Every job has some degree of repetitious, uninspiring tasks that can often be boring and exhausting. Most people dread tasks like stuffing envelopes or filling out expense reports, and would prefer more fulfilling and stimulating work. As a professional organizer who encourages people to find the joy in tidying up their desks, calendars and filing cabinets, I am very familiar with the thinking behind grunt work, as organizing often falls into that category. But I don’t get offended, because I know that 99% of this is mental; that is, managing how you feel about the tasks instead of achieving the actual tasks themselves.
Three major emotional obstacles stand in the way of muscling through the grunt work.
- How we feel about what we are doing, which places us in a judgmental, often unpleasant state.
- We wait for perfect conditions to begin, such as being in the mood or the right time of day to engage in certain tasks.
- The greatest obstacle we face is procrastination, which by definition is the choosing of a more pleasurable task over the task at hand.
1. Change your mindset.
Let’s begin all of this emotional thinking by giving the term grunt work a more desirable title, such as “the necessary.” These smaller jobs are necessary players in your ensemble of work. The famous actor and playwright Constantin Stanislavski once said, “There are no small roles, only small actors.” He meant to encourage his actors to invest in what they were given, regardless of the amount of lines or stage time. Since our perception is that these jobs are small or menial at best, and at worst demeaning or boring, we find ourselves labeling or judging the work. When you trivialize the work from the start, your emotions take over. The first step is to release the emotion and judgment you have around this work and simply engage in it.
Recently we had our kitchen remodeled with all new cabinetry. The cabinetmaker came every day for several days and made all of the cabinets by hand. I marveled not only at his craftsmanship but also at his ability to perform repetitive tasks over and over again. He did not question what he was doing or emotionalize it; he simply built beautiful cabinets, one step at a time. The small daily steps he took brought him to a beautiful body of work (and a beautiful new kitchen for us). He understood that each task built upon the next, all equally contributing to the final product.
2. Stop waiting.
The second obstacle people face is that they wait for the perfect condition to attack these jobs, fooling themselves into thinking there is a right time of day or certain mood they need to be in before they can start. Set up your daily schedule with the most favorable times to engage in this kind of work. If you work better in the morning, take the early part of the day to do these less desirable tasks. This will also give you an early sense of accomplishment, which carries you throughout the day. Consider setting a timer, even just 15 minutes to start. As you get better at focusing, you can extend the time. This will give you an idea of how long it will take you to accomplish these tasks. You might find that 15 minutes a day helps you accomplish all that you need in one week.
3. Stick to it.
It doesn’t take much to derail us from our work. Something as simple as a text or social media post can cause us to put off the work at hand. Suddenly, procrastination has replaced our emotional thinking. This could happen in just about every situation where a choice has to be made; there will simply always be something better to choose. I’m not alone in my thinking. Procrastination experts say this delay of tasks does little to help you. It just puts off the inevitable. Wouldn’t it be better to get the nasty task out of the way to begin with?
Handling procrastination habits can be solved with simple reward-setting. If you set up a plan to clear up your office filing system over the course of a week, make a daily routine for doing the work. By week’s end, you can reward yourself with something commensurate with the goal achieved. I don’t mean booking a trip to Vegas for clearing out one desk drawer; instead, reward yourself with a latte or small treat. This system of work and reward will not only get you to your goal faster, but also makes the work more pleasurable along the way.
With these simple shifts in how we think and feel about the necessary, we can be more productive. In the words of St. Francis of Assisi, “Start by doing what is necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
This article was published in October 2017 and has been updated. Photo by @Korneevamaha/Twenty20