How many times a day do you start off sentences with “I have to,” especially at the office?
“I have to get these reports done.”
“I have to do this conference call.”
“I have to go check inventory.”
It might feel like you have to complete mundane, frustrating, or even seemingly useless tasks all the time. It can be demoralizing, to say the least, and can really keep you from finding enjoyment in your work.
However, just changing your mindset can make a huge difference in how you go about facing these terrible to-do list items. Here are three ways to completely change how you frame your tasks.
1. “I Choose To…”
New York Times bestselling author Greg McKeown recommends changing that “I have to” with an “I choose to,” saying that it completely realigns how you prioritize: “Every time we say, ‘I have to take this call’ or ‘I have to send this piece of work off’ or ‘I have to go to this client meeting,’ we are assuming that previous commitments are nonnegotiable.”
McKeown’s point is that everything in life is a choice, no matter how big, small, or boring. You might not always be able to make a different choice in the moment (after all, your boss could fire you for not doing your job), but it’s always important to remember that technically you’ve made the decision to take that job and be a good employee. If you find yourself constantly facing tasks you wish you could choose not to do, well, maybe it’s time to make a new career choice altogether.
2. “This Will Help Me Learn/Do…”
Another way to reframe a not-so-awesome agenda item? Ask yourself what you’ll learn from doing that specific task. So yes, writing up an investor report may be boring, but it does teach important skills, like how to communicate clearly, fact check, and organize an important document.
And while you may never show the world your pristine investor report, you’re definitely gaining something from doing it—and those skills will push you forward in your career.
3. “This Task Is Important Because…”
When you’re chugging along at work racing to finish everything, it’s easy to get lost in the mountain of emails or client requests and forget why you’re doing what you’re doing in the first place. Does replying to this email from an already disgruntled client really matter? you might wonder. But if you actually take the time to tell yourself why that task as important—what exactly it is doing to achieve your deeper mission—it just might make it more bearable.
If you think about it, many of the tasks you get done at work will need to be completed regardless of how excited or ambivalent you feel about them. But as author Carlos Castaneda once said, “The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.”
The bottom line? Choose to be happy.