Why is pointless work more mentally taxing than working with a purpose?

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The other day I was crunching some numbers and couldn’t get them to add up, no matter how hard I tried. I did this for a few hours and afterwards I was exhausted, like when you’re ready to go to sleep aftee physical exertion.

Usually these kind of things add up nicely and slowly but surely things just fall in their places nicely like a puzzle. When that happens, working is a breeze and even rewarding.

What is the phenomenon behind this? Why is pointless work so much more mentally taxing than working with a purpose?

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Knowing you’re working is one thing. Knowing you aren’t wasting your time is valuable.

Knowing you’re working on a thing that is _definitely_ a waste of time makes it difficult for many people to be motivated — because it’s not useful _or_ necessary.

There are two factors at play here: laziness and flow.

Laziness, because evolution optimizes for efficiency and one of the easiest ways to optimize a person’s behavior for energy-saving is to reward productive work and not reward pointless wastes of energy. You do all the work and you don’t get your dopamine at the end, everything you did retroactively feels worse in your memory because of all the effort you expended.

And flow, which is that mindset of super-focus that comes when a task is equally matched with your skill. When you get “in the zone” with your work, you’re being worked hard enough to be challenged (and thus not bored), but not beyond your ability to actually complete the task (and thus not anxious). In your case, it sounds like the task was unusually difficult, so a normally “breezy” task suddenly ended up causing anxiety.

Because when doing actual work, you know what you’re doing, and what purpose it serves. Humen are a product of evolution, and any genes that fovor activities that waste time and do not grant happiness have long gone extinct

Dopamine. Doing something new and/or interesting releases dopamine in your brain, which feels good and refreshing and energizing. Non-interesting, repetitive work doesn’t give you that boost.