I tried splitting my day into fun and boring tasks. Here’s what happened…

Jun 28, 2023

4 mins

I tried splitting my day into fun and boring tasks. Here’s what happened…

Made popular by a behavioral decision-making professor, segmentation seeks to organize our working days based on the pleasure we get from doing tasks. On paper, this technique is simple: we just need to prioritize the tasks we do gladly in order to counterbalance the ones we don’t like doing.

To turn in this very article, I did several tasks: researching, contacting and interviewing experts, transcribing the interviews, and finally writing. Of all these tasks, transcribing is undoubtedly the one which gets me all exasperated or, at the very least, the one I do mechanically.

According to Cassie Holmes, author of the book Happier Hour, my happiness at work can be obtained by setting aside specific time for each of the tasks I don’t enjoy doing… with the idea of safeguarding the things I like doing.

Isolating the tedious tasks to protect the enjoyable ones

The marketing and behavioral decision-making professor is the brains behind this segmentation technique, which involves breaking your day up according to satisfaction. As we can’t solely engage in tasks that bring us happiness and the fact our brains often need to switch to autopilot, it makes sense to allocate specific time to both unenjoyable work and happy work. By doing this, we can thrive with the creative, fulfilling and meaningful tasks without being hindered by the tedious ones. “It’s crucial to protect hours for the work that really matters – the happy work that allows you to make progress towards your goals,” Holmes told Stylist magazine.

The segmentation technique first requires you to identify which tasks contribute to your growth. To do this, the professor advises you to examine your work habits: why does this work need to be done? Why is it important? Why does it matter personally? This way, we can identify the tasks that are in line with our goals and then come up with a schedule that separates each activity — whether enjoyable or not — allowing us to find pleasure in every single task such as the satisfaction of checking items off our to-do list.

Where is job satisfaction found?

Samuel Durand, an expert on the future of work and the person behind the documentary series Work In Progress measured his working time based on several definitions: activity time, paid work, work experienced as effort, productive work and screen time. “Productive work gave me the most satisfaction as there is an immediate sense of purpose. However, ultimately, out of the 6.5 hours I worked a day, on average, only 45 minutes were considered unpleasant,” he explains. Nonetheless, distinguishing between fulfilling work and “laborious” work isn’t so easy. Me, who doesn’t like transcribing, often happily tackles this task when I want to do something automated which doesn’t require much thought. “Enjoyment is a fleeting feeling. It’s not a constant. Personally, I know that one of my driving forces is the notion of learning. The first time I discovered video editing software, it was challenging but fascinating. Now that I’ve mastered this, I no longer find it pleasurable,” Durand says.

The personality of each individual, our mindset on a single day, context and even the weather can impact the feelings we experience. In fact, we can happily perform a task even if it doesn’t provide happiness: a caregiver may not find cleaning the toilets an enjoyable task but may find a sense of purpose within it. “This is causal oversimplification. Believing that something as complex as happiness at work depends on a single factor. If you perform enjoyable tasks but your colleagues aren’t nice, you’re not going to enjoy yourself,” concludes Albert Moukheiber, a doctor in neuroscience and clinical psychologist.

Divide and conquer

Although Holmes’ segmentation technique may seem rather binary, it’s actually similar to a pre-existing technique called “chunking.” “It’s been proven that segmenting tasks is preferable, not only for job satisfaction but also for the sense of control it provides. Control is linked to a better quality of life because we’re choosing, not enduring,” Moukheiber says. Another technique that can help make unpleasant tasks easier to digest is the “pomodoro technique” – whose image is of a tomato-shaped cooking timer. “Just like ‘chunking,’ ‘the pomodoro technique’ offers you temporary control since it involves dedicating blocks of time to boring or repetitive tasks. For example, we can dedicate 18 minutes to sorting through our emails, then 7 minutes scrolling through our Instagram feed because it relaxes us,” he states. This way, the task is no longer controlled by its nature but by the time we decide to allocate it.

Again, not everyone has full control over their schedule. Life coach and therapist Michel loves his job with all his heart, but when it comes to self-promotion on social media, he’s not as enthusiastic. “I try to balance my days as much as possible, but some mornings are inevitably devoted to unpleasant tasks. On the days I don’t have a client, I do administrative tasks, I prepare videos… I try to condense things, but finding a balance between enjoyable and less enjoyable ones isn’t easy,” he admits.

Striking a balance between “happy work” and useful work is obviously not enough to thrive in the workplace, but segmentation finds its roots in proven techniques. Dividing tasks into time blocks effectively provides satisfaction due to an acquisition of control. What’s more, Holmes’ method encourages you to examine your relationship with your work and the feelings derived from each task. Once you’ve got this information, it’s up to you to determine if you wish to or are in a position to take action on your schedule in order to safeguard, or even prioritize, the more fulfilling activities.

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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Translated by Jamie Broadway

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