Have you ever found yourself stuck in a rut at work doing mundane tasks that drain all your energy and enthusiasm? Most people have, at some point or the other.
What most don’t see though is the brilliant value that mundane work offers, hidden behind a veil of apparent monotony and boredom.
Take the lesson below to learn how to mine the mundane for all its worth. And remember to take the quiz at the bottom of the page to proceed.
Be resilient, even as the discomfort of a new job sets in
Pick a job, any job, the most interesting job you can think of. Without a doubt, anyone with a job like that has to be incredibly lucky, right? How exciting life must surely be for anyone with that job.
What’s also guaranteed though, is that this dream job you thought of has its fair share of mundane tasks too, whether you see them or not. And that’s true for every job of every career in existence. Whether it’s balancing the books, compiling repetitive Excel spreadsheets, replying to endless waves of emails, or other such mindless, boring, tasks – there’s just no escaping the mundane.
You can probably relate to this. Every job – irrespective of how much you loved it at the start, or how much you wanted to make a career in that field – will probably start to feel boring at some point, no matter what you do to try to spice things up.
That’s normal. It happens to the best of us.
And even though when in the grip of the mundane, you feel like you’d sooner face your most terrifying phobia than do more of the mundane, remember this one thing – it’s good for you.
Really! Mundane tasks have an incredible value that can lead to long-term success and payoffs, and they’re generally very essential for proper day-to-day functioning. And it’s the only true path to mastery of any kind – by the way.
Which brings us to an interesting question – how do we keep doing the essential mundane things, without getting bored of them? How can we be resilient even as the mundane threatens to overwhelm our sanity?
Harvard scientist, Ellen Langer, conducted a study in which she randomly divided people into 2 groups, asking both groups to do an activity they did not like (something mundane or boring such as vacuuming or doing dishes). For one of the two groups, she added an instruction – while you are doing the activity you dislike, pay attention to 3 novel things while you do the activity. For example, those who chose washing the dishes as their “disliked activity” might pay attention to the multitude of little bubbles the soap creates, the weight of each dish, and the engravings on the plates.
The groups then reported back to the experimenter. The findings revealed that those participants in the novelty group reported enjoying the boring activity more and they also reported doing the activity more on their own after the experiment was over!
In this case the strength of curiosity helped to transcend the boring and the mundane. It got the novelty group participants to actually engage in mundane tasks more, as opposed to abhorring or avoiding them.
Langer might be on to something there.
Here are some other ways to engage with mundane activities:
1. Remind yourself that things get tough in every role that we play in life. Work is no exception. Also, remember that the perfect workplace – translating to a mundane-free job – does not exist
2. Look for a horizontal – ideally a closely related – movement to another job role. It will teach you loads and come back to your original role with fresh perspectives
3. Reflect on the impact your role has on people’s lives and on the organization. Bring your curiosity into play. If you could see how the mundane stuff you do leaves everyone a little better off, it would certainly take the edge off it.
4. Take on risk. Try your hand at some task where the cost of failure can be high. And then give it your 100%. The lessons -even in case of a spectacular failure – will be huge.
Now, no one can be expected to live a mundane life from start to finish, just for the sake of it. Sure, there is a better plane of existence beyond the mundane, but the way to it is not around it – it’s through it.
Real life happens in the mundane. The mundane is not a setback, it’s a rite of passage.
As we said earlier, mastery is tempered by the mundane, so escaping the mundane equals forfeiting mastery. No professional worth their salt has become that way by eschewing the mundane.
And so it stands that the worst thing one could do is try to escape the mundane on an impulse, without doing justice to it.
You run the very real risk of being thoroughly mediocre later on, if you run away from the mundane often enough.
Through the course of your career you’re probably going to be very busy, and you’ll have heaps of things to do – mundane tasks included. Treat these mundane tasks like you would handle a business challenge. Face them, bring your curiosity to bear in these situations, conquer them and then go on to do more awesome things. Escape the mundane though, and you might find that awesome things escape you. Resilience pays – maybe in the short term, but definitely in the long term, especially if you want to be the best at what you do.