A few days ago, I was at my desk, suffering over my least favorite occupation at work: entering time on our online system. (A necessary evil, since firm bills by the hour.) There must be a better way, I thought, and I vowed to discover the best way to tackle boring tasks.
Yes, there's lots of advice on the Internet, but I stepped away from Google and turned to three experts on productivity: my Dad (ex-Army), my husband (who's written so many books he's lost count) and Flylady (more on her later).
Here are the 5 ways they approach even the most mind-numbing job:
- Schedule tedious activities for when you're at your slump-iest. The accepted wisdom is to undertake a boring burden when you're fresh. But the problem with that approach is that you deplete all your energy on deadly dull duties, and then you've got nothing left for the important stuff. Savvy task managers plan humdrum projects for slumps: first thing in the morning if you're a slow starter, after lunch if that's when you run out of steam, or late in the day if you're a morning person. The only caveat: You have to overcome the impulse to say, "I'm too tired; I'll do it later."
- Take small bites. Here's where I'll introduce you to Flylady, the nom de guerre of housecleaning and organizing guru Marla Cilley. Ms. Cilley is a proponent of breaking down a big job into small steps. For instance, don't try to clean the whole house in one go: Concentrate on just one room or even part of the room, like the kitchen countertops (save the sink for later). When you do take on that job, Flylady advises working for just 15 minutes at a time. Set a timer and when it rings, stop and rest or move onto something else. This technique is brilliant for three reasons. First, it eliminates procrastination because you can do anything for just 15 minutes. Second, it creates focus. And third, you don't get as bored.
- By all means, multitask--as long as activities complement each other. No, you can't complete that spreadsheet while attending the weekly staff meeting; both efforts will suffer as a result. But you can use my husband as a role model and fold the laundry while listening to a conference call. Or put on sports talk radio while cleaning up the kitchen. The combination that works best is when one job is manual and the other occupies your brain.
- Take pride in perfecting the mundane. My dad just turned 86 and he's got that Greatest Generation work ethic: Anything you have to do is worth doing well. Although perfectionism can be debilitating (because you won't even start a chore if it seems impossible), there's something very motivating in my dad's philosophy. It's very satisfying to complete a project when you do it well. As Flylady says, shine your kitchen sink because you'll feel good when it's bright and clean. And those towels in the linen closet look so. . . well, organized all lined up. Even my time-keeping software seems to wink at me when all the hours are tucked neatly in their slots.
- Give yourself a bonus. Millennials aren't the only ones who enjoy a trophy. Especially if you love prizes, a little treat can be all you need to get started. The other morning I had to weed the garden. "I'll work for 30 minutes," I told myself (15 minutes would not have made a dent), "then enjoy an ice-cold Diet Pepsi." It seemed like the best drink ever, a just reward for a job well done.