Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Tough jobs (by Apurva)

My son, Arjun, is twelve. Although he is a wonderful and loveable boy some teenage behavior is slowly and surely starting to become evident.

This morning I asked him to take the clothes out of the dryer and fold them. Much to my surprise he started crying – large teardrops rolling down his cheek. I didn’t make the request in a loud voice or harsh tone, it was just matter of fact and yet his reaction really took me by surprise. I asked Arjun why he had such a strong reaction to my request and he responded that he “hated” doing “laundry”. I tried to probe further and asked him why. “I hate it! I just do!” I knew better than to keep pushing him on this and so we swapped assignments. He emptied the dishwasher instead.

I couldn’t quite get our conversation out of my head and later that morning I started thinking about why we all have jobs or tasks that we really don’t want to do or to put it more forcefully, downright hate. I came up with three main reasons:

-       Mindless activities that just give us no satisfaction

-       Tasks that are really hard

-       Jobs that are overwhelming or endless

I feel that each of these tasks pose a different hurdle and can be overcome in different ways.

Mindless activities are things like laundry or dishes that don’t stimulate our mind and as a result provide very little mental satisfaction. I find that the best way to get through these tasks is to pair them with another activity that is fun and engaging. For example, watching TV while folding the clothes or listening to music while emptying the dishwasher. Even if it’s not possible to engage the other sense we can always let our mind work for example when we are stuck in traffic.

I am not very handy and so jobs around the house like leaking faucets or broken doors always push up my blood pressure. We all have our buttons – dealing with computers, doing accounts, working out. Surprisingly for every challenging job we hate, there is someone else out there who actually loves it. So difficult jobs are really those that don’t match our innate abilities and interests. I find that the best way to get through these assignments is to get them out of the way first and reward myself when I am done. For example, why not reward yourself to a movie or an ice cream next time you have to snake a toilet? Another option would be to trade tasks with others. For example, I would happily take care of your computer problems if you are willing to paint my shed.

Some jobs just feel overwhelming or endless. The best way to deal with these is to break them down into smaller, more manageable chunks. Look for the small victories rather than trying to get the whole thing done. Having enough breaks in between is really important since the longer you persist at the task beyond your comfort zone the more tired and frustrated you get and the more likely you are to resist that task in the future. Another solution is to share the burden so rather than doing the job all by yourself split the work up among multiple people. Even the very act of doing the task with others makes it more palatable. Our younger son, Amaey, has been in the hospital for almost two months and we don’t even know exactly when he will be discharged. If my wife, Purvi, or I tried to take this on all by our selves it would be far too overwhelming. Instead we split the task up by alternating who sleeps at the hospital. Also, we have tried really hard to compartmentalize so that if we are at the hospital we are fully devoted to Amaey’s care, however, when we are away we try our best to get on with the rest of our lives. When Arjun or other friends come by, it also gives us an opportunity to take a quick break, maybe go for a walk.

Later that afternoon, Arjun and I once again talked about this whole idea of unsavory jobs. After I outlined what I have written above, he not only listened but actually said “Thank you!” He did have a very insightful question. “Some times I just don’t want to do a job at a certain time or feel rushed.” This is another universal problem. I think the whole time aspect is closely linked to planning and is distinct from whether we like or don’t like a task. I will be sure to share my thoughts with Arjun and you once I have had a chance to think about that some more.

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