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What to Do When a Task Challenges Your Patience (But Not Your Intellect)

This may sound a little weird, but, when I’m in a certain mood, I relish tasks like color coding storage closets, stuffing envelopes, and (brace yourself) data entry. There’s a certain soothing and meditative quality to jobs that offer little variation and require even less problem solving.

But, what about those days when your attention span is strained or you’re just not in the mood? We’ve come up with a few fun ways to power through the painstaking details of repetitive to-dos.

1. Listen to a Podcast


They’ve already improved your time on the treadmill and revolutionized your commute. Why not let a podcast add a little flavor to your workday? The next time you’re looking at a couple hours of email inbox organization, pop in your ear buds and download a podcast. Do you appreciate long-form interviews and frank discussions with comedians and entertainers? Try Marc Maron’s award-winning WTF. Or enjoy Serial’s gripping tale of murder and mystery. Or learn about economics and culture with Freakonomics.  Wherever your interests lie, there’s a podcast for you.

2. Take it Outside


It’s amazing how a little change of scenery can breathe new life into a task that’s gotten a bit old. If you have a laptop and a little flexibility, relocate to a park bench or a coffee shop for an hour or two and knock out that data entry assignment. New sights, sounds, and smells can be rejuvenating and give you a boost in energy and productivity. Plus, if you pick the coffee shop, the caffeine jolt certainly won’t hurt.

3. Recruit a Team and Make It a Game


How many letters can you fold in one minute? Does your work pal think he can beat your record? Care to wage a cup of coffee and make things interesting?

Ask colleagues to pitch in and help out whenever they need a break from their regular work. You can catch up while being productive, or turn the activity into a light-hearted competition. Also, don’t underestimate the power of snacks; offer cookies or donuts to anyone who helps out and  your task will be finished in no time.

4. Treat Yo’ Self


Speaking of cookies… Don’t forget to reward yourself! Sometimes the best way to get something done is to break it up into smaller sections and reward yourself as you reach pre-determined milestones. For example, if the storage closet has three distinct sections, tell yourself you can get a cup of coffee when you’re finished with the first section. Once you’re done with the second section, you get a sunshine break. When you finish up the third section, it’s cookie time! It may seem a little silly, but having a small treat to look forward to can keep you motivated.

5. Practice Mindfulness


Have you been trying to start a meditation practice or do a better job of staying present? Repetitive tasks can be a great way to practice mindfulness. Rather than trying to find ways to distract yourself or pass the time, try to focus on every detail of your detail-oriented task and sync-up your breathing. Fold letter, breathe in. Open envelope, breath out. Stuff envelope, breath in. Seal envelope, breathe out… Once you’re finished, you may find yourself feeling more focused and calm.

When embraced with an open mind and a little creativity, repetitive tasks can be rather enjoyable!

How do you feel about repetitive tasks?


  1. That last suggestion on mindfulness is gold.

  2. My favorite Podcast? Joy the baker Podcast!

    Thanks for the reminder, I am so behind!

  3. “Listen to a Podcast” – how did I NOT think of that? Thanks!

  4. Jenessa: I have a variety of podcasts I listen to every week/every day, including Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me and Ask Me Another for a good laugh. I also have Serial downloaded, but haven’t gotten to it yet. I try to go for a short walk outside, mostly because I don’t have a window and really want to know what the outside world looks like!

    Another option, similar to the podcast, is my music library. I have it set up in playlists called Wake UP, Work, Relaxation (mostly for when I’m stressed at work) and my holiday mix. Sometimes the holiday mix gets played in July. Just because.

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