We’ve all had that moment at some point or another when you feel like you’ve been doing work for hours, you open your to-do list, and you realize that the end is absolutely nowhere in sight. And then that feeling sets in: complete burnout.
However, what can be the most confusing thing about burnout is that sometimes you can work for hours and hours and actually feel energized after the fact. So, what gives? Why can huge amounts of work elicit completely different reactions from us?
Penelope Trunk, a well known career expert and startup founder, suggests that we think about our time as “engaged time” and “unengaged time.”
As she explains, people really don’t mind getting down to business when they’re excited about what they’re doing; it’s when we start doing stuff we don’t like to do for long periods of time that burnout sets in.
So, here’s a new way to think about your workload. First, understand the difference between doing work you love (or at least don’t mind) and doing work you can’t stand. Then, as Trunk suggests, find ways to deliberately split your workday between times when you like what you’re working on and times when you don’t like what you’re working on.
Once you’ve honed in on what those dreaded tasks are and relegated them into a certain time of day or week, you can do the most important step: Find ways to minimize the amount of time you spend on tasks you can’t stand so that you can make more time for the things you like.
I know—it sounds impossible. And yes, we probably all have things that we hate doing but that we absolutely have to continue as part of our jobs or lives. But, I’m pretty sure that with a little bit of paying attention, you can reduce the amount of time you spend on them. Here are a couple of techniques to consider:
1. Get Rid of Distractions
Distractions only make completing tasks a thousand times longer, so if you’re trying to finish a part of your job you really don’t like but keep checking your email throughout the process, you’re giving yourself less time to move on to things you like. You’re also just running your energy into the ground.
So, turn off your cell phone, click out of your computer tabs, and get down to business. The more productive you are with more obnoxious tasks, the more time you have for enjoyable things.
2. Tell People What You’re Doing
There’s a reason that accountability can really up your chances of getting something done; it’s always super nice and helpful to have someone motivating you to get your work done and move onto other more engaging parts of your job.
Ask a co-worker or friend to sit with you while you get your work done. Or, pretend it’s a game and have someone challenge you to finish a boring task in a set amount of time. Winner buys the loser coffee.
3. Find Opportune Times to Do Unpleasant Work
In her article, Trunk uses the example of getting work done during her son’s orchestra practice (since she has to be there anyway but wouldn’t be able to distinguish her son’s playing from anyone else’s).
In your case, apply the same principles to your everyday routine: Do you spend an hour on a bus or subway? Use that time to do some of the work you can’t stand and do stuff you like when you’re actually at the office. Stuck in the waiting room for a doctor’s appointment? Feel free to whip out your laptop or iPad and finish proofing that incredibly boring investor report. Better to do it then and spend your office time on other things.
When you start looking at your work in terms of your engagement level with different tasks at varying times, you’d be surprised at how much your priorities shift. A side bonus? You’ll be able to become quite the productivity machine.