Meaningless work

I’ve problems focusing or even wanting to focus when I’ve lost interest and see no meaning!

In an ideal world, we’d all be able to pursue our interests and do whatever we think is meaningful and fun and joyous. I still yearn for such a life, if it’s ever possible. And I’d like to believe that I’m working towards it.

But no matter what, it seems like we’re going to have to deal with situations where we have to focus on things where we’ve lost interest. And I can write some practical tips here, so let me just get those out of the way real quick…

  1. Remind yourself about what’s at stake. Sometimes you just gotta roll up your sleeves and do something tedious or disgusting or pointless that you don’t agree with. I’m reminded of this blogpost by a guy whose wife divorced him because he left the dishes by the sink. The point he made was – it wasn’t important to him to put away the dishes, he thought it was fine. But it mattered to his wife. And on retrospect, if he had focused on the fact that it wasn’t about the dishes, but about making his wife feel loved, he might’ve saved his marriage. I try to do this at work sometimes, when I have some shitty tasks that aren’t interesting or cool. I remind myself that I’m doing it for my colleagues (I happen to really like my colleagues; more so than I like my work). There must be something at stake. If there’s nothing at stake, why are you doing it?
  2. Challenge yourself to find something interesting about the situation. Have you ever seen those videos on YouTube of service workers doing all sorts of cool things when serving drinks and so on? Their jobs aren’t all that meaningful, but they’ve found a way to entertain themselves. And sometimes that entertains other people, too. Look at #SaltBae. Of course, in SaltBae’s case, he’s doing what he obviously loves. But sometimes this can work backwards, too. Do something with love, and you kind of learn to semi-enjoy the experience.
  3. Break it down into littler chunks. This is just a sort of practical project management tip that works for effectively everything. It’s the “journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” idea, and the cliché only exists because it’s true. Once you’ve reminded yourself of your Why, of why you’re putting up with some stupid bullshit, you should probably then break down the tasks in front of you into little sub-steps. And then derive a sense of flow from moving through them. There is a real satisfaction to crossing off things in a to-do list. (But you don’t want to have a massive, endless to-do list of things that you’re not going to be able to do… that’s another story.)

Alright? Done with the practical advice? Now some real talk. It’s very clear that different people have different degrees of tolerance for this sort of thing. Some people can grind away for years – I’m reminded of this story of this lovely old lady who worked at McDonalds for 44 years. She legitimately seems to love her job and find pleasure in it. I would be driven mad. But props to her – she’s found something that many of us will never find. Fulfillment. Contentment.

I don’t think the problem of “I can’t focus on this meaningless task” is something to be solved with a bunch of clever tips and workarounds. I think it’s a symptom of a much deeper thing. It’s a sign that you need to think much larger about your life. Maybe you’re trapped right now working some dead-end job trying to support a spouse and kid(s).

But the fact that you’re saying that you find it meaningless suggests to me that you have some notion of what meaningful looks like. I’d invite you to articulate that precisely, for yourself, in private. Describe to yourself what a glorious, meaningful life looks like. And then plot a course for yourself from where you are to where you’re going to be.

Your friends may call you fussy, but all the beautiful things in the world were made by fussy people. I hope you’ll find a way to do the same yourself.

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