Finding Joy in Meaningless Tasks

There is stuff you do in life that, frankly, is not very exciting.

This is true of even the most glamorous occupations.

I was envious — and admiring — of high fashion models. There, I said to myself, was an occupation that paid big bucks for no effort. How difficult was it to look glamorous and have someone take pictures of you?

Then an article I wrote was accepted by a major magazine and the editors decided that they needed some really good pictures to zhuzh up the text.

So, they sent a photographer to my office.

He had an assistant and tons of equipment. I was teaching a class, so they scouted the university and picked several suitable locations.

They also wanted some indoor shots, so we looked at classrooms and seminar spaces and spiral staircases.

I wondered why we were waiting and was soon enlightened. The make-up lady was late.

She arrived and did things to my face. And then the assistant posed me, and the photographer clicked away.

I was told to cross my legs, and then cross them the other way, and then lean forward while standing and convey the impression that I was thinking deep thoughts. I had to balance a large box above my head for a trick shot that one of the editors had requested.

The lights were blazing. The box was heavy. We had to stop every few minutes so the make-up person could wipe away the sweat and powder me again.

The shoot took three hours, and I was left with a healthy respect for fashion models.

They are well compensated, but they work for their money.

So how do you handle the disagreeable parts of what you do?

At work this could be writing up the minutes of a meeting, or filing your expense reports, or running the numbers one more time with different assumptions.

At home, it could be the laundry, or the dishes or paying the bills.

It is, in general, an excellent idea to outsource what you can. Super if your admin can take care of getting reimbursement for your expenses and a contracting service can mow your lawn.

But, even after that, there will always be stuff you don’t like doing and only you can do.

A model cannot hire someone to pose for her under incandescent lights.

So, what do you do?

The solution is simple. And, once you get the hang of it, it is actually quite easy.

Become the witness of your mental chatter.

You discover that you find your task intolerable because your mental chatter is going, “I don’t like this. Why do I have to do this? I would rather be doing something else. What a lousy way to spend time. I would rather be watching that new thriller on Netflix.”

When you, mindfully, observe this train of babble instead of identifying with it, it decreases in intensity.

And then, again mindfully, begin doing what you have to.

Don’t think of how much you don’t like to do it. Don’t think of what else you would rather be doing.

Every time your mental chatter goes there, pull it back gently and focus it on the task at hand. If you are washing dishes, feel the warm water, the slipperiness of the detergent, the texture of the sponge.

And the task will be done before you know it.

And there will be no emotional turmoil in you.

Try it. It really works.




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