Practical Strategies for Dealing with the Tasks You Hate

In the coaching world, there is a word for tasks that you hate doing: tolerations.

A toleration is something that bugs you and drains your energy, but you do it or put up with it anyway. Viewing tasks that I dislike as tolerations was a real mind shift for me.

I never thought to ask myself if I wanted to do these things or not. I just accepted that they were part of life and that I had to do them, even if I couldn't stand them.

We all have projects and chores that we just dread.

I can't stand paperwork, especially filing things. I put it off because it is such a tedious and odious little chore, and there are so many other fun things I'd rather be doing.

Emptying and loading the dishwasher is another one for me. I know it will need doing again within a few hours, so it feels like a task that is never complete.

How about you? I bet you can think of tasks that must be done, but for the life of you, you can't work up the enthusiasm to get started.

If you do start to tackle one of these dreaded tasks, it feels like the rest of your life is on hold until you get the darn thing out of the way.  In our very hectic society, we could spend our entire lives handling tasks. They are like little rabbits reproducing exponentially.

Believe me, I understand and accept that there are unpleasant tasks that must be done. We can't just forgo paying taxes because we hate it or let dishes start piling up around us because it's such a bore to wash them. But we can change our perspective and even some of our choices about how to handle these tasks.

As I'm writing this blog post, my wonderful friend Cara is in my kitchen organizing and cleaning my cabinets.

She owns a personal assistant business called The Nesting Nanny, and I hired her to do this organizing task that I've been dreading. The decision to hire Cara was a major shift in thinking for me.

I've always been taught not to spend money on something you can do for yourself because it's wasteful and indulgent. But I have embraced a new perspective, and now I am happy as a clam that it's Cara in the kitchen and not me!

Here's my new way of thinking, and I hope it will resonate with you.

I have valuable and meaningful work to do as a mom, a coach, a writer, a blogger, and a friend. The work I do around these roles comprise what I love the most and where I want to spend the majority of my time.

I want to maximize the time I spend doing what I love, minimize the time doing what I dread, and optimize a new perspective for handling the dreaded tasks when I must.

I don't have endless streams of money to hire people to do every chore I hate. In fact, you don't have to spend a lot of money to change the way you handle tasks and chores.

Just changing your perspective will begin shifting your feelings. If you begin to brainstorm ways to make your tolerations more tolerable, you will be surprised at the energy and time you can reclaim to put toward the areas of your life you really love.

Here are a few strategies you might consider:

1. Cut back or drop them altogether.
Take a look at the tasks, projects and chores on your list. If you were forced at gunpoint to strike five from your list, what would they be? There are always tasks that really don't have to be done. The world will not end if you don't accomplish these things, so let them go. It feels freeing. If you can't let them go completely, then find a way to minimize or cut back on them. Things don't have to be perfect.

2. Delegate.
As a mom, I was so used to doing things for my children when they were young that I almost forgot about their workable arms and legs as they got older. I have now delegated a good number of my chores to them, including the dreaded dishwasher routine. Look around you at the people in your life who can (and should) pick up the slack and help you with tasks. You don't have to be superman or superwoman. If you are too capable, the people around you will often take advantage of your willingness and ability.

3. Hire someone.
This may not be the solution for every task, but if you can afford it, consider hiring someone to handle especially involved or time-consuming tasks. Your time could be spent more profitably or happily on other activities. By hiring someone, you aren't just taking care of yourself (which is a fine thing to do),  you also are providing work for someone who needs or wants it.

4. Consider a trade or barter.
If you can't afford to hire someone, then maybe you can barter or trade services. I have offered my coaching services in trade for design services, computer help, and massage therapy. It's worked out great and saved me a lot of time and money.

5. View tasks from a Zen perspective.
If you have a dreaded task that you must do yourself, then begin the task by taking a few moments to rearrange your thoughts about it. It must be done, so do it mindfully. Take five minutes before you begin to close your eyes, breathe deeply and try to let go of any resentment about the task at hand or anxiety about other things that need to be done. Begin the task with your full focus and do your best to stay in the moment. I have even started a task by dedicating it to someone I love so that I view the task as a gift to that person.

6. Set a timer.
If you have short, mindless tasks that don't take much concentration, set a timer and make it a game. Knowing that you have a specific window of time to complete the task, you will be challenged to stay focused and work faster.

7. Make it a party.
If you have larger jobs to tackle, like cleaning out the garage, organizing the basement or packing to move, make a party of it. Ask a few good friends if they will give you a couple of hours. Then set out some refreshments, put on some great music and have a blast while you work. Of course you must offer to do the same for your friends, but doing kind things for those you care about is probably part of your life plan anyway.

8. Devote a day.
If you have a list of nagging tasks that you have been holding on to for a while, pick a day that you can devote to cleaning up and clearing away these duties. If you know that you have dedicated the day to tasks, then you won't be quite so resentful about these chores pulling you away from other important activities. Reward yourself with a brief but pleasant break after you check something off the list. Before you know it, you will have completed the list. It's never as hard as it feels when you are thinking about it!

9. Maximize the time.
If you have tasks that involve driving, sitting around for a while, or mindless repetition, take advantage of this time to do something else meaningful, educational or fun. If you are driving, sitting in carpool line or stuck in traffic, listen to motivational tapes or calming music. If you are sitting in a doctor's waiting room, keep a good book handy or sit quietly and meditate.  Listen to your Ipod or a book on tape while folding laundry or mowing the lawn. You can make good use of seemingly wasted time.

10. Change your lifestyle.
Sometimes the lifestyle we choose sets us up for a life of never-ending tasks. If you live in a big house with lots of stuff, then you have a lot to clean, store and maintain. If you are involved in many activities or volunteer duties, you have the tasks and responsibilities that go along with these activities. If your kids are signed up for fifty extracurricular programs, you will spend many hours in your car. Consider ways to simplify and cut back on your way of living to give you more energy and time to do the things you really love.

Shift your way of thinking about even one of your tasks, and you will feel lighter and more energized. Contrary to our societal imprinting, you don't have to tolerate every task or project that appears before you.

Take a few minutes to evaluate your list of tasks and how you might be able to utilize the strategies I've outlined to create the mindset and time for a happier, more productive and fulfilled life.


Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 12 comments

How one thinks about something is so important. I once tried to think of cleaning as exercise and good health.

Your blog looks great Barrie. It was nice meeting you on WTD.

cara ogden

You really found your calling in writing & coaching. I loved the work in organizing your kitchen cabinets today. Thank you for a great day in your lovely home.

    Barrie Davenport

    Thank you Cara! You are the best. You have found your calling too. I’m so glad we have found each other.

    Thanks for reading.



Hmmm, I think I may need to meet Cara. You’ve seen my house.

Ginger Brusa

I find it difficult to focus on one room at a time when I clean house. For example, my kid’s clothes are in my room. I take the clothes to her room and I suddenly find things to do in her room. It takes forever to get back to my room to complete it.

Barrie Davenport

I know what you mean! There are always distractions. Since you know that you do this, make a pile of stuff that needs to be removed from your room and put it by the door. Don’t put it away until you finish with the room you are cleaning. Then distribute stray items after you are all done. Hope that helps!!

Thanks for commenting.


These are all wonderful strategies for dealing with the kind of thing I refer to as a bete noire (or black beast. ) I love the idea of setting aside a single day to plow through a bunch of tolerations for which I feel intolerance. I’d like to add one other suggestion, Barrie, and this is rather the opposite of taking a zen approach. Instead of being mindful (although most of the time I advocate the mindful approach), distract yourself as much as possible from the task at hand by blasting rocking tunes, playing games with the timer (i.e. how much can I get done in this interval of time), putting on the television news, or listening to a book on your ipod. Thanks for the wonderful post.

Barrie Davenport

Thank you Jean! Yes, sometimes the mindful approach works, and other times you just need to tame the “black beast” with distractions. I’ve watch plenty of Oprah while folding laundry!

I appreciate your comments very much.

Madeleine Kolb

Barrie, These are really good ideas. I love setting the timer for odious tasks and then racing to finish before the timer goes off. Rewarding yourself also works well when you let yourself do something you enjoy only after you’ve completed one of the hated tasks.

Your “Make it a Party” tip could get tricky. A year or so ago I read about a trend of people having friends help with remodel projects. It turned out that handing power tools to inexperienced friends who’d had a few beers did not yield good results. In some cases, the home owner had to hire a professional to repair the damage. (What were they thinking?)

Barrie Davenport

That’s hysterical! You’re right, beer and projects with friends are not a good combination. I was thinking about something more sedate — like having friends over to clean a garage or something. No power tools!
Thanks for commenting.

Jenny Sayell

“Begin the task with your full focus and do your best to stay in the moment. I have even started a task by dedicating it to someone I love so that I view the task as a gift to that person.”
I like that, think it will even help me with my paperwork filing!
.-= Jenny Sayell´s last blog ..Famous linguists 1 =-.


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