Customer Service Rockstars Make Friends with Repetitive Tasks

Originally published here for the Institute of Organizational Mindfulness.


A new job or role might start out as a love affair. But so often after the first few months, it loses its lustre. We begin to feel deadened by the repetition of seemingly menial tasks. Why does repetition do this and can we change our relationship to it?

First, understand that our rejection of repetition is not some innate problem with repetition itself, but the appetite we’ve acquired for every experience to be dazzlingly new and fresh.

Repetition is a Matter of Taste…And True Masters Are Connoisseurs

It’s helpful to look at people that know the value of repetition and grew to love it through their training and self-work. Aikido teacher George Leonard is a great example of this. He discusses our cultural distaste for repetition in his book Mastery and reveals how we are sadly missing out on its power and possibility:

The essence of boredom is to be found in the obsessive search for novelty. Satisfaction lies in mindful repetition, the discovery of endless richness in subtle variations on familiar themes.”

Shift Your Mindset To Bring Power & Purpose to Seemingly “Unimportant” Tasks

In service-oriented work, repetition is generally viewed as the enemy. Service jobs require constant repetition of the same cadence of information and the humoring of the same “annoying questions.” And there seems to be something particularly draining about the spoken brand of repetition that is such a big part of service work.

This applies to all jobs that seem romantic at first (i.e. “I’m going to help at a homeless shelter!” or “I’m going to build schools in Africa!”) that so often turn out to consist mostly of unsexy repetitive tasks. It’s all-too-common to see young idealists with fantasies of touching lives and uplifting communities leap into work like this only to be sorely disenchanted by the actual work part. “I thought I’d be touching lives, but all I’m doing is carrying bags.” That kind of work does touch lives and enriches you on a very deep level. As long as it is done with the right mindset.

Bring A Higher Quality of Intention to Everything You Do

As a friend of mine and great champion of mindful service Dushan Zaric would say about service communication: “There’s nothing wrong with the script. It’s a matter of how much of you is present when you are saying it and how positive the intentions are behind it.” What he’s talking about are shifts in attention and intention that transforms the experience of whatever it is you’re doing.

Saying things presently and noticing the subtleties of how you say them, how you listen, and how you respond will bring you into the martial-arts-like mindset of mastery that George Leonard is saying is so lacking in our culture. And bringing wholeheartedly good will into what you are saying and doing will make a joy out of something you’ve repeated thousands of times. This mindset reveals the power you have to export inspiration and transformation when you truly engage in the humblest of tasks.