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How to trick yourself into doing tasks you dread


You've carefully crafted your to-do list and feel a sense of relief now that it's all jotted down in one document, instead of a hectic jumble of responsibilities and errands in your head. It's a great and promising start.

And while most of us will get thrills from checking each item off the lengthy task list, there will be some jobs - be it writing a particularly difficult email to a dissatisfied client or starting a complicated PowerPoint - we just dread to do.

For those tough tasks we need to give ourselves a little extra motivation. According to an excerpt from the Harvard Business Review's Guide to Getting the Right Work Done setting up a compelling reward system can help you accomplish your to-dos.

The book highlights four different types of tasks that induce boredom, anxiety and procrastination in most people and the methods you can use to help you power through them.

From recharging your brain to incorporating fun into tedious tasks, we round-up the handy list of tips below.

Woman busy stressed at work

Recharge yourself

Quick activities that regenerate your body and brain will give you more energy to tackle your next task or project. Try these mid-morning, mid-afternoon, or mid-project to help maintain your momentum.

How to

  • Meditate for 20 minutes in a secluded spot
  • Use your lunch hour to treat yourself to a yoga class, run, or walk
  • Do 5 to 10 minutes of stretches in your office, guided by a video on your computer or iPad
  • Talk with a good friend for 5 or 10 minutes
  • Treat yourself to a second cup of coffee or a snack after an hour of focused work

Incorporate fun into a difficult or tedious task

Even if you love your job, there will be some tasks you hate to undertake, be it filing your expenses or attend yet another pointless meeting. The key is to find a way to make those moments enjoyable. 

How to

  • Incorporate humour and favourite photographs into your PowerPoint and emails
  • Read a popular business book or article
  • Take a working meeting to a good restaurant
  • Install or tweak a piece of software you’ve been eager to use
  • Read/post an article you think your colleagues/clients would enjoy to Twitter or LinkedIn
  • Clean your desk
Woman working in restaurant

Associate recurrent, time-consuming tasks with something appealing

Some tasks are so odious, boring and unfortunately frequent that even the prospect of a bag of popcorn can’t help you face them. These tasks call for a concurrent reward: something you do while working so that you can bear to plow through your unread emails or complete your quarterly budget report.

This type of reward works especially well for tasks that are not concentration-intensive. 

How to

  • Set up camp in a Wi-Fi-enabled restaurant so you can eat while you work
  • Make a work date with a friend so you can chat while you purge your e-mail in-boxes
  • Store up mindless tasks to complete while watching your favorite TV show at home
  • Download some new music to listen to while you purge your files
  • Make arrangements to work from home for the day

Create a growing reward pot

For especially challenging or large projects HBR recommends creating a special-purpose account to pay into every time you complete. Set different price values depending on the size and unpleasantness of the task.

Set up...

  • An iTunes account
  • A replenishable gift card to your favorite coffee shop or store
  • A PayPal account you can refill with quick micro payments to treat yourself to some online shopping
  • A discretionary savings account that you use to fund something significant like tickets to a sports or arts event



Alternative ways to structure your working week


How and why to reclaim your lunch break right now


Five things productive people do at the end of every working day


Five simple ways to stress less and have more fun in your life

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New infographic breaks down how to be more productive


Sloppy habits that could hold you back at work, and how to avoid them



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