How to Stay Engaged When Work is Boring

We all have activities we must do at work that bore us to tears. Maybe it’s filling out expense reports, or data entry or dealing with a particularly tedious client. Not surprisingly, in these circumstances our mood, as well as our performance, can suffer. However, research suggests that we may hold the key to this self-imposed prison. As difficult as it may be to admit, our outlook on these dreaded tasks can create the negative emotions we experience.

So, what can we do? In an intriguing study discussed by Todd Kashdan, Ph.D. in his book, Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life, participants were asked to do something they did not like. However, they were instructed to notice three novel things while they were engaged in the activity. Although this may seem like an innocuous suggestion, this slight shift in their frame of reference had a profound impact on the results. Specifically, participants who were asked to look for novelty enjoyed the task significantly more than their counterparts who were not given this instruction. Even more impressive was that when researchers followed up with participants several weeks later, the ones who had searched for novelty reported that they were significantly more likely to have engaged in the task again on their own. Changing how they viewed an undesirable task led to significant gains in their enjoyment of the activity and motivated them to continue doing it in the future.

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Craig Dowden

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Craig Dowden & Associates is a firm focused on supporting clients in achieving leadership and organizational excellence by leveraging the science of peak performance. He is author of Do Good to Lead Well: The Science and Practice of Positive Leadership.


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