Are you bored with simple tasks and therefore give up quickly? Boredom is natural and sometimes even healthy. However, it can derail our efforts to build routines that will lead to healthy habits. Not to mention it leads us to procrastinate and avoid unpleasant yet necessary tasks. I’m looking at you, household chores.
E.C. Westgate and T.D. Wilson describes boredom as “an affective indicator of unsuccessful attentional engagement in a valued goal-congruent activity.” Simply said, we get bored when the task we are doing doesn’t require too much of our attention. We have more mental resources than needed to complete the job. Alternately, we can also get bored when the task we are working on doesn’t align with our goals, and we don’t see any meaning in the things we are doing.
When it comes to habit forming, we will likely understand the long-term goal and benefit of the activity, but we get derailed by the sheer simplicity of the tasks and routines to get there.
1. Tangential immersion
Alicea Lieberman, Assistant Professor in Marketing at The UCLA Anderson School of Management, talks about a concept called tangential immersion that should help you get through tedious tasks. What she and her colleagues found through studies of more than 2,000 people is that we quit boring tasks because they don’t take enough of our attention, so we stop being engaged. When we have more attention available than we are using to finish a task, we use that excess attention to get bored and essentially demotivate ourselves.
According to Lieberman, the possible solution is to have a secondary task we can pair with the boring one. The secondary task will require some attention and therefore boost our level of engagement. It will use our spare attention and distract us from being bored. We will then persist with the primary task longer. You may have experienced this phenomenon in your life.
For example, if you go to a gym to exercise or go for a run, your mind wanders, and you get bored. Listening to immersive music or audiobooks may create a secondary task that occupies your excess attention, and you will also persist with your gym routine or a run.
This works only on tasks that require low attention, as the secondary task shouldn’t become a distraction that would lower the performance on the primary task.
2. Monitoring progress
Aside from the tangential immersion, there are other ways to fight boredom. Research shows that we stick with the task longer if we monitor our progress. In fact, a whole fitness tracker industry is based on that very idea. Counting the number of repetitions, trying to accomplish an uninterrupted streak, and marking down how we are doing are all ways to visualize the progress in our minds. And progress is motivating.
3. Immediate reward
It also helps make the task more fun by creating an immediate reward, rather than waiting for the delayed one. Again, this is something being exploited in the fitness industry. While exercising has long-term benefits, it helps to have a short-term reward for sticking with the hardship so we can reap the delayed long-term health benefits. So instead of thinking about the fact that we may live longer if we exercise regularly, it is better to think about how good we feel immediately after the workout. Instead of waiting to celebrate the finish of the project after years of hard work, it is better to celebrate the small steps we manage every single day. Even if only by high-fiving a colleague or a mental “yes!” we visualize in our mind.
Putting it all together
In short, we are more likely to stick with tedious tasks when we distract ourselves or gamify the activity. Even as adults, we like to play.
What is your take on the topic? How do you plough through boring tasks? Do you have a system that helps you? Do you listen to music or audiobooks when doing your chores? What other advice would you have?
Photo: Mariakray / Pixabay.com
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Categories: Life, Productivity
Great article on overcoming boredom when completing tedious tasks! I completely agree that it’s important to find ways to engage ourselves and make these tasks more enjoyable. I often listen to music or podcasts while doing chores, but the idea of a secondary task is something I had never considered before. My question to you is, do you think the concept of tangential immersion could apply to work tasks as well, or is it more geared towards activities like exercising or doing household chores?