Dreading Your Next To-Do?

In an effort to achieve more, one of the traps we fall into is spending a greater amount of time on the things we are good at and, perhaps more importantly, the things we like. We are wired with a bias toward things that make us feel good.

But in taking this approach, we can overlook opportunities to create an advantage for ourselves—because, often, our strengths are generic. For example, if you’re a carpenter, chances are you enjoy working with your hands, and you will most likely hone this skill and become masterful at it. Yet if you find yourself in a room full of other carpenters, this same skill suddenly becomes not so remarkable. So focusing on other areas of skill would be a wise way to stand out.

It can be the same with our routines. We tend to focus on making the good parts better and become resigned to the less-than-stellar parts simply being part of “doing our jobs.” We all have those parts of our lives and jobs that we find tedious and boring. We leave them until last, we avoid doing them, and we resent every second we spend on it, if we ever do get around to tackling them. They are our “boring bits”— the parts of our routine that we begrudge.

But they don’t have to remain that way. If we stop trying to avoid and ignore them and instead put energy into changing them, they may just become our best bits. It is a means doing more than trying to avoid the boring bits and instead re-thinking them and seeing them for the potential they hold.

If we took this approach to many of our lackluster tasks, they would become less of a liability. We tend not to think this way, and we should.

Behavioral strategists Dan Gregory and Kieran Flanagan, authors of Selfish, Scared & Stupid, share some things you can try to turn your boring bits into better ones:

1. Create a dual purpose. 
Try giving boring tasks a second purpose. It can quickly make them meaningful.

We were discussing this idea with a friend who told us he had created “TEDMilling”… a way to make the time spent on a treadmill more useful by setting the length of a TED speech as the time spent running. It is a great example of making a boring bit something fun, or at the very least not akin to visiting the dentist for a root canal.  

2. Spend time re-thinking.
Get clear about what you want to achieve and then rethink how you could get to that place.

We tend to just ignore our boring tasks so we never give them a chance to be anything but. If we want to improve them, we must take some time to think them through, versus accepting that it is “just the way it is.”

3. Make it a game.
Just as games passed a rainy afternoon when we were kids, they can help us to transform the ho-hum parts of our days. Turn a tedious task into a race, a competition against yourself or even a quest.

In the past, when trying to come up with unique and compelling headlines, and we were bored of staring at blank pages or creativity block had set in, we would hold a competition. We would roll the dice from the Scattergories game and have to come up with a headline that started with the letter on the dice. Making the boring bits fun can relieve tension and unleash hidden ideas.

4. Reward yourself.
This one is a little old school, but when all else fails—bribe yourself (or others) to make the boring to-do’s something far more compelling.

Parents have been using this technique probably for as long as there have been children. If you do this, you get that! Translation: If I do my time sheets, I get a coffee (or a cookie or a wheatgrass shot, depending on your inclinations).

5. Shift your perspective.
Looking for benefits in a task can shift your mental state just enough so that you don’t hate every second of it.

Knowing that getting coffee is in fact passing a test to see how patient and how much of a team player you are can change how you approach the chore (and how quickly you no longer have to do it!).

Routine doesn’t have to be boringand the right daily disciplines can lead to success. Check out what the most successful leaders do every day.

Kieran Flanagan

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