May 29, 2014

How Do You Make Chores Fun?

By Crabby McSlacker

It's not exactly a shocking confession: I am a foot-dragging, excuse-making, pathetic, whiny chore-hater.

So the title question "How Do You Make Chores Fun?" is not just a rhetorical question. I'd really like some advice!

And yeah, I have some tricks that I use that help a lot that I'll pass along, and I've gotten way less lazy and petulant than I used to be.  But I still dread most forms of manual or clerical labor and make a huge melodramatic production out of it when I'm forced to do any.

A brief search of the interwebs was not much help: I kept finding pretty much the same small handful of ideas I'd already "invented" myself.

So I'm hoping someone has some thoughts?

Why Are Chores So Hateful?

Given that I often seek out various forms of exercise, it doesn't really make sense that exercise that is actually productive should spark temper tantrums and endless piteous sighs and moans.

My suspicion: the problem isn't the work involved, it's the screwed-up brain contemplating the work that has the problem.

For example, consider the scenario where this Specially Engineered Functional Fitness Apparatus appeared one day at my gym.  But pretend it was a shiny pretty aqua color and you had to sign up to use it because it was so popular.

Let's further say it was accompanied by stacks and stacks of brightly colored rubber-coated weights, and to use it properly I was required to pile up as many weights as I could into it and maneuver the apparatus through an elaborate obstacle course as fast as I could and then put the weights into big bags and further move them to yet another location on the other side of the gym.  And let's further imagine that I knew the benchmark weight amounts and times for women my age, and that I hoped to blow that number away.

Same activities--different meanings. Because I'd totally sign up!

It's sort of like the interesting study Dr. J at Calorie Lab brought up recently: pre-schoolers who are told vegetables are good for them tend to hate vegetables even more as a result, because their immature brains can't conceive that something can be good for you and likeable at the same time.

Sigh.  I apparently have the brain of a truculent toddler when it comes to chores.  Thus most of the "Hate Chores Less" Tips that work for me involve changing how I think about them.

1.  Make it a Game

There are actually apps designed for this, like choremonster, though they seemed mostly aimed at kids and family task delegation.

But there is also an interesting article over at Annie Murphy Paul's site that talks about what makes an activity interesting (or not) to your brain, with implications for how to gamify tedious chores. Apparently, your brain likes a task that you are pretty darn good at, but not perfect.  It doesn't like to be overwhelmed, but it doesn't like things to be too routine and simple either.  So if you can tweak your chore to provide just the right amount of difficulty you can manipulate your interest level. Many chores involve some sort of speed/accuracy trade-off, so you may be able to play with this.

She suggests:
Start with the smallest, simplest piece that you can do and still get right 80 percent of the time. Keep practicing until you’re consistently getting close to 100 percent right and starting to feel a little bored. Then raise the bar. Add difficulty, complexity, speed.
So if you can fiddle with the way you approach the speed and complexity of the elements of your task, and then add an element of competition (either with yourself or some imaginary or real competitors), you can trick your brain into finding a different meaning in your activity.  You are not doing some necessary and annoying bit of drudgery, you are trying to WIN at a "game" and become ever more awesome in your mastery of your universe!

So yeah, see if you can break your chore into rounds and time yourself.

While simultaneously trying to minimize any errors inherent in the task.  (Note: don't be an idiot: if you are clambering up and teetering around on a shaky ladder cleaning the gutters of a 3 story building, "errors" due to excessive speed could be most unpleasant).

2.  Practice Mindfulness/Cognitive Reframing and Give Yourself Major Credit!

Often, the mental torture we endure when embarking on endless thankless chores is self-induced.  Few of these activities are physically painful, and if we were able to just "be" with them instead of fighting against them we wouldn't be nearly so miserable.

So again, the chores become a game, but the "game" this time becomes catching our screwed-up thoughts and taming them. This can be done by consciously reframing them, or by not engaging with them and returning our attention to our present physical sensations and anything that might be reasonably pleasant or redeeming about them.  (Colors, textures etc).   Bonus: "winning" at this particular game is one of the Ultimate Secrets of Lifelong Happiness, so it's worth playing whenever you can remember to.

For example, anyone but me ever have thoughts like:

"I've only just started and I have so much to do! I'll never be done with this!"
"I shouldn't have to do this at all, someone else should be doing it!"
"Why can other people do this quickly and easily when I'm so slow and crappy at it?"
"There are a hundred other things I should be getting done now, why am I so behind on everything?"

If you made a conscious, reasonable decision to do this task, then these thoughts are not your friends. Don't continue to hang out with them.  You can find better mental companions and get self-improvement "credit" at the same time!

3. Music Makes Any Sucky Task Much Better

Or educational podcasts or stand up comedy routines or erotic vampire/zombie fiction or whatever else might be mind-candy while your body is otherwise occupied.

4.  Break it Down and Switch it Around

Some people hate to start and stop things, and prefer to immerse themselves in a single task for hours at a time.

But others of us have shorter attention spans.  I find sometimes it helps to mix it up--think of it as a "circuit" chore-workout and move from station to station.  This is especially true when something is mentally challenging or odious.  It can help to switch from physical to mental tasks, depending on what sounds the least loathsome.

As I mentioned before, sometimes the Ten Minute Trick to Tackling Hideous Tasks can be quite useful, and can even make this...

...suddenly look like a refreshing break rather than a pain in the ass.

5. Reward Yourself!

Enough of this...

And it's time for...

...whatever anti-oxidant filled nutritious reward your body would appreciate.

[Oh, and btw, after a chore-filled week as we transition to our summer digs, I am now rewarding myself and tagging along with the Lobster on one of her business trips.

This may, unfortunately, mean more crappy camera-phone shots and yet more tedious tales involving health/fitness challenges on the road.  And I may eagerly read comments yet still be lame about how often I reply to them for a few more days.]

How do you guys approach chores? Any advice? 


  1. I totally use the carrot method. "If you finish such-and-such, you may have so-and-so". Works almost all the time, because my brain is so gullible! If I ever figure out that, as both the reward doler-outer AND the reward doler-outee, I could bypass the whole chore in the middle, I'm going to be scrambling for another method. At this point though, my brain still falls for it!

    1. That's awesome Emmaclaire that it works so well for you! My problem: WAITING for the reward until afterwards. A pre-reward treat kinda defeats the purpose of the whole reward notion, yet I've been known to cheat. :( Glad you are not so lame!

  2. I use the reward system. When I'm done I get to nap/read/have chocolate.
    It usually works. When it doesn't I tell myself I'll have a clean house/garden/whathaveyou and pretend it is reward enough.
    Mostly I just swear and get on with it.

  3. I hired a badass cleaning service.

  4. Most of the chores I hate involve things I'm allergic to. It's hard to convince yourself to pull weeds that you know will make it hard to breathe through your nose for hours afterwards. On the other hand, much as I hate vacuuming, I know it must get done if I'm not to feel worse, so by this time in my life it gets done on a regular schedule. I do break the house down into segments for that, but sometimes I do all the segments at once.
    I'm still trying to figure out why desk work has become such a burden just recently. I used to just do it, and now I'm finding myself putting it off over and over. Maybe if I can identify the reason for this avoidance I can discover a workaround.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  5. Death Ride GrandmaMay 29, 2014 at 12:32 PM

    The thing that drives me craziest is that I know that once the silly chore is done, I will 1) like the result and 2) wonder what on earth made me put it off 'cause it really wasn't so bad. And 3) knowing I will do the very same thing to myself again very soon. So I don't have any useful advice. So far, I either hire someone to do anything that really needs regular attention, or wait for enough urgency to make me do it (gotta do Quicken before we head out on a vacation when our spending pattern will be different; gotta fold those towels before guest arrives - in 10 more minutes). Oddly enough, I have come to like laundry and even dishes, probably because they are warm and I am often cold. Whatever. I am just glad they get done with no serious prompting required.

  6. I hate almost anything that involves what I consider actual "work". And I have difficulty trying to sugar coat or reframe activities I know that I just don't care for into something I might. So, instead, I go all the way INTO knowing it's gonna be a gruel / suffer-fest and put myself into a movie about it wherein I am the star (of course!) who faces some herculean task and does not have the option of bailing because the fate of humanity depends upon her successful execution of this task.

    Picture the sweating, dirty, dis-shelved heroine stoically (or not) gutting it out. The sweat almost sprays off her forehead and the dirt sticks to her now better toned arms. And the clock is ticking, so she needs to finish this task both well and quickly.

    This can work both for physical and non-physical endeavors. So - if I have to do paperwork type stuff - I summon up a scene from a movie where the protagonist is on some search for THE piece of information that will help prevent the world from exploding and in order to do this, she must painstakingly comb through myriads of data in complete isolation. If I'm organizing a drawer, I picture myself as the one person who can diffuse the bomb only by employment of her meticulousness and expert knowledge.

    So - uh, yeah... a little Walter Mitty here. But, hey - it can help when you have trouble convincing yourself to do that thing you know won't be pleasant.

    Then - reward yourself and bask in your well earned glory :).

  7. With yard work you can deliberately trap yourself into doing it by creating a horrible mess that you would be embarrassed for the neighbors to see. I always trim my hedges this way. I put some major trimmed back holes in the hedge and spend the rest of the time fixing the mess I made so everything is even.
    I do also hire people for the most unpleasant jobs.

  8. I'm all about making it a challenge!! When I iron table cloths (weekly, sometimes daily) at our venue, I try to do each one faster than the previous one. And, I iron one and then walk to the other end of the venue and back to break up the monotony!! (and I always have good music!!)
    I also reward myself with wine when I get home but I'm sort of thinking that I should start combining the reward and the work - I could drink wine while I iron!!!

  9. Although more a student I go for music plus reward. Truly stated, it really works. Especially improving your expertise!

  10. I do like rewards, but some of it is also life survival. Basically if I wake up to dirty dishes that is the start of a bad day for me. I even know it. So I try to avoid it. It is good motivation. Same with a made bed. Now outside chores...that is easy, they usually are more compelling that something I am avoiding such as studying.

  11. PS and tagging off Cindy's thoughts... One sure fire way to get me to do something is to invite people over. Nothing like the avoidance of embarrassment to spur me into action! (PPS - if people call to say they'll be at your door in 5 minutes and things are a BIG honkin' mess because you've dropped the window blinds - stayed in your PJs watching TV - had take out delivered, the containers of which are strewn about along with dirty glasses - just know that the dishwasher, washing machine, dryer and oven are great "hidey holes" )

    1. This. I like to have people over for dinner periodically just so I am "forced" to clean EVERYTHING. Scheduling someone to come do something to/in my house works too. Not sure why I would feel mortified if the plumber or electrician thinks my house is dirty/messy when I'm writing them a big fat check, but it is what it is.

      What fascinates me about chores is how much it varies between people which chores they loathe and which chores they don't mind or even enjoy. I myself LOVE grocery shopping and doing laundry--particularly folding laundry, don't mind doing dishes or cooking (usually), and absolutely hate anything to do with cleaning floors or bathrooms or doing yard work. I think the ideal situation is to have a partner, roommate, or child who enjoys the chores you hate and vice versa so that everything gets done and no one feels burdened, but it rarely works out so neatly. And people who live alone are sh*t out of lick, unless someone's successfully taught a cat to mop.

    2. Not the cat, but the dog keeps my kitchen floor clean by licking (see, not just funnier but more relevant!) not only where food scraps fall but Every Square Inch.

      Mary Anne in Kentucky

  12. Totally make my kids do them. :)

  13. WHat are chores??? ;) Great post though.. I just hate them. :)

  14. With me, it's the inner child who doesn't want to do the chores. If the inner child thinks it's fun, it's much easier to do it. So figure out what needs to be done, ask the inner child why these things should be done -- and be prepared for some ludicrous reasons -- and ask what reward s/he wants when the chores are finished. The reward, of course, should be within reason and on your current diet and within your budget.

    If the energy is flagging, remind the inner child of the reason it's being done, the reason the inner child gave, and of the reward.

    It sounds crazy, but it can help.

  15. How do I make chores fun? I pay someone else to do them!!!

  16. OK, you guys are cracking me up, but also coming up with some great advice! Thanks so much for stopping by and appreciate your patience while I'm off gallivanting again... back soon!

  17. These are all very useful and practical suggestions, Crabby! Being of the Zen mind is a good way to approach any task. Also if possible, I re frame the chore as doing exercise. Vacuuming burns a lot of calories I hear :-)

  18. First I live in a condo so i have no outdoor chores, except for when I want to plant some flowers for fun. But indoors, oh gosh for years I just cleaned everything at the same time, but I recently came across a list where you do the same thing everyday such as make your bed, wipe down the bathroom counters and do the dishes everyday but on Monday, you do Dusting, Tuesday you do floors, Wednesday you do toilets and showers, Thursday windows and mirrors, and friday it's a swing day. So the swing day would be 1st week of the month dust/vac furniture and cabinets, 2nd week of the month scrub microwave, oven and fridge, 3rd week of the month clean baseboards, light switches and door knobs, and 4th week of the month spot clean upholstery and rugs. Then saturday is your catch up day, basically laundry. I thought it was great, I might tweak it a little to add in the litterbox and things that are specific to my house but I thought it was a great way to break up the chores so that you do a little every day and therefore aren't completely overwhelmed.

  19. I got nothing. Except just sucking it up and doing them when I have to. Although my kids are getting old enough I can start pawning some stuff off on them. :D

  20. I only do the chores that I like and leave the rest to husband and children, LOL. Well, not quite, but we try to share it in a way that will be the least unpleasant to all. My number one trick, however, is that I am NOT a neet freak. Reading Starving Bitch's comment up here just exhausted me. I clean door knobs and baseboards twice a year at the most! LOL

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  22. When I read the headline I immediately thought of my two methods, which are #3 and #5 on your list! I like to load my iPod up with podcasts and I will listen to them during the most tedious parts of my day (sitting in traffic, cleaning the floors, doing food prep for the week). And I am also all about giving myself rewards for hard work, usually a bath with a book and a glass of wine.

    Sometimes I feel kind of juvenile for not being so intrinsically motivated by the thought of having a clean house that I have to put down little treats like I'm some kind of damn toddler to get me to do adult-type things, but really, who gives a shit as long as it gets done, right? Right.

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  24. Meh...I'm following because I need the advice, too. I would rather just not eat rather than have to do something to burn calories...but I only feel that way when there is something to do. Then, when dinner is served, I promise myself I'll do some chores, running, walking, yoga...something LATER so that I can enjoy the food now. It never, ever works out.


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