Many of us start the New Year with the best intentions to finally tackle those boring “life admin” tasks.
But, despite our best intentions, we continue to put them off.
If that sounds like you, then here are some motivation tips to help you get started.
James Danckert, a cognitive neuroscientist and professor at Canada’s University of Waterloo, told CNBC via video call that the differences in how we cope with boredom is one explanation as to how effective we are at finishing a task we don’t want to do.
He referred to two studies conducted on high school students, which looked at how they coped with becoming bored in class.
Those with a behavioral style of coping with boredom tended to simply choose to do something else and put off the task at hand. Meanwhile, Danckert explained that those with a cognitive coping style reframed their thinking to “try and make the task that they have to do into something else … to give it some meaning, to give it some purpose.”
Danckert said that the studies found that those students that practiced this “cognitive reframing” experienced less boredom and were able to complete monotonous tasks well.
Intrinsic vs. extrinsic
Whether it’s organizing your finances or cleaning out your closet, there are just some pieces of “life admin” we can never seem to finish.
We start out each January determined to power through those chores that we continuously put off, but motivation inevitably starts to wane by the middle of the month.
Jessi Smith, a psychology professor at the University of Colorado in the U.S., told CNBC on a phone call that “intrinsic” versus “extrinsic” motivation also had a role to play.
People ideally want to be intrinsically motivated to do a task, Smith said, as it means they are driven by internal rewards.
Finding intrinsic motivation has been particularly important during the coronavirus pandemic, she suggested. Enforced social distancing has meant there have been fewer opportunities to use being around other people as a way of helping maintain the same level of extrinsic, or external, motivation.
Smith said one way to foster intrinsic motivation was to turn mundane tasks into a game, by having some kind of competition with yourself.
Using colorful pens when you’re working on duller admin tasks, was another strategy Smith suggested.
She explained that this helped cultivate motivation because it “changed the definition” of what you’re working on.
“The activity doesn’t just become ‘[I have to] mentally work on a task,’ it becomes ‘I get to do this fun thing’, and so they become cobbled together,” she said.
Indeed, in a 2014 U.S. study a team of professors coined a term for this strategy: “temptation bundling.”
It basically entails pairing a source of instant gratification, like listening to music, with a less enjoyable task, like folding the laundry.
Lotta Harju, a researcher specializing in work and organizational psychology at France’s Emlyon Business School, told CNBC via video call that she recommended trying to identify what you can learn from a boring task.
In addition, she suggested doing the “more boring tasks in the middle of more interesting tasks, so they would provide a period of rest for the brain.”
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