Every job has its boring bits. Sometimes, the boring bits are actually mind-numbing; occasionally they’re actually loathsome.
For in-office workers, this isn’t such a big deal. For one thing, there are others to vent to about how boring a part of your work is. And then there’s your boss, only a couple of cubicles away, waiting on the results of that loathsome task. You just have to knuckle down and do it.
For the freelancer, there may be a deadline off in the distance somewhere, but we have none of the in-your-face physical prompts. We have freedom of choice: if we really don’t want to do something, we won’t. So we have to motivate ourselves to get the drudge work done.
How do you do it? I find these kinds of problems are mainly psychological — I don’t like the task, it’s boring, it’s not as fun as something else I have to do — rather than practical. So all my tactics for getting boring work done are, effectively, motivational mind games.
Set a deadline
I don’t have to do much boring work, but the small chunks I do are often just part of the bigger picture. They don’t have their own deadlines or deliverables. They’re not ends unto themselves. That can make it even harder to set time aside to do them. So I’ve found that setting my own deadlines for the boring stuff helps.
My deadline is never arbitrary. Usually, I look at my week, and think “If this is still on my to-do list after Tuesday, I’m going to want to throw my computer out the window,” so I’ll set Tuesday as the deadline. By looking at my schedule I can see the tasks I want to be able to really immerse myself in, without having any boring tasks hanging over me. This is a big motivator to set a deadline and get the dull stuff done.
Chunk the task
Chunking the boring work goes hand in hand with setting a deadline for it. Rather than trying to get boring work done around the edges of other, more engaging tasks, I set time in my schedule for it. Firstly, this ensures that it gets done — if I know when the boring task’s going to end, I’ll be more likely to dedicate myself to getting the job done in that timeframe. But it also gives me the chance to make the boring stuff as painless as possible.
For example, let’s say I’m doing a boring task for two hours on Wednesday morning. Maybe I’ll do that work over breakfast in a nice cafe. Maybe I’ll move from my desk to the couch, or the deck, for those two hours. Inevitably I’ll queue up two hours of decent music, and I’ll probably let myself take a break every forty minutes or so, so I can get up, clear my head, and refocus. If I don’t chunk the task, I can’t plan to make it easier. Chunking is worth it for that reason alone.
Sounds dramatic, right? Well, sometimes boring work is dramatic. As I’m facing up to the boring bits of my work, I start wondering why my job has boring bits. I mean, I’m freelancing! Isn’t the idea that my work should be fun fun fun, 24/7? How come there are boring bits? This mindset doesn’t help me focus, or get anything done. Overall, it’s pretty demotivating.
I’ve found it better to surrender: to accept the fact that I have to spend this time doing this task, put everything else aside, and just focus. If I dedicate myself to getting this task done as well as possible, I generally forget my frustrations, and the time and task pass much more quickly than they ordinarily would. To do this, though, I really need to spend a moment consciously focusing on the task before I begin. Surrendering doesn’t tend to happen by accident.
I’m big on the concept of self-reward. I like rewards for completing boring work to be exciting. “Do this, and you can spend the afternoon submerged in Exciting Project #1.” “Do this, and you can go out for dinner.” “Do this, and you can go bushwalking this afternoon.” If it’s a really tough (by which I mean really boring) task, I might give myself an entire day off as a reward.
You may not be as flexible with your timeframes as I am, but big, glowing rewards remain a good way to get tedious stuff done. Forget chocolate bars and coffees — go for broke when you’re choosing your reward, and that boring task will suddenly start to seem a whole lot more doable.
These are my favorite motivational mind-games — the ones that work best for me. How do you motivate yourself to get the boring bits of your work done?