Article by Mary Carlomagno
Every job has some degree of grunt work: those repetitious, uninspiring tasks that can often be boring and exhausting. Most people dread tasks like stuffing envelopes or filling out expense reports, preferring more fulfilling and stimulating work instead.
As a professional organizer who encourages people to find the joy in tidying up their desks, calendars, and filing cabinets, I am very familiar with the common attitudes toward grunt work. After all, organizing is often considered grunt work. I also know that 99 percent of the difficulty here is mental. The real challenge is managing how you feel about the tasks, rather than achieving the tasks themselves.
Three major emotional obstacles stand in the way of muscling through the grunt work:
- how we feel about what we are doing, which places us in judgmental, often unpleasant states;
- waiting for perfect conditions, such as being in the mood or the right time of day, before engaging in certain tasks;
- and procrastination, the greatest obstacle of all, which urges us to choose more pleasurable activities over the task at hand.
Giving the term “grunt work” a more desirable title can be surprisingly effective in changing your approach. Consider calling it “the necessary” to emphasize that these small jobs are necessary players in your ensemble of work.
The famous actor and playwright Konstantin Stanislavski once said, “There are no small roles, only small actors.” He meant to encourage actors to invest in what they were given, regardless of the number of lines or amount of stage time their characters received. Because many of us see “the necessary” jobs as small and menial — or, worse, as demeaning and boring — we often find ourselves judging the work. When you trivialize the work from the start, your emotions take over. The first step in tackling “the necessary” is to do away with the emotional judgment and simply engage in the work.
Recently, I had my kitchen remodeled with all new cabinetry. The cabinetmaker came every day for several days and made all of the cabinets by hand. I marveled not only at his craftsmanship, but also at his ability to perform repetitive tasks over and over again. He did not question what he was doing; he simply built beautiful cabinets, one step at a time. The small daily steps he took eventually led to a beautiful body of work (and a beautiful new kitchen for me). The cabinetmaker understood that each task built upon the next, all equally contributing to the final product.
2. Stop Waiting
The second obstacle people often face is that they wait for the perfect conditions to attack these jobs, fooling themselves into thinking there is a right time of day or certain mood they need to be in before they can start.
Set up your daily schedule according to the most favorable times to engage in this kind of work. If you work better in the morning, take the early part of the day to do these less desirable tasks. This will also give you a sense of accomplishment that will carry and motivate you throughout the day.
Consider setting a timer, if only for just 15 minutes to start. As you get better at focusing, you can extend the timer. This will give you an idea of how long it will take you to accomplish these tasks. You might find that 15 minutes a day helps you accomplish all that you need to accomplish in one week.
3. Stick to It
It doesn’t take much to derail us from our work. Something as simple as a text or social media post can send us totally off track, leading us right back to procrastination.
In just about every situation where a choice has to be made, there will always be something “better” to choose. However, experts say this delay does little to help you. Procrastination just puts off the inevitable. Wouldn’t it be better to get the nasty task out of the way?
Procrastination problems can often be solved through simple reward-setting. If you plan to clear your office filing system over the course of a week, make a daily routine for doing the work. At week’s end, you can reward yourself with something commensurate with the goal achieved. I don’t mean booking a trip to Vegas for clearing out one desk drawer; instead, reward yourself with a latte or small treat. This system of work and reward will not only help you reach your goal more quickly, but it will also make the work more pleasurable along the way.
Simply shifting how we think and feel about “the necessary,” can make us much more productive. In the words of St. Francis of Assisi, “Start by doing what is necessary, then do what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
A version of this article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com.
Mary Carlomagno is the owner of Order, which specializes in clutter control, urban apartment solutions, office spaces, and shopping addictions. Mary’s philosophy is simple: Do not let clutter control your life. Her easy-going approach, sense of style, and strong communication skills create an atmosphere that makes organizing fun. She is the author of three books, Give it Up! My Year of Learning to Live Better with Less, Secrets Of Simplicity, and Live More, Want Less. Mary has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Today Show, and CBS News, and in Redbook, Real Simple, and Woman’s Day. She has been interviewed on National Public Radio, The Joan Hamburg Show, and Martha Stewart Living.