What to do when you hate your assignment

May 6, 2015

There’s something unusual about this project. Every time you sit down to work on it, you suddenly remember an important call you have to make, an email you have to answer. You’ve cleaned out your closet three times, and you’re suddenly considering repainting the kitchen – but you’re no closer to finishing your work. Why – why all the delays?

Finally, you force yourself to sit down and start working… and you run smack-dab into the ugly truth. You do not want to work on this assignment… because you HATE it.

Yes, you hateses it, the nasty hobbitses. You hate it with the fire of a thousand suns, you want to take a pill that makes you forget it ever happened to you, it is draining your soul from you drop by precious drop – and you are now having an Adult Tantrum by refusing to do it.

Even the happiest, most fulfilled freelancer will occasionally run into the project they hate, or the portion of their work that they dislike. The question is how to get through it without burning down your workspace or chucking your laptop off a high-rise.

What do you do when you hate your assignment? Listen, the nice thing about loathing a project is that – if you reflect – it may give you some interesting information about yourself. Devote a couple of minutes to thinking about WHY, exactly, you hate this particular assignment (primal moans are allowed).

Is it because it’s boring? Does it involve working with difficult people? Thinking about the origin of your discomfort can help you to imagine solutions.

If you find yourself CONSISTENTLY hating certain kinds of projects, that also provides valuable information. A certain base level of dread is sometimes normal for us perfectionists, anxious thinkers, and/or creative types: you may fear screwing up, or doubt your own abilities. Try to give yourself a break on that account – I know it isn’t easy.

With that being said, another good thing to think about is if you hate your behavior surrounding the project (i.e. I hate that I feel anxious, I hate that I procrastinate), or if you hate the work itself. Is the assignment excessively unchallenging – are you feeling like a trained monkey?

Is it WAY too complex – should you up your rates, so you feel like you’re being adequately compensated for such complicated work?

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Is it in line with your moral values – are you freelancing for a particularly nasty client, or doing something slimy? Your behavior is something you can alter; but if you’re regularly working on something unworthy of your time, you may want to listen to your gut. That feeling of loathing might be trying to lead you to a better path.

If you’re finding that the majority of your work is dull, makes you miserable, leaves you feeling unfulfilled, or (worst of all) is harmful to yourself/society, think about making a professional change. We spend a good deal of our life working, and hating your career will make achieving overall happiness difficult.

If you’ve taken the time to consider WHY you hate the project and have decided that, yes, for the nonce, you need to address your own behavior – try embracing your hatred, instead of fighting it.

Accept that you will feel some discomfort; odds are that allowing yourself to feel dislike will alleviate some of your angst. Set boundaries for yourself, and take breaks for fun.

For instance, if the project is boring, set a timer and make a game of getting the work done within the allotted time span. Put on good music, so you can work to a soundtrack. Take breaks so you don’t get overwhelmed by tedium.

If it involves working with difficult people, decide on your personal boundaries beforehand, and (again) take breaks from the annoying individuals in question.

Create a rewards system for yourself: if you finish Loathsome Project by Thursday, you get to get a massage or buy that nice gadget you’ve been eyeing.

The good news is that even the most hateful project usually seems almost palatable in hindsight – and that the WORST work often makes for a good story down the road. You won’t always love every project: embrace your hatred, and come out the other end a stronger, more resilient freelancer – no laptop-chucking required.

Kate Hamill lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @katerone.