I’m Not in the Mood: How to Tackle the Most Boring Tasks

I don’t just dislike dusting; I loathe it. I will wipe down the kitchen until it sparkles, vacuum the rugs with lawn mower precision, mop the floors until they shine and even scrub the bathrooms to Martha Stewart perfection before getting down to the business of tackling the dust.  

Until recently, I honestly didn’t understand what was wrong with me. I mean, dusting is so easy! Which, it turns out, is at the root of the problem: simple boredom is to blame. After numerous studies, researchers have identified two ways that boredom interferes with getting things done:

  • when the task doesn’t require much of our attention


  • when the outcome has little value or meaning to us.

In my case, I love a clean and tidy house, so dusting has value in supporting that goal. Ah, but the mere thought of dusting leaves me catatonic. Given that it takes so little attention, I become bored and succeed in demotivating myself. I wonder if that’s what happens to those listless, robotic cashiers I sometimes encounter as I am scurrying about getting other chores completed? If so, at least now I get it. It’s little wonder that we often turn to stimulating distractions such as scrolling, gaming, and puzzles: we’re not lazy, we’re just plain bored!

Case in point: my walking friend/neighbor, a super-energetic person. She maintains a massive garden, leads volunteer efforts, walks daily, goes to the gym three times a week, and consumes books voraciously. The other day, she was dragging her feet as she faced a light day ahead – one filled with low-attention, boredom-inducing tasks. Can you relate? What chores or tasks make you drag your feet?

While most of us will never have the luxury of eliminating all yawn-inducing activities from our day-to-day, we can tap into one or more strategies that can help us get the job done. Here’s how: 

Match the task with your energy level – tackle those dreaded tasks when your energy is lower and your stimulation-seeking brain is in a lower gear. Is that morning, afternoon, or evening for you? I go into a mid-afternoon slump which makes it the best time to tackle my aversion to dusting.

Chunk it out and track your progress – I know, so much of what we’ve been told is about powering through things, getting things done. But when we’re faced with a sizeable boring project, we may procrastinate endlessly. Better to break it up into smaller pieces and feel good about the progress you’ve made. Decluttering? Dive into a drawer, a closet, or a room at a time. Preparing your tax information? Same approach – one part at a time. 

Occupy your brain with a distraction – you may have already adopted this strategy. In fact, it is exactly how I make my way through the dreaded dusting. I crank up the music from my favorite eras or performers and entertain myself with every swipe of the mitt. You might also listen to podcasts or audiobooks which will have the same effect.

Play “Race the Clock” – if you are the high energy type, try setting the timer on your phone for 15 or 20 minutes. Then jump into the task at hand and stop when time is up. It is amazing how much you can get done by setting up a simple challenge. Then, take a break, do something more interesting, and set that timer again. 

Focus on the end goal – this strategy taps into the power of visualization to help us get on with the task at hand. Working on that terminal degree? Keep that sheepskin in the forefront of your mind as you hit the books or polish off that thesis. Love a clean house? Keep dusting, Jean Marie!

Reward yourself – this time-tested strategy hits the sweet spot every time. Identify how you will reward yourself before diving in and think about how much you will enjoy that warm bath, those three bon-bons, or that Happy Hour with your friend.  

Boring task? Conquered!


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