to lose. Give yourself a nice reward for getting through something that you knew in advance you weren’t going to enjoy. After a while, you may find that you secretly look forward to doing the task, just to get the reward.