The LEGO Principle: Why Housework Can Be So Darn Frustrating

(The following quotes are from Duke School of Business— I will sub in quotes from The Diane Rehms Show episode as soon as the transcripts are available.)

In a second experiment, participants assembled Bionicles, toy figurines made by Lego. Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, conducted a study in which two groups of workers were instructed to build little LEGO robots. unlike the stove, which I swear was spotless just 30 seconds ago. And now it’s full again five minutes later… Did any of you listen to the Productivity episode of The Diane Rehms Show on Monday? …And now the sink is filled with the eating-dinner dishes.” “Woo, an empty laundry hamper, and all the clean clothes folded and put away! One of the experts interviewed described a fascinating study he’d conducted, one that gets at the heart of why housework can feel so frustratingly futile… Arranging flowers. Now, I say “flowers,” but what I mean is twigs, branches, foliage, grasses, and other plant matter from the yard. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s very satisfying, and each arrangement lasts at least a week, allowing me many opportunities to gaze upon it proudly… Doing housework can feel utterly Sisyphean— is there anything we can do about that? My latest solution? “Oh my goodness, I finally finished the breakfast, lunch, and cooking-dinner dishes! Every time they finished one, it was simply torn apart and given back to them later.”

Isn’t that exactly how doing dishes and laundry feels?!? There are a lot of frustrating, menial jobs out there, of course, but at many jobs there’s still something you can point to at the end of the day: I made 10 cakes, I fried 100 burgers, I served 200 customers, I painted 4 rooms… The workers continued building robots as long as they felt it was worth it. “These poor individuals were assembling the same two Bionicles over and over. The researchers made the Bionicle project somewhat meaningful for half of the students, whose completed toys were displayed on their desks for the duration of the experiment, while the students assembled as many Bionicles as they wished. Do you just suck it up, knowing it’s an inevitable part of life? great.” Commenter kcat expressed it well on an earlier post: “It can get frustrating — nothing ever gets completely done — there’s the ’20-minutes of clean’ like when the kitchen floor is scrubbed within 20 minutes who would have guessed.” I know those 20-Minutes Of Clean well, and though they are 20 very satisfying minutes, there are so few of them! Do you give yourself little rewards, or indulge in fun but not completely necessary projects to feel a sense of accomplishment?

Updated: 21.11.2014 — 04:29