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Finding Joy in Joyless Tasks

No one likes every part of their job, and sometimes the tasks that seem meaningless and simplistic can cause the most frustration. Learn how to make the most of the tasks you’d prefer to add to your “not-to-do” list.

By Samantha Whitehorne

Studies show that employees want to be more effective and fulfilled in their jobs. And when tasks they consider mundane get in the way of the projects they’d prefer to be doing, fulfillment levels can drop. But, truth be told, all employees, at every level, have job tasks they don’t particularly care for.

The first step is to ditch the mental battle before the task. Not only do we reinforce how unpleasurable a task will be before we engage in it, but we also exponentially amplify the drain.

-Lyne Tumlinson, CPBS, ACC, CAE

To help determine whether the bad tasks outnumber the good ones, Lyne Tumlinson, CPBS, ACC, CAE, career fitness coach at Career Lift, suggests doing a quick analysis of your workload.

“First, you need to consider the job tasks and activities that bring you both high energy and high performance,” she says. “Then think about the tasks that drain energy from you, and, simply put, perform fewer of those tasks that don’t energize you.”

Tumlinson acknowledges that most employees aren’t in a position to say “no” to every chore that drains their energy or leaves them unfulfilled. But they can manage how they think about certain tasks.  

The first step is to ditch the mental battle before the task,” she says. “Not only do we reinforce how unpleasurable a task will be before we engage in it, but we also exponentially amplify the drain.”

The next steps is to fully commit to executing the task. “Remember, the commitment is just for now, for this moment,” she says. “You're not committing to perform this task for the rest of your life.” 

If possible, consider listening to music or a podcast while performing the task, if appropriate. It allows the mind to focus at least partly on something other than the job at hand.

No matter what you do, some tasks will remain painful, and Tumlinson says there’s nothing wrong with that. “Remember that it's OK to not love every task equally,” she says.

In fact, it's OK to derive a different kind of satisfaction from tasks that tend to drain. “It may be the satisfaction of executing it proficiently, efficiently, or without resistance,” she says. “Discover what the satisfaction point is for you, and let go of the notion that you have to love this task. If loving it is your standard, the task will always lose.”

But that doesn’t mean every joyless task involves no fun at all. In fact, Tumlinson suggests employees reward themselves for completing a routine task. “If you think it sounds cheesy, it is. But it also works,” she says.

Some ideas: Visit the coffee shop for your favorite latte, get up from your desk and take a walk, or buy yourself that shirt you’ve been eyeing for a few weeks that’s finally gone on sale. 

Samantha Whitehorne is deputy editor of Associations Now. Email: [email protected]

Career Development