Incentivizing myself for tasks I don’t want to do

When it comes to any sort of project, I’m definitely more of a starter than a finisher. I love to start new initiatives and I maintain high energy levels until it’s time to wrap things up. Then I dig in my heels like a tantrumming toddler and/or ignore those last items on the to-do list, hoping the Task Fairy will pay a visit and complete them for me.

(Hope springs eternal.)

Perhaps the perfectionist side of me is always disappointed that the project didn’t execute perfectly (no matter how well it actually went). So not wrapping a project up is a way to never have to confront the “failings” of the project — it is always possible to wrap it up perfectly “someday”.

And so this is how I find myself as I wrap up my term as STEM Director: half-documented processes, unfinished annual reports, and a number of loose ends to tie up before the official handoff to the next director sometime in December.

I decided to reframe how I approach wrapping up those last details so that I can give this STEM Director project the ending it deserves. My approach is part gamification, part celebration.

Gamification, aka Documentation Week!

Rather than spreading out the report-writing and documentation over a number of weeks, I decided to set aside an entire week to prioritize finishing up all, or at least the majority of, all of the things I need to write — the annual reports, the timeline of tasks, the summaries of working groups, etc. And rather than treating this writing as a task to be dreaded and survived, I decided to turn it into a party.

Thus, Documentation Week was born!

I picked a week and marked it on my calendar. I started a countdown. I made sure I had special snacks and my favorite teas in my office. I bedazzled my “to write” list with stickers. I promised myself I’d buy a new puzzle at the end of the week. I hyped up Documentation Week so much in my mind that I could not wait for it to start.

I’m in the middle of Documentation Week as we speak. Documentation Week will likely spill a bit over into next week, but by and large it’s going really well. I’ve drafted part of one annual report and did bullet point versions of two more. I’m enjoying my special snacks as I record various processes. I’m also finding that I’m not as critical of my own writing as I normally am. Celebrating the process has allowed me to cut myself more slack, and to prioritize finishing over perfection. And it feels so, so freeing to get rid of this mental load I’ve been carrying around for far too long.


During our weekly meeting the other day, the the STEM Program Manager asked me how I wanted to celebrate the end of my tenure as director. I honestly had not thought about framing the ending as a celebration. And that led me to an a-ha moment: documenting what we’ve done is also a way of celebrating the STEM Board’s, and my, accomplishments over the past 3 years!

Writing a report sounds dull and boring. But highlighting in writing what we did so that we can celebrate those things as a community? Well, that sounds a lot more appealing and joyful!

Reframing documentation as a means of celebration has made the writing process much lighter and freer. It’s also allowed me to step out of the “there’s so much I didn’t do!” mindset and embrace the “look how far we’ve come despite the obstacles and challenges of the past few years” mindset. Instead of thinking “ugh, here’s this overdue report”, I’m thinking “I can’t wait to share what we’ve done!”.

In writing this post, I’ve realized that this is not the first time I’ve turned an arduous work task into a party. I eat particular snacks when I’m making final edits to conference papers (sour gummy worms) and grading finals or other large projects (pretzel rods). I wrote my promotion prospectus over the course of a week in new-to-me coffee shops and libraries in a part of St. Paul I don’t normally visit. And in one particularly rough term, I made a paper chain with self-care tasks as a tangible way to mark time and reduce stress. (Thankfully, I haven’t had to do that one since!) Adding little fun touches to challenging tasks doesn’t make them less challenging, for sure. But it does add a bit of novelty and whimsy, and we could all use more novelty and whimsy in our lives.

Do you gamify or otherwise celebrate your mundane or difficult tasks?