Making a Game of Repetitive Work

Like anyone, there are times when I am saddled with a repetitive task. Whether it’s raking the lawn, stuffing envelopes, or painting the kitchen, it can be tough to make the time go by. But I  have learned to re-frame this boredom by making a game out of it. So have most of those who grew up before the digital age. “How many envelopes can be stuffed in five minutes? How many brushstrokes does it take to paint this section of the wall?” You get the idea.

With the advent of digital technology, we have a generation, however, that has failed to develop the skills and creativity to amuse themselves without relying on a source of external stimulation. Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with digital technology. But it has also become the vehicle for endless distractions. How many times a day do you check Facebook, watch a cute kitty video or check CNN for the latest political debacle?

There are still lots of tasks in life where constant smart phone checking slows productivity, distracts from the work at hand or is downright unsafe. One utility executive told me the number one safety issue for his organization is the young lineman who instinctively reaches for his phone when it rings, beeps or chirps. “That’ll get you killed if you’re close to live wires,” he said.

Recent research has shown clearly that many of those coming of age with a smart phone in their hands experience physical and emotional distress when deprived of its use for more than a few minutes at a time. While we may lament this impact, it has become a fact of life for millions. The issue becomes how to keep restless digital natives engaged when the task you’ve assigned is essential, but downright boring.

Here’s are a few simple suggestions:

1) Make it a game. Regardless of the task, there’s always a way to “gameify” it. How long will it take to . . .? What the least number of steps it will take to . . . ?

2) Turn the task into a competition. While working for a moving company in the 1970’s, I and a co-worker were assigned to tighten the bolts, lubricate the wheels and burn the company name into 1000 furniture dollies. We turned this three-day project into a competition. The loser bought lunch.

3) Distract them with a mental challenge. I’ve seen ski-lift operators yell out questions from Trivial Pursuit to those waiting in line, for instance. The first person to yell out the correct answer, gets to jump the line. How can you adapt this?

4) Argue with them. Yes, that’s what I said. I wouldn’t bring up politics and social issues. But TV shows, sports, and most every other topic is fair game and can make the time fly.

Once people get invested in a distraction, they’ll forget about checking Facebook, Pinterest, Snapchat, Twitter, and the Internet’s other digital memes. It just takes a little re-framing.

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