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There are some work tasks that energize you, and others that rob you of that energy.
This first group of tasks, the ones that energize you, are a blast. In my work, some of these tasks include writing, reading research papers, and giving talks.
The second group of tasks, those that leave you with less energy than when you started, can be a pain in the ass. A couple tasks that fall into this category for me include consolidating my research notes, doing unavoidable admin work (that I can’t delegate), and creating slides for talks.
Luckily, I recently stumbled on a simple trick that has let me blow through these type two tasks at a remarkable clip, all while shrinking my mental resistance to them. It’s a relatively counterintuitive tactic, but it works.
I love this workout video called Ab Ripper X. It’s grueling, and usually leaves you feeling sore for days, especially when you haven’t done it in a while. One of the things the host, Tony Horton, says in the middle of the workout has stuck with me: while Tony guides you through 25 repetitions of each exercise, he says, “just imagine you’ve gotta do 100 of them! Twenty-five suddenly doesn’t seem so bad!”
The thinking behind this relatively corny, offhand remark serves as a great approach to your more tedious, energy-draining work tasks.
Have to write a 1,000-word report by the end of the week? Just imagine you have to write a 5,000-word report! A thousand words suddenly doesn’t seem so bad.
Have a one-hour meeting after lunch? Just imagine you have a three-hour meeting! One hour suddenly doesn’t seem so bad!
The tactic works at home, too.
It’s -10 outside? Just imagine it’s -30º The original temperature suddenly doesn’t seem so bad.
Plan on doing a 30-minute run? Just imagine you have to run for 90 minutes! Suddenly a half hour doesn’t seem so bad.
This mind trick doesn’t only help manage your expectations for the more difficult tasks in your work—it also allows you to relax as you complete them. If you’re anything like me, you’ll no longer rush through draining tasks to get them over with—when you sit down with the mindset that a task will take longer than it actually will, you’ll relax more, pace yourself, and make your energy last while you work.
The tactic also helps you focus deeper, because it puts you in the mindset that you suddenly have more work to do. The technique even lets you become happier—one of the most powerful ways to find contentment is to raise or lower your expectations and always set yourself up to be pleasantly surprised. Finishing a task or project sooner than originally expected is one of the best feelings in the world.
So the next time you find yourself resisting energy-draining work, take a lesson from Ab Ripper X and increase the size of the task in your head. It’s a simple hack, but it works.