How to Get the Boring Tasks Done

by Henrik Edberg

110816_boring
Image by anieto2k (license).

.“Tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week.”
Spanish Proverb

“Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task”
William James

Not all tasks of the day are inspiring, fun or exciting. Some just feel dull or boring. But you still have to wash those dishes and take care of those monotone, routine tasks at work or in school.

So what can you do to not get lost in procrastination? How can you get going with those tasks you don’t feel much like doing and get to done?

In this article I’ll share how I do it, how I get some motivation and find more pleasure in what may seem to be a boring task.

  • Think of why you are doing the task and how good it will feel when it is done. Instead of focusing your mind on how boring a task may feel focus your thoughts on why you are doing this and how good it will feel when you are done with it. If needed, sit down for a few minutes, close your eyes and see in your mind and feel how good it will be when you are there, when you are done with the task. Then go to work with that motivation and those positive feelings in your body.
  • Do it mindfully. When you sort papers, do the laundry or do the dishes be fully there. Focus 100% on just the fork with all your senses – how it feels, looks and smells – as you are scrubbing it and nothing else. Don’t get lost in daydreams. If you are just there I have found that even such a simple and mundane task becomes more enjoyable and something that can bring inner calm rather than distress.
  • Don’t think too much. Get going instead. The more you think about the boring task the more boring it seems in your mind. And so it becomes harder and harder to get started and to get to done. So try to think very little about it. Just make a decision to start doing the task, get up and go do it right away.
  • Make a deal with yourself and set a timer for 10 minutes. It is often in easier to do tasks like these in small bursts. So make a deal with yourself to make a dent in this task. Make a deal to just spend 10 minutes on your inbox, mundane reading or cleaning the house. Set a kitchen timer and say to yourself that you only have to do this work for 10 minutes. When the timer rings you can continue doing it if you feel like it (this often happens to me because getting started is the hard part). Or you can stop and go do something more interesting instead.
  • Create a pleasurable distraction. If possible, try to listen to the radio, your favorite songs, an audio book or watch a movie or TV-episode while doing your boring task. You don’t always have to do just one thing at a time in silence. I often listen to music or watch an episode of the Simpsons while doing the dishes or other routine work at home.
  • Reward yourself. When you are done with your task then reward yourself. Take a walk in the sun, move on to a more fun or creative task at work or in school or have a tasty treat. This habit can make it easier to get started and to keep going each day. Because you know that you can look forward to not just being done and the long-term payoff from that but also your immediate reward right after you are finished.

What is your tip for getting the boring tasks done?

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{ 35 comments }

Samphy Y August 16, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Two more techniques I’ve used and found useful :

1. Make a game out of my boring tasks, where possible.
2. Outsource/ delegate it.

Tony August 16, 2011 at 5:38 pm

Excellent article Henrik. I like the approach of doing things in small chunks, like setting the timer for 10 minutes. I do find, though, that I have a problem coming back to the task after taking the break from it. I find that visualizing the task completed (and the reward of being able to move on to something you enjoy) helps in getting back to work again.
Tony

Geraldine August 16, 2011 at 8:27 pm

Now this is good advice! Thanks Henrik, I’ve got a few of those tasks right now, that just keep getting left behind. I’m going to share this link/good advice too, thank you so much. YOur blog is wonderful!

http://www.takeahappybreak.com

Vic August 16, 2011 at 10:09 pm

Setting a timer for yourself is great advice. Timeboxing has always helped me complete my most mundane tasks.

Aisha Quinece August 17, 2011 at 6:45 am

I love these tips! Especially the one about creating a pleasurable distraction—that’s probably the one tip I use the most. One of the things I do is create when I’m most creative and work within my “limits”. It really helps for us ADHD types. A few other things I’ve done are detailed further here: http://aishaquinece.com/2011/06/being-productive-in-an-adhd-world/

Riz August 17, 2011 at 6:49 am

I suffer quite a bit from procastination but one thing thats always helped me is putting something on in the background whether its an audio tape or a movie. Multi tasking works well for me!

narinder August 17, 2011 at 9:48 am

Its intersting and each one of us need this while doing boring job

fred August 17, 2011 at 12:06 pm

… or you could find someone else to do them :)

Andrea August 17, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Hi Henrik

Thank you. I use a timer sometiems. And yes the hardest things is sttaring. Some boring things i am good at doing, like I do teh dishes immediately after having the meal. Even if I am running late to get somewhere.
When I was young and still living with my parents I used to love doing boring things like cleaning kitchen cupboards because I used that time to daydream about my life, not knowing I was actually creating it.

Thak you for the article

Sandra / Always Well Within August 17, 2011 at 9:23 pm

This is very valuable advice. I have an aversion to doing ordinary things like getting gas, calling to set-up a dental appointment, and so on. I can put them off forever!

This is your trick that works the best for me:

“Don’t think too much. Get going instead.”

If I “just do it” the pain is over in a matter of minutes and it wasn’t wasn’t really painful after all. It’s just a bad habit on my part to put things off.

Bill August 17, 2011 at 9:39 pm

A couple of other things that work for me are:
1. Tell myself “I want to do it because…” For instance, I want to do the dishes so I’ll have a clean kitchen.
2. I will also take a mini-break, such as taking a short walk and come back to it.
3. If nothing else works, I’ll sit still for 10 minutes with no distractions. Then I’ll be bored and motivated to do something.

We're So Inspired August 18, 2011 at 1:42 am

Great advice! The first suggestion along with the William James quote are my big motivators. I always create a list so that I can cross things off as they are completed. The act of crossing things off my list feel so good, weight off my shoulders.

noi that van phong August 18, 2011 at 9:23 am

Thanks for your tips, actually I am tired after a long time working 12 hours a day. I thought I am very strong but now I know my limits. Thanks again

Rob August 18, 2011 at 11:48 am

I like the idea of not thinking and just doing. Time elapses in a more pleasant way for us than when we are focused on not fun things.

Justin | Mazzastick August 18, 2011 at 8:30 pm

I like to just get it done or “Just Do It” as the old Nike slogan goes. I have a couple of home renovations projects that need completion and I know how much of a relief it will be to have those done.

Colin J Browne August 18, 2011 at 11:50 pm

There is, to my mind, a constantly updateable resource for getting through boring tasks. Everything from running to working out to doing the dishes and the ironing: the iPod. I can only assume that in the dark pre-iPod days when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, things were substantially more difficult but today, I can rev up the brain-numbing moments in my life with The Foo Fighters or The Pretty Reckless or even Adele. And you can play it as loud as you like and nobody else has to know. Boring tasks? Solitary Rock Concert opportunities.

Larry Lewis August 19, 2011 at 4:44 pm

I always make sure i take a 5-10 minute break every hour. As my job entails lots of sitting down, i then try to use this time to get out the chair and move around. Often that time will be utilised to doing the washing up, some cleaning, ironing, all those fun tasks i love so much. Amazingly the ‘brain’ rest really revitalises me, and i just can’t wait to get back to my proper job.

Toni - Not Yet A Mommy Blog August 19, 2011 at 8:17 pm

Great article! I also think that putting some music on in the background makes any task, no matter how boring, more fun and manageable.

Naveen Kulkarni August 19, 2011 at 9:54 pm

I loved the point ” Create pleasurable distractions”.
Yes, it works :-)

Thanks Henrick for the post.

Shari Bookstaff August 20, 2011 at 2:15 am

I like these tips too! One thing you’ll find with the timer is that many of these boring, daily, necessary tasks don’t take very long. How long does it REALLY take to empty the dishwasher? One-two songs!

http://sharibookstaff.com/

William Kwan August 20, 2011 at 11:57 pm

I especially agree with focusing on the reason why you’re doing the task rather than the task itself. If you can keep your motivation high, you can get things done in a heartbeat.

Ken Wert August 21, 2011 at 10:44 am

Hello, Henrik

I add myself to the growing column of just-doers. If we can break a task down into parts, sometimes it is easier to get started. But whatever the task and no matter the size of the steps that need to be taken, once started, a self-sustaining momentum develops very quickly for me and once started, it is harder to get me to stop that it was to get started.

Thanks for the great tips on getting distasteful jobs completed!

Curt Rosengren August 21, 2011 at 6:35 pm

I’m always amazed at how much energy I put into resisting something, and then how easy it once I finally just do it. Good tips here.

I like the idea of turning the boring things we resist doing into a mindfulness practice of sorts. In a way, that creates a whole new purpose for it. Rather than this thing you have to get done but would rather not do, it becomes an opportunity to exercise your mindfulness.

John Sherry August 22, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Nice thoughts Henrik. I prefer to fire myself up, get on with them without distraction, set a time limit so I don’t coast, and think of all the great things I’m going to do when I’m done or a treat to say ‘well done’. Find it all flows nicely after that.

Angela Atkinson August 23, 2011 at 2:21 am

I’m like Curt–always amazed at how much energy I put into resisting things, and then being pleasantly surprised when I finally do it and realize how easy it is.

I love (and often employ) your timer tip, as well as the whole “just do it” thing. Great post!

Bjarte August 23, 2011 at 11:52 am

I use all your ideas. When I get a very very very boring task I imagine that I am working for the King or a President. When making coffee for collegues, I pretend that I am making coffee for the King and his team!! When I have to attend a boring business meeting, I think of myself as an important secret life guard just being there to protect the others. When punching numbers into an endless Excelsheet I look at it as a competition where 30000 fans are singing and bringing me forward…

Henrik Edberg August 23, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Thank you everyone for sharing your strategies! You make these articles a whole lot better and more useful for all the readers! :)

Allan August 23, 2011 at 11:50 pm

Accept the feeling you have and do it anyways.

Emotions or feelings do not rule over you.

Timo Kiander August 25, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Great advice!

I try to think about the good feeling I get after finishing the task – while doing the task itself.

Also, some distraction – even if it feels counter-intuitive – makes you to do your tedious work done easier.

Breaking the task into smaller pieces works. Another way to tackle something boring is to do it differently. Like when I’m cleaning my home, I might do it a bit differently each time (if possible).

Timo

Kyna Baker August 29, 2011 at 12:13 am

I think delegation is key. Document the process for getting the task done and give it to someone else to do.

serin paul August 29, 2011 at 2:12 am

Life is often a mixture and too often you will come across things that you hate doing but real success comes in finding ways to overcome the boredom by making things exciting,The rule of converting
http://theartofexpressing.blogspot.com/2011/05/how-to-shift-gear-to-achieve.html this link could be helpful

serin paul August 29, 2011 at 2:15 am

Rule of converting is the way of converting boring things to something exciting like in the movie kung fu panda where the master trains the lazy po attracting him by showing food

Sid August 30, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Great Advice!
I have noticed procrastinating things saps away more energy than actually doing the task. Doing things actually put you into motion and get the wheel turning. I guess for me what works is the satisfaction and sense of achievement of doing something no matter how mundane the work is!

Kelsey September 13, 2011 at 10:45 pm

One thing I do is time myself. Once I know how long a task takes, I’m more likely to do it because I know it doesn’t take much time.

LJ September 20, 2011 at 3:20 am

I use the timer trick often, but part of me is now using the “wild donkey ride” method to get it finished. I really may want to stop, but once the momentum is gone, it’s hard to pick it back up. So if the end is in sight, I push through until it’s done.

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