No matter how wild, beautiful and free your creative work is, there are some things you need to do so your business could thrive that are just booooriiiiiiing.
Maybe you postpone things that are essential to keeping your life and work running smoothly because you’re either intimidated by these tasks, or the very thought of doing them is exhausting.
The idea I want to share with your today is that anything can be done in a way that’s more aligned with our nature, and ultimately, more fun and pleasant.
I wrote some ideas for how you can approach your boring, tedious and fear-inducing tasks to make them slightly less terrifying and dull.
The list is rather long, but don’t let that deter you – just pick one or two ideas that appeal to you. We’re all different, and not all the ways I suggest will work for you. Some of them aren’t my cup of tea, but I’ve listed them anyway because someone else might love them.
1. Rename the activity
This is a great trick I learned from Havi Brooks – she calls it unpacking the metaphor, and has a bunch of examples on her blog how she used it. It sounds too simple to work and I had doubts about it, but in the end I decided to try it anyway, and it really did help.
Words have a powerful effect on us. Each word comes with a lot of “baggage”, either cultural or personal. If you feel that a certain word has a negative “vibe” to you, maybe it’s the word itself that’s the problem – not the activity.
Here’s an example: I have a love-hate relationship with planning, and I absolutely loathe the word to-do. In the post The real reason you suck at planning, I share how I no longer keep a planner but an intention journal, and instead of setting “goals” and “to-dos”, I set daily, weekly, monthly and yearly intentions. The result: I stick to my intentions more than I ever did to any of my goals, and the daily check-in process is something that fills me with excitement, not dread.
If some part of your process is giving you so much grief, try giving it a different name, and see how that changes your relationship with it.
2. Use beautiful containers
Containers can take different forms: notebooks, folders, binders, boxes, furniture, as well as digital containers like your project management tool.
This can be functional like color-coding, and it can just serve an aesthetic purpose.
One of the reasons I love Trello so much is that it’s very visual – not only are projects (or “boards”) organized into “lists” and “cards” you can easily move around, and you can add color-coded tags, but you can also change the project board background and add images to each card (task).
Here are two big binders I use for my own business:
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” contains all my business documents and receipts. It reminds me how this freelance business of mine is an adventure, and I’m kind of like Bilbo, trying to find my way in a world filled with big men and scary monsters, discovering my courage in the process.
The other one contains all my paper sketches (because I start all my work on paper) and final printed designs of my client projects. It features lovely red cups, teapots, ornaments, roses and dots – all the things I love.
Do not underestimate the power of beautiful stationery, especially if you’re a visual artist.
3. Use tools you enjoy
Instead of spreadsheets and word documents, use paper, colored pens, paint, glitter, stickers, rubber stamps, collage, or whatever you happen to like.
Obviously, this won’t work if you’re required to send these files to your accountant or tax office, but it can work for just about anything that you do for your own record.
Your client or collector list can be in a big binder, and each client can have a sheet of paper with contact info where you glue little photos of work they’ve bought from you, or list the dates of sessions you’ve had. Your yearly plan (or not-a-plan) can be a large sheet of paper hanging on your wall. You can track your goals on colorful progress bars, similar to those children’s height meters.
A great example of this is Jennifer Lee’s The Right Brain Business Plan, which uses creative visual techniques to make a business plan that is actually useful, not just pretty looking.
My own intention journal is not a lined paper planner, but a sketchbook where I use watercolor, colored pencils and brush pens to embellish my not-plans.
4. Add visuals
Anything can be better with the addition of pretty visuals.
If you’re tracking your income and expenses in a spreadsheet, make a graph so you can see at a glance how they change throughout the year, or add a pie chart of different revenue streams to see which ones bring in the most cash.
I like creating Venn diagrams and mind maps to get better insight into things, and drawing flowcharts to visualize and optimize processes.
5. Change your environment
This one has a double meaning:
- You can change your existing environment by adding things (or clearing it) to make it more appealing as a workspace.
- You can go do your thing somewhere else.
The first one often happens naturally for some of us, because when we’re faced with a task we really don’t want to do, we find all sorts of other things to do instead, like cleaning our desk, our room or the entire apartment. This is not just procrastination – I see it as setting up the stage for the activity. If the mess and clutter prevent you from focusing, of course you should be cleaning it up before attempting to do something that requires focus.
After you’re done with cleaning, stop and think what would make the space more pleasant: some music, a candle, an incense stick, an inspirational poster on a wall..? Ask yourself what your space needs to support your intention of completing this task, and do it.
If the task doesn’t require you to be in your own home or office, take it on the road! Do it in the park, a library, a coffee shop, or the beach. As long as the environment isn’t ruining your focus, anywhere is fine. I got some of my best ideas during long bus rides.
6. Turn it into a game
Games are fun by their very nature, and the movie “La vita è bella” showed us that anything can be turned into a game, even tragic circumstances like surviving the Holocaust.
You just need to make up the rules and the victory condition. The Wikipedia article on Game mechanics is a great reference to get ideas.
Here are some examples:
- Measure the time it takes you to file all receipts, and try to beat your personal record.
- Every time you type number 7, sing a melody. Every time you type number 9, take a sip of tea.
- Draw a board game with all the steps in the process, and move the token along the fields as you go through the steps, until you reach the end.
Please, just be careful not to turn the game into another should. If you’re not a competitive person, then don’t turn it into a competitive sport.
7. Daydream about the result
We usually daydream about two types of experiences: something pleasant we really want to happen, or something terrible that we worry about. Daydreaming is also where a lot (if not all) of our creative ideas begin.
Research has shown that at the very beginning of a project, motivation can come from being in touch with the goal that we want to achieve. Visualizing ourselves as having already reached the goal makes us more likely to take the first step toward it. (However, thinking about the end goal during the project is counter-productive.)
As you’re visualizing having done that scary, difficult thing you’re avoiding, pay attention to how you feel in that moment, and also look back to how you’ve achieved it. Ask your future self who has already done this thing if she has any words of advice.
You can also think about the possible difficulties you might run into and how you might deal with them, before you even lift a finger in real life.
8. Set constraints
Putting constraints on our projects can actually increase our creativity – that’s because we focus much better when we have a limited “canvas” to work on (whether it’s an actual canvas, a time limit, a word limit, or a small color palette).
If the volume of the work you need to do overwhelms you, put some kind of artificial limit on it. Some ideas:
- Do the admin stuff only on a certain day of the week, and give it a clever name like Task-busting Tuesdays.
- Do the boring thing for 30 minutes, and when the time is up, you’re done for the day!
- Only process things that start with odd numbers (and tomorrow do the even numbers).
- Only answer e-mails from people whose name contains the letter A.
- Only answer e-mails that came in yesterday.
These constraints will reduce the amount of work you need to do now, and by alternating constraints you’ll eventually get to the bottom of your pile.
9. Play pretend
This is an extension of number 1, where you go down the whole metaphor rabbit hole and entirely change your identity and the context of the project.
If you have to file a yearly tax return, you can imagine you’re James (or Jane) Bond that just returned from a secret mission, and you have to write a report for M. They never show that in the movies, do they? Well, I’m sure there’s a secret agent somewhere in the world right now, writing their report. Every job comes with its share of boring.
You can be anyone. Batman. Dana Scully. Jean Luc Picard. Nikita.
And no one will ever know.
10. Wear a costume
It doesn’t have to be that kind of costume. It can be a piece of jewelry, a hat, a scarf, or anything else you want to use to make the dreadful thing appear more cheerful.
Give this item a name that will remind you of its superpower boosting properties, like “The Ring of Fast Filing”, “The Success Scarf”, or “Brilliant Bookkeeping Bracelet”. (I’m terrible at this naming thing, I’m sure you can do better.)
11. Borrow and adapt
I realized as I was writing this list that a few of the items were things I’ve heard about from other people. At first I was reluctant to include them and wanted to write more of my original ideas, but then I realized – why the hell not use other people’s ideas, if they’re good?
If you see someone’s process and you love it so much you want to try it yourself, do it. When you do, you don’t have to follow it to the letter. They designed it to work for them, and you can tweak it to work for you.
The danger in “stealing people’s ideas” is not so much in the taking of another person’s creation, it’s in robbing yourself of the opportunity to do something that could be even better. As my favorite famous person once said,
“I’m not sorry they stole my ideas, I’m sorry they didn’t have their own.”
Take the idea, but make sure you adapt it to your needs. If any of the things on this list sounds like it’s worth a shot, but not really what you need, improve it.
12. Collaborate with others
If you have a friend who also has trouble taking care of tedious stuff, brainstorm how you can join forces. Maybe you can swap your piles of paper and you do their filing, while they do yours. Or have a Skype video call and chat while each of you does her own thing. Make a pact to go eat cake together once you’ve completed your task, or if it’s a really big one, celebrate with a spa.
Cleaning is one of those activities that (almost) everybody hates doing, but somehow when we’re doing it in the company of others, people start fooling around, getting into lightsaber fights with broomsticks, slide on the wet floor, and do all sorts of hilarious things that just wouldn’t make sense when we’re alone. (Well, at least that was my experience while I ran a sci-fi convention.)
Maybe after you digitize all your printed receipts, you sit down and make origami decorations together. Or shoot paper planes at each other, whatever your game is (see number 6.)
13. Pair different activities
Often great innovations come from pairing two drastically different concepts. Is there a way you can pair the dull activity you have to do, with something more fun that you like to do?
If it’s something physical that doesn’t require your focus, you can do it as you’re listening to a podcast. Or if it’s something stationary that requires you to focus for a while, you can take short breaks (Pomodoro style) to do dance routines or yoga poses. For every successfully completed task on your project, fill up one sketchbook page with doodles.
Just be careful to set a timer on the activities, so you don’t lose yourself in the creative la-la land and ditch your task altogether.
14. Make it non-linear
Who said that things have to be done in an order?
You’ve probably experienced yourself how a creative process can take twists and turns and bring you down a path you had no idea was even available.
Maybe you can start from the end. Or the middle. Or, if that first item on your list is the scariest one, start from the second one.
This may not work for every type of project, but try to stretch your imagination a bit anyway – if there was a way to do this backwards, or through a spiral loop, what would it look like? Try it out!
15. Challenge yourself to think of more ways
You’re a creative person, so figuring out innovative solutions to problems should be a piece of cake for you. Right now you may only be using your superpowers in certain areas of your life, but you could be using them for everything. Yes, everything.
You already know how to do this – you just need to remember to apply it to other things.
When I began writing this list, I only had 4 ideas to start with, but I set a goal to think of at least 12. I put my creative brain cells to work and surpassed that goal.
Now I’d like you to do the same – think of one more idea I haven’t mentioned and write it in the comments.
Together, we could think of 20, 30, 100 ways and share them with others, so that everyone benefits.
About Nela Dunato
Artist, brand designer, teacher, and writer. Author of the book “The Human Centered Brand”. Owner of a boutique branding & design consultancy that helps experienced service-based businesses impress their dream clients.
On this blog I write about art, design, creativity, business, productivity and marketing, and share my creative process and tips. Read more about me...
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