Boring tasks at work plague us. We stagger under their weight every day. Every so often we get lucky enough to delegate them to someone else, but usually we just have to learn to cope. It's one of the lesser lessons in life. I understand. I have had more routine tasks in my life than I would like. But just this week I think I've discovered a way to cope with boring routines -- and even find satisfaction in those daily annoyances.
I have a refrigerator without an ice-maker, so I must fill those never-ending aqua plastic trays. I hate filling them and always wait until all four trays are empty. I suppose I have resented every single cube I have frozen.
But last week, when I was freezing up in advance for a party, I deliberately decided not to hate the task. I experimented in non-resentment. First, I timed the act of filling my trays. I stared at the pendulum clock over my sink, counting the swings. It was taking too long, so looking for a short cut, I found that running the water more slowly actually saved time because water didn't splash out.
Then I found that aiming at a four-corner's point, instead of individual pockets, cut down the time by four. While I was concentrating on filling the empty trays, I had a flash of insight. The tray was empty just like me that morning. I wish it were so easy to fill the voids in my life. Then, flickers of ideas to fill what was missing for me danced in my mind's eye. I was caught up in the doing.
Next, instead of going back and forth to the refrigerator, spilling the water inside the freezer as well as on the floor, I carried two trays at a time and simply laid them on the floor. I stooped and slid them in the freezer bottom. I felt some contentment -- not bliss, but not boredom either. My tie-and-motion study yielded a new attitude toward making ice cubes.
I realized, too, that those little boring but essential tasks that I have done in my office have given me some satisfaction in the doing and completing of them. For example, after writing a chapter or a column or a major report, I must admit I welcome the editing, the cutting and pasting that follow writing that first draft.
I urge you to consider your own routine tasks and experiment with whatever gets you down: returning calls, paying bills, filing records, buying groceries, hanging up tools, making coffee, answering emails. Try searching for new patterns or rhythms in sequence. Play around with the time it takes so that you can eventually even speed up, anything to avoid the feeling of killing time.
Try memorizing keyboards, numbers or short poems. Ask others who do the same boring things for tips. A friend told me she now plays computer games on her bike at the gym and finds to her surprise that she is highly motivated to speed up to win a triple score. Yet another friend turns off all distractions and focuses her attention on the feeling of the muscles she is working, which gives her purpose. So not just going through the motions but thinking about them makes it an all-absorbing exercise.
Being positively focused is the perfect antidote to deflecting boredom. Who knows? In the process you might even start a new expertise. You have a lot to choose from, because there are so many routine details that make up each job we have. After all, an ice cube turned me around. What about you?