Why Time Drags When You're Doing Mundane Tasks

Last Updated Oct 4, 2011 11:59 PM EDT

Does time drag when you're doing routine or boring tasks? Washing dishes, sweeping the floor, filling out expense reports? Maybe it's time to get off your high horse.

Researchers from the University of Michigan, St. Joseph University, and Ohio State University investigated the links between an individual's sense of entitlement and his or her willingness to do work that didn't seem to have any immediate benefit to him or her. They found that people who are more entitled have less patience for tasks that don't provide them with an immediate benefit. The scary part: "tasks without any immediate benefit" can include not just duties such as housekeeping but weightier efforts such as volunteering or trying to improve a personal relationship.

Bored, or bored and irritated?
In one experiment, students were shown a giant block of letters and asked to copy it exactly. In the second study, researchers did their best to come up with dull survey questions involving everyday activities. Students were asked zingers such as "In which campus building do you spend the most time?" and "How many meals do you tend to eat per day?"

In general, students who had a greater sense of entitlement thought boring tasks took longer.
  • In the big-block-of-letters test, everyone got 10 minutes to work on it, but entitled students thought it took much longer.
  • When answering the survey, entitled students thought the survey took 11 minutes to complete, while those in the control group thought it took just eight minutes.
  • The entitled folks also were more likely to say the exercises were a waste of time.
Ed O'Brien, one of the researchers from University of Michigan, says entitlement doesn't necessarily have to do with wealth or material resources. Instead, it's the feeling that one deserves something without having worked for it. You don't have to be rich to feel entitled. A student might believe he or she should receive an "A" in a class even though he or she didn't pay attention during lectures or study for the final. An employee might believe he or she deserves extra vacation time, even though he or she hasn't been working overtime or turned in an outstanding performance.

How do you stay focused during boring tasks?

RELATED Image courtesy of David Locke
Kimberly Weisul is a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant. Follow her on twitter at www.twitter.com/weisul.
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    Kimberly Weisul is the co-founder of One Thing New, the free email newsletter for smart, busy women. She was previously Senior Editor at BusinessWeek, responsible for all coverage of entrepreneurship and for launching BusinessWeek SmallBiz, a bimonthly magazine. She is also a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant.

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