How to Get Boring Things Done (and Enjoy It)

By Dr. Ryan Niemiec

Organizing. Filing. Paperwork. Everyone has those tasks they just don’t like doing. But what if you could enjoy getting those things done–at work, at home, anywhere–and maybe even start to like doing them? According to research, it’s possible.

Are You Paying Enough Attention?

Harvard scientist Ellen Langer looked at this with a study in which she randomly divided people into two groups. Langer asked both groups to do an activity they did not like (something mundane or boring such as vacuuming, doing dishes, or dusting the house). For one of the two groups, she added an instruction–while you are doing the activity you dislike, pay attention to three novel things while you do the activity. For example, those who chose washing the dishes as their “disliked activity” might pay attention to the multitude of little bubbles the soap creates, the weight of each dish, and the engravings on the plates. When the groups reported back to the experimenter, findings revealed that those participants in the novelty group reported enjoying the “boring” activity more, and they also reported doing the activity more on their own after the experiment was over.

Character strengths, in this case the strength of curiosity, helped to transform the boring and the mundane. It taught the participants to not dislike and avoid such tasks, but to actually engage in them more.

So the next time you have a boring job to do at work, you can use this same science to not only get it done, but also make it more enjoyable.

5 Steps to Getting Borings Things Done (And Enjoy It!)

Here’s a simple way to use your character strengths, starting with curiosity, to not only complete a boring or mundane task, but also enjoy it more:

1. Focus your attention. Use your curiosity to ask questions about the task at hand. Be curious and reflect on what emerges for you. For example, if you need to clean up your workspace, start by asking yourself:

  • What is currently working well in my workspace?
  • What about my space enhances my energy and makes me feel good?
  • What in my workspace drains me?
  • How might I bring more of “me” into my space?
  • How might I express my personal values in this space (e.g., family, hard work, friends, spirituality)?

2. Tap into your strength of creativity. Allow new ideas to pop up in your mind. Let go of your “judging” mind and inner critic. Instead, be open to all ideas as you brainstorm the possibilities of the task at hand. Imagine what you want your workspace to be like. What would make you most productive? What would keep you inspired? Or, if you’re filing things, think about how nice it would be to always know where to find exactly the form you need, exactly when you need it.

3. Use your prudence strength to organize your thoughts. Prudence can help you map out your ideas, plan, and make decisions. To be practical (i.e., prudent), start with one idea and take action. This might be to organize a drawer, to add some new photos, to bring in a plant, or to move some furniture.

4. Stay focused, using your self-regulation strength. When you get distracted or lose interest in what you’re doing, use your strength of self-regulation to stay focused and return to the task at hand. Repeat, again and again.

5. Use your strength of appreciation of beauty to savor what you’ve done. Not just when you’re finished, but each step of the way. Sit, breathe, and observe. Pause. Allow yourself to feel joy, excitement, or even peace. Prolong the positive feelings. Appreciate what you’ve accomplished.

Next time you’re doing something that always seemed so boring and mundane, you might just realize you kind of like it after all.

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