Four changes you can make to help you complete undesirable tasks

My mother-in-law recently gave me a pair of bright yellow rain boots. They are silly and funny and very good at keeping my feet dry. I cannot stop smiling when I wear them. And, now that I own them, I look forward to it raining. I actually cheered last night when the weatherman on the news said rain was in the forecast for today.

Most people don’t look forward to the rain because it slows down traffic and forces you to spend more time indoors than preferred. Before the boots, I felt this way, too. The rain was an inconvenience to me. However, one simple change — new yellow boots — and my entire perspective has been altered from negative to positive.

Along these lines, are there tasks in your work or home life you dislike completing and procrastinate doing? Could changing one thing associated with those tasks improve your perspective and help you to get the work done?

  1. Appearance: If you dislike the look of something, you may not enjoy using the object. If your laundry room in your house is in a dark, concrete, unfinished basement, you might avoid doing the laundry because you don’t want to spend time in the space. A little paint on the walls, some vinyl flooring, new shelving, and improved lighting might be all you need to change to help you to keep current with this chore. Brightly colored file folders might help you to be interested in your filing. A sharp looking notepad or a new pen might help you to write down to-do reminders.
  2. Timing: Changing when you do an activity can also improve your perspective about it. If you normally try to tackle an unpleasant task right before you leave work for the day, try moving it to right after lunch or first thing in the morning to see if it helps you to get it done. If you dislike the crowds at the grocery store on the weekends, make a routine of going shopping on Tuesday evenings.
  3. Game On: For tasks I have to do that don’t take much time or mental power (like cleaning my desk or taking out the trash), I set a timer and see how quickly I can do them. I record the times and make notes about how I changed the task to make it more efficient. It sounds ridiculous, but the game of racing the clock and finding a more efficient way to do something is fun for me. Create a game you would enjoy, and it might help you to complete the undesirable task.
  4. Linking Activities: Plain and simple, some tasks are just not enjoyable. However, there are things you can link to these unpleasant activities to improve the overall experience. If you dread going to the dentist, find a friend who goes to the same dentist and start making your appointments for regular cleanings back-to-back. You can catch up over breakfast before the appointments, chat in the waiting room, and console each other afterward. If you’re not fond of having to drive to a far-flung location for a meeting, find a restaurant or place you would enjoy visiting nearby, and then be sure to stop at the more interesting location when you’re done with your meeting. If you don’t enjoy returning phone calls, make sure the last call you return is to someone you really enjoy talking to.

What have you done to improve your perspective about a dreaded task and turn it into an activity you want to complete? What activities in your life could use a makeover? Share your strategies and struggles in the comments.

30 Comments for “Four changes you can make to help you complete undesirable tasks”

  1. posted by Habitat for Humanity ReStore on

    I love your first tip about improving the environment where you do your dreaded task. A freshly painted laundry room or a redesigned home office can definitely improve your state of mind.

  2. posted by Sue on

    I view grocery shopping as practice for the impending zombie apocolpyse. I try to get in and out, while dodging the slowly shuffling crowds, without letting myself get boxed in at any time. Sure, in a real zombie invasion I could fight my way out, but I think that escaping quickly is the best tactic.

    I also grocery shop on Monday or Tuesday evening to avoid the weekend hordes.

    No, I don’t really think zombies are going to take over the world. I just try to make grocery shopping a little more entertaining.

  3. posted by Erin @ Small and Simple Things on

    Once in a while, I pretend that someone is coming to stay at our house or that we are leaving on a trip to help motivate me to get the cleaning and the laundry done. I’ve also tried imagining that this is not my house, and that my friends for whom I’ve been housesitting are coming home. It works pretty well.

    Another thing I have done is allow myself to read a chapter of a book, then set the timer for a certain amount of time (15 minutes), then read another chapter, then do more work. This only works if the book is really engrossing, and I’m dying to get back to it.

  4. posted by Bibliovore on

    Purging stuff from my dresser drawers made it much easier to put away clothes — no more stuffing and cramming. I also like to use my headset and call a friend or relative to chat while I do hands-on-but-fairly-mindless tasks, like filing or laundry folding or cleaning out the car.

  5. posted by Daphne Gray-Grant on

    These sorts of strategies can help writers, too:

    1) Appearance of your desk/office: Is is neat (or even messy) enough for you to feel comfortable writing.
    2) Timing: Are you writing at the time that best suits your natural biorhythm and minimizes interruptions? Early morning works well for many people; nighttime for others.
    3) Game on: I LOVE writing with a timer. You can use a digital timer or something on line such as http://www.writeordie
    4) Linking activities: Write with a friend or a writing group. And be sure to reward yourself for your work. Rewards can be as simple as reading blogs for awhile, buying a magazine or having a latte.

    Thanks for the great column, Erin!!

  6. posted by Ola on

    I do my ironing watching tv or listening to an audiobook. Other activities can be accompanied by lively music of a favourite band; it gives a lot of positive energy. I know a girl who washes her windows with AC/DC.

    Now I am waiting for the change of my kitchen rfurniture etc. You’re right, since we are in the middle (walls and floor are done) and most of the lights have been removed (and there is a general confusion), it’s not a nice place and I don’t feel like cooking or cleaning it.

  7. posted by Amanda on

    One of the only things that will get me motivated to clean my house is the thought of having people over. Therefore I’ll invite people over for a small party/dinner/games and before they come over I’ll make sure everything is vacuumed, swept, dusted etc. I like people to think I actually keep my house clean. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. posted by lucy1965 on



    Yes, Erin, those are excellent tips, but I’ve wanted a pair of bright red Wellies for years and I was just happy to see the photo. Carry on!

  9. posted by Martin on

    Just wanted to say that Hunter wellies *own*. I have warmer feelings for them than most shoes. Something about wellies that are an instant pick me up, and Hunters are the best. No, I don’t work for them. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. posted by Cindi on

    At work, sometimes I have a task I don’t want to do. So it’s about perspective: I pretend that I do the parts I like for free, and that leaves a lot of money to pay me to do those few tasks that I really dislike.

  11. posted by Susan in FL on

    Many of the houses I have lived in had shelves full of cleaning supplies above the washer and dryer. FINALLY in my previous house, I stored the supplies elsewhere, removed the shelves and hung a large painting above the washer and dryer where the ugly shelves of cleaning supplies used to be. WHAT AN IMPROVEMENT!!

  12. posted by Laura on

    One of my favorite ways to push through a task I don’t enjoy (picking up the house, prepping food for the week so I eat healthy) is to pull out my mp3 player, queue up my favorite get’r’done playlist, slip in the headphones, crank up the volume and give a free concert to anyone within earshot.

    I’ve always found that music makes all tasks that don’t require a whole lot of brainpower a LOT more enjoyable.

  13. posted by Akil on

    Hi Erin,

    Some valid points you quoted above as this reminds me of something tony robins would say as there two things that drive us pain and pleasure. In both case it drive us to do and associate things to make us do something.

    In your case the yellow boots help you to associate rain as a time to get out and get going. If you have a chance you should check out wake up rich by chris howard he talks about enjoying the process as we often put off things because we hate the process but want the end result ie getting organize and tackling that bunch of paper work on the desk lol. Great article thanks for sharing

  14. posted by gypsy packer on

    I have an orange-print raincoat for dress use; a variety of really cute umbrellas take the pain out of rain.
    Good music can sweeten almost any task except communicating with unpleasant people. Reframe these experiences into good party or dinner stories, if at all possible, and smile through the experience.

  15. posted by Gillian on

    I like to work with a friend. We can each help the other clean up.

  16. posted by RebeccaL on

    Moving the litter box from a dingy corner of the basement to a brighter lit place near the laundry meant a.) I noticed it more, b.) I cleaned it more often, c.) Kitties and I were MUCH happier.

  17. posted by Marjoryt on

    This also applies to things we like to do, but never get around to doing. For instance, I realized last week that my new sewing machine actually sits about 6 inches too high – the table’s too high and the sewing machine is high – which puts my hands and wrists at a bad angle, giving me carpal tunnel syndrome. Ridiculous – I’m hunting for the proper table for the machine, so my wrists are in a good position, and I’ll be back to sewing again.

  18. posted by Amber on

    I procrastinate big cleaning/organizing projects and I’ve finally figured out it’s because I don’t want to dedicate a full day or a half-day to them, particularly my precious weekends. Like organizing the files on my computer. I’ve been putting it off for over a year (and it’s just gotten more unruly in the meantime). So, I finally decided to just work on it for an hour here and there. It goes against my start-to-finish mentality, where I just want to get jobs DONE, but it’s the only way I’m every going to actually accomplish this task. I set a timer and work for the hour and then I walk away. It worked – I actually started the project this past weekend!

  19. posted by joanna @ IWontBeAHoarderToo on

    I’ve tried to use a timer. Sometimes I’ll use it to compete with myself (can I fold all of my towels faster than last time, but just as neatly?). Or I’ll use it to make myself stay focused on the task at hand. Eg., If I can clean the kitchen for 15 minutes without getting distracted, then I can go play with our pets for 10 minutes.

  20. posted by Verity on

    Great advice! And you described my laundry room PERFECTLY! I think I have some paint and lights to buy!

    My strategy for shopping is to do it all in one morning. I have two small children, and the crowds are too big and the kids are too grumpy to do it in the evening. To pack 4 or 5 stops in one morning, we stop at our first few places then pick up some fast food and change diapers. Then we hit our last few stops. I used to hate running errands and would draw them out through the week or procrastinate on them. Now I look forward to the ‘splurge’ of going out to eat, and I make sure we only have to go out one day by lining up all my coupons and returns ahead of time.

    Getting it done in one stroke makes the rest of our week run more smoothly too, and the kids are excited about shopping too!

  21. posted by JC on

    One of the few things I like about traveling for work is having a clean uncluttered hotel room. I sometimes use that as inspiration for me to put things away, tidy, and make things feel like a 5-star (well 4-star) hotel room.

  22. posted by Lizzie on

    Oh yes…I’m all about disguising things I hate to do. (Greatly influenced by the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books as a kid. But instead of imagining that there’s a cruel queen waiting to judge my work, I sometimes think of my boyfriend–uh, maybe George Clooney–and how happy he’ll be when he sees how sparkling his villa is. Never mind…)

    The thing that’s working particularly well for me at the moment is combining TV and working out on the new elliptical. Hardly a new idea, but I only watch fun TV while on the elliptical. (The news, for example, is NOT fun TV.) I take a break during commercials (I’m just getting started) and I don’t pay attention to how long I’m actually on the machine. So a busy day (like today) was a “Two Broke Girls” workout, but tomorrow will be a “Top Chef” one. Not perfect but much better than nothing!

  23. posted by Katrina on

    I also invite friends over to encourage me to clean. And audiobooks are a great way to get housework done as I limit myself of only listening to the audiobook while I’m doing housework. So, if I’m at a really good point in the story and I finish what I’m doing, then I have to do some other cleaning/tidying etc

    @Ola “I know a girl who washes her windows with AC/DC”. The first thing I thought of when I read this was a super strong girl scrubbing a window clean with the back of one of AC/DCs guitarists. tee hee

  24. posted by snosie on

    I LOVE your rain boots, and even pre post, was thinking, if only I had water proof shoes/boots (for summer), then I would be less bothered by the rain, and water polo and polishing the shoes that get water marks, blah blah…

    And the dentist idea is GENIUS! Just to find someone who does go to the same dentist…

    Cindi – I think (out loud) like that too – to remind my colleagues we don’t get paid for the easy stuff, we get paid for the harder stuff, and to take it in our stride (and we are really paid handsomly for the amount of ‘easy’!)

    I think the ‘people over’ trick works well (if they are or aren’t it can still work). My new home never looked as good as last weekend!

    Lizzie – I permit myself the Kardashians when I work out, I figure I’m getting trash out (the fat etc) and only mental trash in!!

    Overall, fantastic post, even if it causes some ‘recluttering’ (buying) to improve life

  25. posted by Jonathan @ punchlifeintheface on

    When I don’t feel like cleaning, I tell myself that I could meet the girl of my dreams at any moment, and whisk her back to my place in a whirlwind of romance. Do I want to bring her back to a dirty apartment or a clean one? That’s motivation enough.

  26. posted by KathyJ on

    I used to hate road trips for vacation or family visits until we began listening to audio books. Now I look forward to that part of traveling. It also works for exercise if the book is really good.

  27. posted by Rebecca Curtis on

    I love all your suggestions! I usually will turn on some music with a good motivational rhythm and dance my way through chores! Makes it so much more fun and lately I have been able to get my 6 year old twins involved in the fun & chores too! Hmmm, wonder what my husband would think if I were to put hot pink file folders in our office?? ๐Ÿ™‚

  28. posted by Looby on

    Great post, my OH and I go to the dentist together, not only do I distract myself before while we chat but we go out for a late lunch together afterwards and make a fun afternoon of it.

    And having lived my life in rainy countries I can attest to the power of a great pair of wellies and a selection of cute umbrellas to brighten dreary days.

  29. posted by Claire on

    Thank you so much for this blog, it’s pouring with rain here in London and I have on my bright red wellies with huge bows – like you they make me smile. Thanks to everyone else who commented too.

    I wanted to add to the comments about making the process of everything you do fun and enjoyable – I couldn’t agree more. I’m a hypnotherapist who works a lot with people who want to lose weight and the first thing I do is change their attitude from ‘dieting’ being dull, boring, restrictive (and so on) to ‘eating well’ being fun, enjoyable and exciting. You have to want to take the journey or the you’ll never get to the destination! and it’s so much easier to do things when we make them fun.

    Thanks again, I’ve learned a lot!

  30. posted by Timo Kiander on

    Great tips!

    I think that timing is everything: doing the dreaded task in the first possible moment. Once it’s out of my mind, I don’t have to think about it anymore.

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