How to Trick Yourself into Doing Tasks You Dread

But most of us need a little extra motivation, especially for boring work like recording billable hours, uncomfortable tasks like facing awkward conversations with dissatisfied clients, or major projects like writing a complex case study. Setting up a compelling reward system can help you power through your to-dos, says HBR.

Here are four types of rewards to consider:


By rewarding yourself in a way that recharges your body and brain, you’ll give yourself more energy to tackle your next task or project. Use these brief rewards midmorning, midafternoon, or midproject to help maintain your momentum.

Examples of regenerative rewards include:

  • Using your lunch hour to treat yourself to a yoga class, run, or walk
  • Doing 5 to 10 minutes of stretches in your office, guided by a video on your computer or iPad
  • Talking with a good friend for 5 or 10 minutes
  • Treating yourself to a second cup of coffee or a snack after an hour of focused work


Often—hopefully—work is rewarding in and of itself: meeting with colleagues you respect and enjoy or crafting a PowerPoint deck that incorporates humor or favorite photographs. Use these aspects of your job as rewards for completing something more difficult or tedious.

Other examples of productive rewards include:

  • Reading a popular business book or article
  • Taking a working meeting to a good restaurant
  • Installing or tweaking a piece of software you’ve been eager to use
  • Reading/posting an article you think your colleagues/clients would enjoy to Twitter or LinkedIn
  • Cleaning your desk


Some tasks are so odious or boring that even the prospect of a pint of ice cream can’t help you face them. These tasks call for a concurrent reward: something you do while working so that you can bear to plow through your in-box backlog or complete your quarterly budget report.

This type of reward works especially well for tasks that are time-consuming but not concentration-intensive. You can make even difficult tasks that require your full concentration more pleasant in the right setting.

Some concurrent rewards include:

  • Setting up camp in a Wi-Fi-enabled restaurant so you can eat while you work
  • Making a work date with a friend so you can chat while you purge your e-mail in-boxes
  • Storing up mindless tasks to complete while watching your favorite TV show at home
  • Downloading some new music to listen to while you purge your files
  • Making arrangements to work from home for the day


Establish a special-purpose account to pay into every time you complete an especially challenging or large project. Set different values depending on the size and unpleasantness of the task.

Examples include:

  • An iTunes account
  • A replenishable gift card to your favorite coffee shop or store
  • A PayPal account you can refill with quick micro payments to treat yourself to some online shopping
  • A discretionary savings account that you use to fund something significant like tickets to a sports or arts event

You’ll know your reward system is working when your to-do list no longer includes tasks you’ve been avoiding for weeks, or when you find yourself racing to complete your least-favorite work so that you can get to that delicious brownie, fantastic concert, or backlog of Mad Men episodes.

Image: At work via Shutterstock