5 reasons to take on boring tasks (sometimes)
Apr 11, 2022
“Who’s got an hour to compile these Excel spreadsheets?” your boss asks, their voice laced with fake enthusiasm. “Who can correct this 40-page report? Who can photocopy all our invoices for the year?” It’s just like being back in school when the math teacher was looking for a volunteer from the class: suddenly, everyone in the office is looking down. Do you seriously think that not making eye contact will keep the boss from noticing you? It won’t. So why not make the best of a bad situation.
Who could blame you for trying to escape notice! These boring little tasks have gotten some bad press. That’s because they can take up a lot of time even though you don’t learn anything from carrying them out. Yet you know you have to put your hand up occasionally so that you don’t look bad in front of your boss. There’s more to it than that though. Taking on trivial tasks from time to time can work in your favor: here are five reasons to step up to the plate.
1. You’re showing you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty . . . and your peers will be grateful
If you think that accepting these assignments might make you look bad, think again. On the contrary, it shows that you’re invested in the business and willing to be involved with the operational side of things. It will always make you look good to help out on a project. Because even if you’re not a manager, the more responsibility you take on within a company, the more you become detached from these very hands-on – if not completely boring – jobs, and the less you remember what working in the field is like. Yet being familiar with such tasks is crucial for being able to gauge the importance of them and the time it takes to carry them out.
Helping out won’t hurt your credibility either! A study in the Journal of Applied Psychology took a look at people who help out others at work, especially at the perception of reactive helping (when you agree to help when asked) versus proactive helping (when you take the lead). The study reveals that when someone says “yes” when asked to help, those asking were more grateful than when that person was the one offering to help. On top of that, those being helped felt a stronger involvement. What’s the takeaway? Don’t always extend a hand if no one has asked, but seize the occasion when they do.
What’s the takeaway? Don’t always extend a hand if no one has asked, but seize the occasion when they do.
2. You give your brain a rest and you’ll be more creative
The most dreaded tasks are often the most repetitive ones. However, these moments are also an opportunity to give your brain a break, to let it run on autopilot and wander, to take a step back from the daily routine and thus increase your creativity.
According to a study published in the Academy of Management Discoveries journal, the most boring tasks allow your mind to daydream and to create without any distraction. Sandi Mann, a senior lecturer in psychology and the author of The Upside of Downtime: Why Boredom Is Good, explains that boredom is simply your mind searching for yet-unsatisfied neural stimulation. “And when we are not stimulated, our mind makes up for it,” she explains. In addition, a study conducted by the Organisational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes explains that switching between different tasks can help refresh your thought processes. Conversely, focusing on one problem for a long time can lead you to simply turn the same ideas over and over in your mind. What if pulling your nose out of that “super important” project to sort paper clips ended up giving you the idea of the century?
Switching between different tasks can help refresh your thought processes. Conversely, focusing on one problem for a long time can lead you to simply turn the same ideas over.
3. You can do something else at the same time and not feel guilty
Do you need to make some photocopies? Take advantage of the moment to listen to a podcast or to some music. It’s discreet and nobody will call you out for it. You have to attend a series of videoconferences? Walk your dog, hang your laundry, make some lasagna… Well, that might be pushing it.
Researchers who study multitasking agree that the brain isn’t capable of performing more than one important task at a time properly, but fortunately, not all tasks require deep concentration. And in this case, your brain being distracted could be a good thing! One study – which focused on surgeons – showed that listening to music could relieve some of the boredom that comes with those repetitive tasks, and could improve productivity. Rest assured, the surgeons surveyed weren’t listening to Miley Cyrus while operating on knee ligaments, but rather when doing their administrative and lab work (phew!)
Listening to music could relieve some of the boredom that comes with those repetitive tasks.
4. You could learn something new
While sorting through files is hardly the most fun task you’ll ever have to carry out in your career, there’s always something to be gained from these small jobs: better organizational skills; knowledge of the projects your team has completed; the beginnings of a beautiful friendship with the company archivist. Maybe even all of the above?
All tasks, even the most basic ones, can be useful in developing new skills, learning information useful for your career development, or working on your relationships within the company. At the very least, every “boring” task is an opportunity to learn perseverance and discipline. You’ve got this!
All tasks, even the most basic ones, can be useful in developing new skills.
5. You can think about how to make this task obsolete
How about looking at this from a different perspective? When you think about it, many of these tasks – such as converting a set of Word documents into a PDF, translating a Powerpoint presentation into another language or checking your team’s expense reports – exist because no one has thought about doing away with them. Yet there are more and more tools becoming available today that could make these tasks unnecessary.
A McKinsey study has suggested that up to 45% of work tasks could be automated by adapting them to existing technologies. By carrying out a task, you are in the best position to understand how it works, and then convince your boss that subscribing to a tool that will do it automatically is more cost-effective. In the US, these “replaceable” activities are estimated to be worth $2 trillion in annual wages. What if you were the one to take the lead in turning an unrewarding assignment into an opportunity to get rid of a boring chore? It was going the way of the dodo anyway.
You are in the best position to understand how it works, and then convince your boss that subscribing to a tool that will do it automatically is more cost-effective.
You get it, it’s totally normal not to love every single little thing you have to do at work. This is true for teachers, surgeons and journalists, just as it is for your company’s accountant. The most important thing is to appreciate the tasks at the core of your job. For the rest, don’t fret, they won’t be around forever. Now you know how to make the best of a boring situation, get ready to put your hand up the next time your boss says, “So? Any volunteers?”
Photo: Welcome to the Jungle
Translated by Kalin Linsberg
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