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Why You’re Better Off Tackling Undesirable Tasks in One Go

Why You’re Better Off Tackling Undesirable Tasks in One Go
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Not all daily tasks are a joy. Some are just plain annoying. So, on those particular days when we have a lot of demanding tasks to get done, should we make some space for some easy tasks that we prefer? A new study has the answer: No way! On busier workdays, it’s better to tackle more difficult tasks in one go—lest we exhaust ourselves more than necessary.

Why You’re Better Off Tackling Undesirable Tasks in One Go

Our daily work lives bring with them certain tasks that are simply frustrating, annoying, and arduous. Other tasks are comparatively simple and a joy to complete. It’s in our nature to design our workday around tasks that we most like doing, and, from a psychological point of view, doing so is even advisable. Unfortunately, that’s simply not possible all the time. We all have days on which we have to tackle many tasks that require us to exert a high degree of discipline. That’s something we need to overcome while also remaining professional and cordial—and that can take its toll. Does it then not make sense to make room for tasks that we like and that don’t require such exertion? Perhaps it would help us return to less desirable tasks with more gusto and energy.

A joint study conducted by WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management, the Trinity Business School in Dublin, and the Schumpeter School of Business and Economics in Wuppertal has come to a different conclusion. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense to switch between highly desirable and highly undesirable tasks. Doing so only makes more apparent just how different those two sets of tasks really are,” explains Professor Fabiola Gerpott, co-author of the study and Chairholder of Leadership at WHU. The researchers have deduced that it’s not just daily work demands themselves that have an effect on one’s energy levels; how those demands are broken up on such busy days is equally as important. Overcoming inner resistance is something workers only want to have to do once—at the beginning of the day—and then sticking with that less-than-desirable task until its completion. Even if it can be taxing to overcome said resistance, switching between two sets of tasks with varying levels of difficulty causes a more disproportionate degree of exhaustion at the end of the day.

The results of the study also show that that disproportionate degree of exhaustion is even likely to spill over to the following day. When an employee is absolutely drained in the evening, they will be starting their recovery period at a lower point. This means that the employee won’t have enough time to replenish the energy needed to overcome inner resistance at work the next day. This, in turn, will manifest as lower work engagement. Employees at risk of burnout are particularly likely to suffer from these described dynamics, as they generally experience a high level of emotional exhaustion already and have to use more energy to exert self-control at the workplace. Switching between undesirable and desirable tasks is an effort they find particularly taxing, and they then need a more intensive recovery period after such workdays to get themselves fit for the following one.

The authors of the study also show how to minimize exhaustion on days that require a high level of discipline: One can organize their workday and routines such that they generally cause less stress, allowing them to tackle any undesirable tasks without interruption. According to them, clearly defined responsibilities and as little time pressure as possible are important here. Athletics, an increased sense of mindfulness, and good sleep can also reduce one’s level of emotional exhaustion.

Should you be interested in an interview with Professor Fabiola Gerpott on this topic, please do not hestitate to get in touch at

Information about Person

Professor Fabiola H. Gerpott

Fabiola H. Gerpott is an expert in (self-)leadership, diversity management, and organizational behavior at WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management. She is committed to ensuring that diversity is valued more highly by managers and employees alike. Her research focuses on how empirical data can be used to help people shape the future of work in humane and productive ways.

Associate Professor Wladislaw Rivkin

Wladislaw Rivkin is an Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Trinity Business School in Dublin.

Professor Stefan Diestel

Stefan Diestel is a Professor of Organizational and Work Psychology at the Schumpeter School of Business and Economics at the University of Wuppertal.


Bernadette Wagener
Associate Director Public Relations
WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management
Campus Vallendar, Burgplatz 2, 56179 Vallendar, Germany
Tel.: +49 261 6509-540;;
WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management is the Business School of the WHU Foundation.
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