We all work on repetitive tasks. When we add them to our to-do lists, we do so without enthusiasm, and it usually shows in the results we produce.
Lack of passion works like a contagious disease; it starts small with unfinished “small” tasks, and moves itself up until it kills your motivation to do just about anything due to backlog.
But of course, you already knew that.
Mundane repetitive tasks are not exactly glamorous. We’ve done them so many times that, as a result, we find them less enjoyable when compared to something we’ve never done before.
There’s a mechanism in our brain that plays with our ability to repeat tasks. Our brain is always seeking the next reward–it tries to identify new patterns that will reward us with a nice dose of happy juice (i.e., dopamine), which, of course, is impossible when our brain is searching for them based on old patterns (i.e., the repetitive tasks).
To bypass this mechanism, we must embrace a more “hands-on” approach and introduce new angles every now and then to keep our repetitive tasks fresh and interesting.
Here are three tips I use to keep repetitive tasks fresh, my mind sane, and my spirits high.
Review finished tasks to keep morale high
Everyone tries to tell you how to achieve goals and “eat frogs.” It’s a glorified subject that keeps popping up from passionate self-help gurus and researchers from all over the world. Researchers try to synthesize the behavioral essence of task completion so they’ll be able to reproduce the desired effect in lab conditions. Gurus make it sound easy with their enthusiasm and simple tips that sound a lot like, “everyone can do it if you follow my mantra,” or something along those lines.
The truth is this: the easiest way to achieve a goal is by enjoying your to-do list.
But, what do you do when the road to your target is not that fun and you need to repeat the same task again and again? When you work on tasks that bum you out, you have to remember that it might not be fun to do that task, but it’s definitely fun to mark it complete!
Every major achievement in your life consists of a long list of minor victories. Once you come to terms with that simple fact, you begin to understand the anatomy of success (i.e. small and probably repetitive accomplishments).
Combine your to-do list with a “To-Done” list, a list of all the things you’ve accomplished thus far. It can be all the things you finished today, this week, this month, or even since you’ve started any given project.
This list should be visited every time you complete a task to take its effect on you, and it’s the best way to refuel your passion. Checking off a task is nice; seeing many tasks checked-off is heavenly.
Create a “Slack Zone”
Stress is a motivation killer. The author of “Getting Things Done”, David Allen, suggests that you write down everything you have to do, so tasks won’t hover aimlessly in your head and you’ll reach the calm state of “Mind like Water.” This state reduces the aimless buzzing noise in your head, leaving you calmer, more focused, and more organized.
But what happens when repetitive tasks wear you down and you’re nearing a deadline with nothing to show? The aforementioned water spills from your ears!
When there’s no time to achieve what you planned, you start to obsess over that plan and lament the lack of time. Your plan, although written down meticulously and reviewed several times, invades your thoughts and sucks up any pleasure from doing just about anything which results in missed deadlines.
That’s why Laura Vanderkam suggests that you schedule slack into your program.
Who knows, maybe the added time will help you do even more than just that task?
As long as you keep your focus and use the added slack to reach your goals on time, you’ll feel the levels of stress decreasing as you moods rises!
FYI: if you decide to do something else with that added time after you finish the job, that’s OK too and I’ll explain why below.
Mix business and pleasure
Recently, there’s a growing movement that supports the notion of having fun while you work. Although it might sound a bit counter-productive, it’s an excellent way to stay fresh and vent minor frustrations.
You should then schedule a break every 90-110 minutes and here’s why: we can’t focus too long on the same task, and this is especially true if that task is repetitive. Our body needs a break because it has its own rhythm.
We have an inner cycle that works like an actual clock called the Ultradian Rhythms. It’s a natural bodily rhythm that is responsible for alertness, focus, and even sleep. The spectrum works in intervals that spike for 90-110 minutes at a time in which it provides us a wide bandwidth to complete any given task.
After those 90-110 minutes, our focus spirals down and we find ourselves all over the place for about 20-25 minutes, this is a temporary slope in which we tend to wander around aimlessly watching cute cats on the web (usually).
Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing amiss in seeing cute cats. Some researchers even suggest that it increases our productivity. But it’s not our ultimate goal–we’re after task-completion heaven, and that’s why it’s probably best if you schedule breaks during the Ultradian rhythm’s slump.
Working with our Ultradian rhythm helps us understand when our body needs to take a break. So make sure that you don’t schedule yourself to work on repetitive tasks while you’re in the Ultradian rhythm slump.
As you can see, overcoming task fatigue, especially repetitive tasks, requires us to be a bit more creative.
So what methods do you use to keep your passion and drive going?