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June 1, 2017

Drudgery: How to Take it Out of Your Day

Bruce Murray

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If there is one thing that we all share in this life, it is recurring moments of drudgery. As universal as drudgery is, our tolerance for it varies. Sometimes we might actually look forward to it. And, if things aren't going right, the annoying processing of detail can help us to shed some light on what is going wrong and why.

What Does "Drudgery" Actually Mean?

I have a feeling, however, that you are not reading this to appreciate the few charms that drudgery offers. After all, Merriam-Webster defines it as, "dull, irksome and fatiguing." As if that isn’t gruesome enough, it adds that it's also "uninspiring or menial."

A common recommendation is to get the drudgery out of the way early in the day. So, let us dispense with the worst of it now.

The most dull and repetitive jobs belong to those that require the least amount of education and training. So in order to avoid it, identify your passions and find out what gets you enthused. Advance your skills and abilities in these areas, and you improve your odds of avoiding the worst aspects of drudgery.

Of course, no job is completely free of drudgery. Michael Carroll cites a 2015 Gallup poll that found that two-thirds of Americans come to work "disengaged." According to the poll, whatever passion and enthusiasm they once had fades in the face of "feeling expendable; having too much to do and not enough time to do it; constant financial pressure – the list goes on."

Using Mindfulness to Tackle Drudgery

Carroll recommends using mindfulness to help beat drudgery and advises us to forego our passions. He says, "It's less about why we go to work and more about how we show up… Mindfulness teaches many things, but first it demands that we befriend ourselves – shortcomings and strengths, sadness as well as our joy."

Further research into mindfulness and drudgery led me to this baffling statement by the late Marty Rubin: "A bad job is drudgery; a good job is slavery."

Now, to me, there is no logical connection between good and slavery. However, I will say that, when I had jobs with relatable co-workers and a rewarding culture, I recall feeling like a "happy slave" to it.

Be Proactive

Somewhere between "I love everything about my job" and "This drudgery makes me want to scream" comes some advice from Brett Blumenthal's website, which is aptly named

Blumenthal recognizes that sometimes we just aren't "feeling it." At other times, however, we might feel inspired. When this happens, she advises that we "strike when the iron is hot" and jump into the tasks we've been avoiding, even if they aren't due right now. She adds, "The more you capitalize on your positive energy, the better the quality of your work will be."  

Ask for Help and Focus on the "End Game"

When the task simply feels like drudgery, Blumenthal suggests enlisting the help of someone else to make it more tolerable.

Finding someone to take on your dull, monotonous tasks might be difficult. I suggest offering to trade some of your drudgery for some of theirs. The variety will likely help to make these tasks less draining for both of you.

She repeats the popular suggestion to get the worst tasks out of the way early so that you can move on to more enjoyable ones. Or, to chip away at them, a little at a time.

To help us get through the hardship of boring tasks, Blumenthal advises us to "think of the End Game." Bear in mind that these yucky tasks are often what lead us to the desired results. This, in turn, helps to feed or fuel the passions that we do have.

Author Jon Acuff forecasts career advancement if you do this: "Relationships get you the first gig, skills get you the second, and hustle gets you every one after that." He recommends "spend[ing] an hour each week to work on your skills and your relationships."

Think you don't have an hour a week for that? Consider where you want your lifetime of 40 years working 40-50 hours a week to end up. Still think you don't have an hour a week to invest?

Could Machine Learning be the Solution?

I will close with a challenge for you...

It is said to be the age of machine learning. So why not take advantage of it? If you find yourself mired in menial, repetitious work, is there a way to automate your activity?

If you can prep the data you need, express basic and advanced algorithms, automate the iterative processes, and create a mode, then, according to analytics firm SAS, you've met the requirements to create a good machine learning system.

Solicit help from an IT pro if you need further help. Automating these tasks could help to boost your productivity, and will make your life less boring at the same time. Your unique, thoughtful work might just save your job when your employer finds a Siri, Tron or R2D2 to replace you.

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