This week we’re looking at ways to break up the monotony of our everyday routines, reframe our thinking, and develop new ways of making each day something we look forward to.
Re-engaging our minds and looking at our routines differently can help us get past monotony and improve our productivity
As I was making the bed the other morning I started thinking about the fact that I do it every day, exactly the same way. That led me to thoughts about how much of my day consists of repetitive tasks that I do every day. We often talk about the importance of habits and routines and how they can help us be more efficient and effective–and therefore more productive.
But that morning I started thinking about the downside of habits and routines, something I seldom see talked about in the productivity content I read and listen to: how they can easily slide over into monotony.
What is monotony
Noun; lack of variety and interest; tedious repetition and routine.
One article I read talked about work monotony this way:
“Work monotony refers to performing the same tasks physically or mentally over and over again that become boring, laborious, and less interesting. A monotonous work will have a similar pattern every day, and a person may perform it repetitively without even thinking about how they are performing it.”
This obviously can be true about any aspect of our life, from paid work to work at home to child-rearing to exercise to hobbies to relationships. Every aspect of our life, no matter how much we love it, has those mundane, repetitive elements that have to be tended to.
What is our psychological response to monotony
Monotony can result in lethargy and a lack of motivation or energy. As one article in Psychology Today puts it, “our minds are wired to respond to monotony by inducing a state of ennui; that utter weariness and feeling of ‘why does it matter?’ . . . [M]onotony-triggered tedium is tough. Boredom leads to a loss of concentration, inhibited responsiveness to both internal and external stimuli, lack of productivity and inability to fully enjoy life. Chronic boredom can dull your mind. It presents a greater risk for weight gain, overconsumption of alcohol and even mild depression.”
The article goes on to refer to a study published in the BMC Neuroscience journal that
“inquired into a relationship between monotony and emotional maladaptation. Its findings suggest that monotony does, in fact, adversely affect mood changes, and that disrupting a monotonous environment – through the introduction of novel objects – can help prevent the development of depression-like traits.”
How can it affect our productivity?
Our productivity is directly affected by our state of mind and our mental well-being. If monotony leads to boredom, stress, and anxiety, it will affect our performance. Even for those of us who prefer predictability, over time monotony and the resulting boredom can reduce our motivation, making it harder to get ourselves to do whatever it is that’s simply lost its appeal to us.
How can we address monotony and stay productive?
We can’t eliminate it. Every part of life, every job, every relationship has its elements or seasons that can feel rote, like you’re going through the motions.
I started brainstorming ways to overcome the monotony, or minimize it, so that we can stay productive. Here are some ideas that might help:
I’m not sure whether it’s the cause or the result, but when something is monotonous we tend to go through the motions without thought, acting automatically without really noticing or thinking about what we’re doing. Mindfulness can help. By simply being present with what we’re doing–being there, in the moment, noticing what we’re doing–the physical sensations, the results of our actions, etc., we engage our minds and our senses.
Also, it helps to remind ourselves of why we’re doing what we’re doing. Monotony results from a lack of meaning and purpose. If we consciously think about the reason and purpose of whatever it is we’re doing, we become re-engaged.
Experiment with those routines
Try to find ways to improve your process. Streamline the routine by using fewer tools and fewer steps. Try reorganizing your approach and try doing that same thing a different way.
By re-engaging with what we’re doing instead of just going through the motions, we help dispel the boredom.
Gamify your routine
Set timers and race against yourself. How quickly can you get it done if you really stay present and focused on what you’re doing?
Recruit a partner; you do your thing and she does hers for an agreed period of time, then reward yourselves with something fun together, maybe coffee or lunch? This could be a great approach if it’s your workout that’s gotten monotonous.
Change things up
The Psychology Today article I mentioned earlier talks about scientific backup for the value of making changes when monotony is getting you down:
“The beauty of ‘novel objects’ lies in their ability to shake us up a bit. They rouse the brain, consequently elevating the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, a mood balance–regulating chemical compound, in the blood. Plainly speaking, monotony – and consequently boredom – can be negated by a challenge, substantial change or fresh undertaking; something stimulating that will bring about a sense of purpose and fulfillment.”
If your day or week as a whole is feeling monotonous, change the routine. If you normally work out in the morning, change it to after lunch. Revamp your routines – drop one long-time morning habit and add a new one.
Maybe try changing your environment. Something as simple as rearranging furniture or reorganizing your desk can help. Or take your work somewhere else–outside, to the library, or to a conference room. Play music while you work–something that energizes you.
“Whether it’s taking one afternoon a week to work from a coffee shop or simply taking your computer to the dining room or patio for an hour a day, changing up your environment can change your outlook and help you see things in a whole new light, leading to sharper focus and higher productivity.” [from 10 tips for breaking up the monotony of working from home]
Try new tools
Try a new app, new workout gear, or a new notebook-anything to break up the monotony. Sometimes getting a new tool or item can spark new interest in what you’re doing and make it exciting again.
Learn a new technique
Ask a mentor or co-worker for suggestions or research it on YouTube.
If you’re losing interest in your daily treadmill routine, try a spin class.
If you’re tired of the repetitive daily-ness of getting dinner on the table, research some new recipes or a type of cuisine you’ve never cooked before.
The Psychology Today article suggests other simple ideas. For example, they say, get outside–they mention this as being beneficial in a couple of ways–just getting the fresh air and sunshine can help; but specifically with respect to exercise: if your workout has become rote and monotonous and you’re struggling to motivate yourself to actually do it, take it outside:
“Regular exercise is most beneficial for your physical and emotional health, as it packs a double wallop of serotonin and endorphins. However, repetitive exercise is often monotonous. Swap your treadmill or elliptical for a park trail and let nature work its wonders on you.”
The article also suggested changing your look (a new hairstyle or a new shirt) – something “new and markedly different”.
Manage your mind
Those everyday tasks we all have to do, whether at home or at work, can be seen either as a burden or a privilege, a negative or a positive. It depends on how we choose to think about them. When we start to view one or more of them as a monotonous obligation, we can remind ourselves to think again:
- Piles of laundry mean I and my family have clothes to wear and machines to wash and dry them.
- Beds to make mean we have somewhere safe and comfortable to rest at night.
- Reports to write or papers to file mean we have a job to support ourselves with.
- Daily grooming means we’re conscious and able to take care of our bodies.
- That daily sweat session means you’re able to move your body
- The boring commute (even if it’s just down the hall to your home office) means you have a job to go to that helps you provide for yourself and your family.
- A “boring” monotonous life means you have no major crisis going on in your life right now!
No matter how much we love our lives, sometimes the sheer day-to-day repetition can get to us. When we notice that happening, when our routines and habits that help us be productive slide over the line of monotony, we can take steps to address it. We can re-engage our minds, our senses, and our emotions to be more productive instead of suffering the ill effects of monotony and boredom.
What do you think?
Resources and Links
- The stress of boredom and monotony: a consideration of the evidence – PubMed
- Too Many Dull Moments | Psychology Today
- Isolation and Monotony Stress the Brain. Here’s How to Cope | HowStuffWorks
- What Is Monotony at Work? 5 Tech Tips to Overcome It
- 9 Ways To Fight Monotony At Work – Hppy
- How to break up the monotony of work when every day feels the same | Karbon resources
- 12 Ways To Beat Monotony And Stay Creative While Working Remotely
- 10-tricks-for-breaking-up-the-monotony-of-working-from-home – Blog
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