Illustration by Patrick Ferris.

Schoolwork has always been something of a challenge for me, not necessarily the content of the work but having enough interest in some of the assignments I’m given, specifically “busy work.” Unfortunately for me, some of my teachers have been avid givers of aimless, boring packets and worksheets. In turn, I would completely blow off the assignments. It became a routine: I would stop at Walgreens on my walk home from school to buy myself ice cream and then head home and watch The Office from the comfort of my bed. However, this routine also brought me some pretty grave discomfort. My first semester of school was coming to a close and I had 19 assignments missing. Essentially, I thought I was screwed.

In the weeks before the end of the semester, I sat down with my therapist and discussed what I could do to get out of the hole I had dug myself into. Surprise, surprise, the only solution was to do the work. Except nothing had changed—I still saw no meaning in the work and was totally apathetic about the idea of doing it. I explained this to my therapist who said that even though my teachers assigned busy work, I could think about it differently, in a way that made the work more appealing.

By starting to think about my work as something other than busy work, I reconciled myself with the fact that I’ll always have to do something that I don’t totally love. I also found that the more I got used to the busywork, the faster I got through it. And the faster I got through it, the more time I had to do things that I loved like making art and writing (and eating ice cream and watching The Office, except now it wasn’t an excuse). I told myself, “OK, I really hate this work but it’s teaching me to efficiently work through things I don’t like.” I ended up getting much better grades than I’d imagined I would. When you rejig your thoughts and ideas you can think a lot differently, and sometimes in a way that’s more beneficial to you.

If you find yourself struggling with more than a bad attitude, and having some physical symptoms of stress or boredom, I would also recommend progressive muscle relaxation or and guided breathing videos. They’re simple exercises that can be found on YouTube that I’ve found very helpful. My boredom and anxiety made me feel fatigued, tired, and sore. Using these videos helped me a great deal with these physical symptoms.

When you work efficiently at things you don’t like—physically, mentally, or emotionally—you’re also clearing up space for more extracurriculars, hobbies, passions, or just time to relax and unwind. After learning to complete work efficiently, by changing how I felt about it via shifting my mindset and reducing my physical stress, I found myself with a good three hours of free time every evening. I was painting and reading and writing so much more. Most importantly, I had time for a bubble bath to the tune of Missy Elliott’s greatest hits or The Lizzie McGuire Movie. Even if you still have to do something you dislike, when you work harder and faster at it, you find time for yourself and time to do what you want to do.

Obligation is obligation, whether that’s a job or school or literally anything that you’re required to do. It sucks when we hate the things we have to do, because in most realities we can’t just throw in the towel and quit. But you can morph hatred into, if not love, then at least tolerance for the situation at hand. Being obligated to do something dull is not ideal, but who’s to say we can’t make the best of it. ♦