Turning Daily Tedium into Daily Joy
What is worse than staring down the barrel of a long list of household chores? As I entered this weekend, I needed to do my laundry, change my sheets, hit the gym, and clean my bathroom.
I could think of few things I wanted to do less.
Funny thing, though: once I got down to doing these tedious chores, I actually had fun with them. It’s hard to engage with the daily tasks that form much of the monotony of our lives, but there are ways to make them more fun. It’s like taking a shower: leaving my bed to get clean regularly fills me with dread, but once I’m in there, damn if it’s not one of the best feelings in the world.
Our daily tasks are necessary, but they don’t have to be awful affairs. The recent popularity of shows and guides like Marie Kondo’s The Joy of Tidying Up demonstrate that not only can we reclaim time spent on chores as something fun, but that we also want to. Tedium can be turned to joy; it just takes a small shift in perspective, and maybe a few helpful tips.
Put on Some Jams
Putting on some tunes is one of the most popular ways to make daily tasks a little more entertaining. With the modern portability of today’s music players and the rising popularity of music streaming services like Spotify, it’s easier than ever to take music wherever our daily tasks require us to be.
So why is adding background music such a strong instinct in humans? While the base causes are still unclear, research shows that music has a strong effect on moderating our moods. Listening to upbeat music in turn makes us more upbeat. That’s why humans are more likely to add music to tedious tasks than those we perform for the pleasure of them; by nature, we acknowledge these chores as tasks we do not want to do, and music as a way we can make them more palatable.
It’s not all fun and games--or is it? It may take a little creative thinking, but you can turn any task into a game with your own sets of rules and rewards.
Gamification is the term used to describe the application of game-like elements to non-gaming spaces in order to eke out entertainment from places that would otherwise have none. Need to sweep your floors? Give yourself a short deadline and try racing the clock; if you win, reward yourself with a scoop of ice cream or an hour break watching Netflix. If you need to get groceries, try thinking of it as a scavenger hunt, and see if you can “win” by finding everything you need before the other patrons in the store (they don’t need to know you’re doing this for you to receive the benefits of gamification). It may not be as fun as playing a few rounds of Overwatch, but gamification can still make your daily chores a lot more entertaining to complete.
Some tasks we dread no matter what, but a lot of boredom is borne from repetition. Introducing new elements to old routines, no matter how small, may make these tedious tasks a little more interesting.
A 1997 study identified “change from routines” as one of four key factors to finding relief from monotony. It doesn’t have to be a big change, nor should it be; many routines are quite useful in the creation of consistent self-organization, and you should take care not to shift any set routine significantly enough to cancel out its effectiveness. But tiny adjustments can help keep you on-task without adding to daily humdrum.
If you take the same route to work every day, try turning a street early. If you subscribe to Spotify or iTunes, allow these music services to create a brand-new playlist for you to rock out to each week while you do your home cleaning. Buy something spontaneously at the checkout counter at the supermarket.
No matter how small the change, include something new in each of your tedious tasks. It makes a real difference to never have the exact same experience twice.
Podcasts and Audiobooks!
Music is useful as background noise to daily chores because it doesn’t require any concentration, and because upbeat rhythms can also put a pep in listeners’ steps, but other forms of audio entertainment shouldn’t be discounted, either.
The reality is, we don’t need our full concentration for the majority of the daily tasks that form the monotony of our lives; we complete these duties by rote. In fact, oftentimes, the relationship between doing chores and listening to podcasts and audiobooks is the reverse of what it looks like on the surface; rather than having these audio stimuli be background noise to the main job of completing a task, the chore becomes background action and the audio becomes the center of our focus.
Teachers and researchers have been using this to their advantage. Studies show that students who supplement their classroom learning with listening to podcasts--even while engaged in other menial tasks--retain the information better than those who don’t.
The advantages to listening to podcasts and audiobooks while completing daily tasks is therefore threefold: you are entertained, your focus is diverted from how little you want to do the task to other stimuli, and you absorb the information from these other stimuli better than you would otherwise.
Combine and Save Time
Are you using the time you need to take care of your daily, monotonous tasks as efficiently as you can be? If you’re tackling them one at a time, there may be ways to combine chores and errands that you’ve never considered.
While you cook, add in a workout routine by putting on ankle weights and doing leg lifts at the stove. If you’re already going out to do your laundry, you might as well also hit the pharmacy to pick up more toothpaste on the way back home. Sew buttons back onto a coat while listening to the daily news.
Combining chores gives you more time back to do the things you truly love, but it also has a bonus side effect: you need more concentration to complete two tasks simultaneously, which means your brain will have to actually work, and you’ll be more engaged and entertained in the process.
Better with Friends
So admittedly, this one has a caveat: you got to have a friend who’s willing to tackle these tedious tasks with you. I’ve found, though, that most social groups do have at least one friend who really, genuinely enjoys certain tasks that seem boring to others, including cleaning, cooking, and driving. In high school, I was the first of my friends to get my driver’s license, and the only one to ever truly enjoyed driving, so I became unofficial chauffeur by default; honestly, I was pretty alright with that. In college, I had a roommate who really loved washing dishes. She found it calming; I found her a godsend.
If you can convince a friend to join you to make your daily duties more fun, you’ll both be better off for it. A 2006 study found that friends who engaged in a variety of activities, including “maintenance activities”--chores--perceived there to be more positive features in their relationship that those who engaged in more passive “media” activities like watching television together.
In Your Hands
Taking care of chores is just part of being an adult. We may not have the same active imaginations that we once had as children, but that doesn’t mean we need to cosign ourselves to drudgery. It is possible to bring joy back to your everyday duties, but the power to do so is fully in your hands.
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 Hägglund, Per. “Taking Gamification to the next Level.” 2012, http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-58060.
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