How to Get Passionate About Boring Tasks

Become Passionate

If you want to learn a foreign language, you need to spend hours memorizing vocabulary and grammar.

To get into great shape, you need to perform repetitive exercises on a regular basis.

I’ve written about the importance of doing boring things before, but that lesson was highlighted to me a few weeks ago at the symphony.

As I was reading about the lead violinist, I found something interesting. Apparently, she still starts every morning playing the same scales she did as a beginner.

An extremely talented and advanced violinist starts out every day doing the same basic scales she did as a youngster. She says that they’re essential to maintaining her ability.

The big lesson in all of this is that boring tasks pay off. It’s just doing them that’s hard – after all, they’re boring.

Learning a foreign language is exciting. You get to speak to others in a brand new way; it’s impressive. But hardly anyone gets excited about learning the vocabulary.

Writing a novel is a big goal for many people. That excitement dies down when confronted with the day-to-day writing tasks that go into it.

But what if you could become passionate about boring tasks? If you can get excited to do them, you could unlock a lot of potential and accomplish more. But how do you do it?

The Power of Ritual

The first step to becoming passionate about a boring task is to create a ritual around it. Embedding them into a set sequence of activities will make it easier to integrate the task into your life.

According to Twyla Tharp in her book, The Creative Habit, she uses a morning ritual to help her exercise daily. Each morning activity leads seamlessly into the other until finally she ends up in a taxi cab going to the gym to work out.

She credits her daily workouts to this ritual. Otherwise she would never find the motivation to go. In fact, she quite dislikes working out, but the ritual activities flow so well that it sweeps her along to her goal.

Stephen King also has a ritual to his writing. Each morning, when he wakes up, he brews a cup of tea and takes a vitamin. Promptly starting between 8AM and 8:30AM, King sits in the same chair behind the same desk with all his papers arranged exactly the way he wants.

Once again, he credits his prolific writing with this ritual. As he has said, when he sits down at that desk, his mind knows it’s time to write.

I’ve had similar results. I used to write at various times and places with decent output. However, when I created a workspace and set a time-frame dedicated specifically to writing, my word count steadily increased.

Daily rituals are consistently found among a lot of highly accomplished people. If you want to read more about them go to this list of 25 famous thinkers and their inspiring daily rituals.

Find the Intrinsic Value of the Task

Turning the boring task into a ritual is only the first step. Rituals will make you consistent, but if you want to become passionate about the boring task, you need to do more.

There has to be something about the task that gets you excited. You have to find something that keeps you going and wanting to do more.

Passion will come when you find intrinsic value in the boring task you’re doing.

For example, when I was studying French, I memorized a lot of vocabulary words using flash cards. It’s hard to become passionate about rote memorization of vocabulary words, but it happened to me. In the end, it was one of my greatest joys.

Each day I would go through an old set of words and try to recall the translation. Each time I successfully recalled a word felt great. The more I recalled, the more I felt like I was building something.

Later, when I tested my translation skills with a French movie or TV show, I would pay close attention to any vocabulary words I had memorized. If I heard one and understood it, I felt the hard hard work was paying off.

That’s really the secret to being passionate about boring tasks. You have to feel like it’s building up to something or paying off in the end. You have to find purpose in them.

As I studied French, I could tell I was understanding more and more. Memorization wasn’t for nothing; I was building up the French language more than I could have hoped and that was exciting.

It’s the same for writing a book. I do a little here and there every day. It’s exciting to see the words coming together as the book forms.

People only dread boring tasks when they don’t see any reason or purpose to them. If you can see your daily tasks building up to something, it’s a lot easier to get passionate about them.
photo credit: Emily’s Mind

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Comments

  1. Great stuff. Growth really is its own reward, the challenge is being able to persevere with a task long enough to experience the benefits of it. Learning to feel motivated toward boring tasks is one of the most valuable things we can do. This post provides a great outline of how to do just that and reap the fruits.

    • Perseverance is key. If you only do the boring task a few times, you won’t see the benefits to it.

      That’s a big problem with boring tasks. People don’t want to start them because they don’t see what they can get out of it. But in order to get something out of them, you have to keep doing them. It’s a catch-22. You have to keep going if you want to see results.

  2. So true! Sometimes it’s a matter of buckling down and doing the work, no matter how dull it is.

    An alternative to the flashcards is using an app called Memrise. Similar concept, more fun to use!

    • It’s all about the work you can get done. It will all pay off in the end if you just keep going.

      Thanks for the recommendation; I’ll check it out.

  3. Steve, intriguing article. I suppose those that are able to get passionate about even the boring routine are the ones that break through and eventually become great. The trick I guess is not giving up too soon and sticking at it until it becomes a joy.

    • Just like that violinist who practiced the same scales everyday, people that are good at something keep doing the same boring tasks. If you can find the value in them, they can be very enjoyable. When I was studying vocabulary, I was surprised by how much I like it. Most people I know hate it. It’s all about perception and how you treat the task.

  4. Hi Steve,

    I’ve got an interesting question and would love a response if you have a few spare minutes!

    Basically I was watching watching the first minute and a half of a video by this youtuber called Elliott Hulse’s; “Alone With No Identity” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRRxqH-60Xc&list=UULrI-dOLyDbRnPyUeWadsOg) and it got me thinking about my identity, about what the world is reflecting back to me, and what identity I should aim for. It also got me thinking about rituals, especially the part where Elliott talks about him and his friends going back to his house after school and him showing them how to work out.

    It also really made me think of your recent post on your blog, especially what you wrote about rituals and small habits that really made me think about how I’m spending my time, my little habits, goals and rituals. Specifically my question is what identity should I aim for? Currently I consider my identity to be learning, playing video games, volunteering, and WWE. But what should I be spending my time doing? Should I change this? What should my goal be?

    Thanks Steve!

    P.S Not only would I like to hear your ideas Steve, but what I’d be really interested in is any big ideas by people like Ralph Walso Emerson, Osho, Paulo Coelho or famous wirters or from any books or works from motivational speakers, to scientists, to ancient philosophers! Basically anyone/thing worth taking a look at! Can’t wait to see what you think!

    • Oliver, no one can told you what you should aim for. You are unique. It must come from your heart and soul. Victor Frankl said that the meaning of our existence is not invented by ourselves, but rather detected. And you are the obvious person to detect your identity, your purpose. Every other person is an order of magnitude poorer regarding the knowledge about you – your philosophy, values and experiences.
      Do some soul searching and then pursue what you will find.

      • Another reason for me to read Victor Frankl. I haven’t had a chance to read Man’s Search for Meaning yet. That’s an interesting point about our existence being detected rather than invented. I’ve never looked at it that way.

        As cliched as it is (and as much as I hate saying phrases like this), but it does take some soul searching. “Know thyself” as the delphic maxim goes.

        • It’s a great book. Especially interesting to read his horrid descriptions of what it was like in the concentration camps.

          Also, thanks for the link to those 25 thinkers. It was interesting to learn.

          • Yeah, it’s a great link, isn’t it? Some of those rituals get really weird. But if it works then I can’t really blame them to keep doing it.

    • I don’t know if I’m qualified enough to tell you what identity you should aim for. In fact, I’m not sure anyone is qualified enough for that task. What I think you should be doing or what I do doesn’t necessarily mean that you should do it.

      I watched the video and I think his conclusion about identity as a product of the mirror the world provides for us seems a little off. I’m always a little skeptical about things when it seems so simple. When I looked up identity online, I found pages of descriptions and it’s not always easy to tie where it comes from or even what it is.

      I wish there were easy answers to what your goals should be. If we could figure that out, we’d solve some of the world’s oldest questions.

      It would be a good idea to include more from famous authors. I could certainly do that, there is a wealth of information from them that’s worth sharing. I do sometimes include quotes from them, but I’ll see if I can get more from them in somehow.

  5. I have to agree. I was in band throughout high school and college and as a warm up, we started with the basics first. We did this for twenty to thirty minutes a day. As much as this was boring and tedious, it became part of the ritual and every player knew what was expected. All of that practice paid off eventually when it came down to show time. I think once rituals are started and become second nature, even the most boring things can be great accomplishments. The hardest part is mastering the ritual and making it a habit.

    • It’s so easy when they become second nature. That actually makes me wonder if boring tasks become easier if they’re reflexive. Can we do them more easily if they’re automatic. By that, I mean we do them without having to think about doing them. That would make sense. I can think of a few things I do like that so maybe there’s something to it.

  6. When I was studying French, I, too, had thousands of flash cards. As I got to where I solidly knew a word, I would add it to the “know it” stack. On days when I simply couldn’t face the cards any more, I would grab the stack of known words. This served two purposes: 1) it was motivating to see how far I’d come (and remember back to when I was struggling to learn those words) and 2) it let me double check that all those words were still in my memory.

    • I kind of had a similar system! I didn’t really have a pile of flashcards, but I did keep track of them based on how well I knew them. Sometimes I would go back to see if I still remembered them and I was always impressed by how far I’d come.

  7. You’re right Steve. The task must be connected to the purpose, value, philosophy, something greater than writing 1000 words or doing the basic scales.
    To make a discipline more exciting track it. Crossing it off in the calendar, building the streak give your brain an irrational sense of accomplishment, a surge of dopamine it is so hungry for.
    I also use the element of challenge, to make a boring task exciting. I do pushups and pullups everyday and each time I try to do more of them than yesterday. (That way I stuck with doing pushups for more than 5 years).
    And journaling, reflecting back of what you’ve accomplished so far is irreplaceable in getting excited about mundane tasks. It just blows my mind that I do 300% more chinups than 3.5 years ago or that I sold fourteen hundread books in the last 90 days.

    • Tracking is good too. I forgot to mention it, but I do track all my writing. Each day I count up all my words and write the number down in an app I have on my phone. It helps to see just how much I’ve done and compare it to previous dates.

  8. Sweet post man! This got me thinking about how I can actually become more passionate about the routine stuff I “have” to do like doing the dishes, meditation, working out, cooking, cleaning,…

    I guess we just need to see the contrast between where we’ve come from and where we are now. Focus on what these routine actions will provide for you in the long-term and what they have given you already. Going to do a reflection like that right when I finish my breakfast here ;)

    Take care Steve!

    • Seeing progress is important. If you don’t think you’re getting anywhere, you’ll only feel frustrated and give up. But if you can see it building up into something – especially something big and exciting – you’ll start to feel passionate about doing boring tasks.

  9. I like the idea of rituals. Sometimes I think it’s the only way I can incorporate something new into my life. It’s also a good way to get used to getting straight to it.

    I had no clue so many people used them to be productive. I thought myself it made things boring and routine but still got them done, which is necessary.

    ~Lea

    • I see it as a good tool for getting tasks done. Incorporating a boring task into your day isn’t the easiest thing to do. But if you can make it a natural part of your day and something you start without having to think about it, you’re more likely to pick it up.

  10. I love this – all so true. There is great power in ritual on so many levels. I had to laugh a bit as I read this. My Mom always said (still does) “only boring people can be bored.” This is generally said to a child who has recently complained of being “bored.” Sounds harsh, perhaps, but think about it. It’s pretty true, really. Just like you said, if we can see purpose in those mundane tasks, they take on new meaning, new import. Perspective and attitude are game-changers. I just read a quote from Hemmingway over on Micah’s blog about how it’s great to have an end to a journey in mind, but that it’s the journey itself that really matters. That’s true of anything, I think. We have to see those boring tasks as steps along that journey.

    • That’s what I’ve always done to see the importance of boring tasks – see an end to the journey, but at the same time, enjoy the journey. It’s not always an easy mindframe to get into, but if you can get into it, it’s powerful. It can keep you going long past the point you would have normally quit.

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