Willpower workout: Doing very easy tasks

Willpower Workout #19: Doing Very Easy Tasks

September 18, 2020

Throughout much of this Explore Your Limits Challenge, we have focused on tasks that are difficult, tasks that make you want to quit. However, willpower can be equally needed when you confront tasks that are very easy. In a survey that found that 64% of employees visit non-work-related websites at work every day, the most common reason given for slacking off was that they didn’t “feel challenged enough in their job.” In this detailed study of procrastination out of Stockholm University, they conclude that the more boring a task is made, the more likely people are to delay doing it.

Very easy tasks are not motivating in most cases. Why? Because completing them doesn’t make us feel better about ourselves. People derive more self-satisfaction from completing a difficult task than an easy one. In Willpower Workout 8, we cited competence as one of three primary intrinsic motivators. Doing easy tasks that we expect to be able to do does nothing to increase our sense of competence.

In this workout, we’re going to do an easy task and that’s it.

Day 19 Willpower Workout:

  1. Complete three Common Core 3rd Grade Math Tests. They are 40 questions each and hopefully – even if you hated high school math – are quite easy.

Note: We’re purposefully not asking you to keep track of how long it takes or even how many you get correct. If we were to make this into a type of race to the finish, that would make an otherwise easy task into a task filled with challenge. Research shows that the people who are able to persist in doing boring tasks the longest transform the task in their minds into something more interesting.

We’re not saying you can’t do this yourself, but we’re not doing it for you.

Evaluating Your Workout:

1. Did your pace increase or wane as you went on?

Some people rush to get it done with while others gradually lose all drive to do the task before them. Knowing when in the task completion process you’re likely to need the most willpower can be helpful.

2. How many times did you think to yourself something like, “This is dumb. Why am I doing this?”

3. Did you do anything to try to make it more interesting for yourself? If so, what?

4. What effect did this have?

5. What tasks do you have to do regularly for work that are super easy? What can you learn from this workout that you can apply to those tasks?

Willpower Workout in Action:

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This is day 19 of a 40-day journey to explore your limits. If you’d like to receive a daily email with the willpower workout of the day, you can sign up here to start at Day 1 with the first workout:

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Past Workouts: