Thursday, March 3, 2011


I’m reading The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely. He studies human behavior and his writing is fascinating. I’m always curious why we people do what we do. Any insight is welcome. Did you know that we tend to work faster and better if we know why we're working. And that large bonuses can suck the ambition from a worker? How about the fact the we like something more if we've had a hand in making it? All useful information.

Since this is tax season, I was most curious about the study he did to determine the best way to get through an unpleasant task. I thought i would test out this theory in doing my taxes. Is there a more unpleasant task this time of year? Not for me, at least not since I moved away from the snow.

The question posed was is it better to break up an annoying chore or to just plow through and finish in one fell swoop. I think most of us think that by taking frequent breaks, we get the job done and are pretty happy about it. It might take several attempts, some chocolate and maybe even a glass of wine, but we get through it.

Turns out that studies show that people are much more likely to finish the project if they just work straight through. The brain likes the unbroken shot at the task at hand. There is no stopping, followed by the necessary gearing up to get back to the nasty chore.

I tried it. Just plowed through my tax prep without considering a break. And darn, if it didn't take me half the amount of time and far less angst. Who knew?

How do you get through those annoying chores that must be done? Bring on the chocolate, no matter which method you use.


Becky Levine said...

That's so funny. This is the first year I decided to break my taxes into small chunks & work on one a day--about an hour or so each time. MUCH more pleasant and doable. I don't know if I got it done any faster, but I know my blood pressure stayed down & there was no swearing whatsoever.

This is pretty typical for me. My husband calls them CDTs (clearly defined tasks), and the more, small ones I can break things down into the less intimidating, more manageable they become for me.

Although every now & then I do push through something just to get it out of the way, but I'm never happy that way.

Carol S said...

The best way for me to get through an unpleasant task is to do the hardest part first, then it should be smooth sailing for the rest of the project.

Terri Thayer said...

Becky, his findings went against everything I thought was true, but I did find it easier knowing I was just going to work through to the end. But I didn't have hours and hours of work, only maybe one hour.

Tackling the hardest part first is a good plan. For me, the getting to the task is sometimes harder than the doing.

Monica Ferris said...

Terri, I think you're right about the hardest part is deciding to just get at the thing. One of my most highly developed skills is procrastination. LOL

Camille Minichino said...

I tell myself I only have to do a small chunk, or I'd never start. But often I plow through.

(I play these games with myself a lot!)

Terri Thayer said...

Monica, I'm thinking procrastination is just part of the human condition.

As is playing games with ourselves, Camille! I like this book because it tells me which games have a better chance of working.

Linda O. Johnston said...

I'll definitely take the chocolate, Terri. It helps me get through any task, whether quickly or slowly!

hatfieldtiffany75 said...

I completely agree with that study. I have to finish something the moment I start it. If I do start on something and don't finish it right away for instance I get distracted by a phone call or maybe facebook (now I know I am not the only facebook addict).

For instance if I sit down when I come in from work then I am done for I will not be able to get much done. But if I start as soon as I come in then I get it finished.

I also do better on 6 hours of sleep.
In developmental psychology I learned to determine your amount of sleep you are to go to bed without setting your alarm (taking note at the time that you went to bed) and then note the time you first wake up on your own. Count that back and that is about the amount of sleep your body requires.

That book sounds very interesting.

Terri Thayer said...

Hi Tiffany, thanks for stopping by. The book is an easy read, chockful of insights about the brain.