How many times have you found yourself staring at a computer screen, diligently checking emails, attending pointless meetings, and feeling empty? It’s not just you. Many professionals suffer from “gray work”—tasks that are neither challenging nor engaging.

An unfulfilling routine can drain motivation, stifle creativity, and leave you feeling burned out and unmotivated. The good news? The following 17 tips can help you eliminate gray work and boost productivity.

Understanding the Enemy: What is “Gray Work”?

Before going further, let’s take a closer look at gray work.

Getting the information you need shouldn’t be a challenge. Despite this, a new study by Quickbase reveals a disturbing trend: employees are wasting enormous amounts of time searching through multiple applications, documents, and emails.

According to the survey, 54% of US and UK workers find it increasingly difficult to be productive at work. This emphasizes a critical point: our current working methods are no longer productive.

Specifically, gray work drowns us for these reasons:

  • Tech overload. A total of 94% of respondents feel overwhelmed by the number of software programs they need on a daily basis — up from 87% in 2023.
  • Manual work burden. In the past year, 74% of those surveyed said their amount of manual work has remained the same or increased.
  • Limited time for impactful work. 58% of respondents spend less than half their workweek on meaningful tasks.
  • Information chasing. 45% of respondents spend more than 11 hours per week searching for information across their organization.

“Our survey confirms a trend that we have been following for the last year – the disconnect between being busy and being truly productive,” said Ed Jennings, CEO of Quickbase.

Productivity is not an abstract idea, and neither is Gray Work. They are real, tangible, and can be measured by outcomes and impacts related to efficiency, engagement, and profitability,” he adds.

“There is a clear opportunity here to examine every aspect of how your organization meets deadlines, delivers on projects, and creates the repeatable processes that can lead to consistent and valuable results.”

Strategies for a More Colorful Workday: Banishing “Gray Work”

Fortunately, there are strategies that can help you combat “gray work” and regain your professional passion. Now let’s look at some actionable tips:

1. Identify your “gray work” culprits.

The first step is acknowledging that gray work exists in your daily routine. The following are some tell-tale signs:

  • Repetition. Repeatedly doing the same thing with little variation seems to be your norm.
  • Low skill requirement. Often, the task involves minimal cognitive effort, and the steps are often sequential, with little room for innovation.
  • Minimal impact. In terms of the larger picture, the task’s outcome is of relatively little importance.
  • Drained feeling. After completing the task, you feel mentally exhausted and unfulfilled.

Finding out which tasks contribute most to your gray work burden will help you strategize for change.

2. Reframe your mindset.

It is possible to view even the most mundane tasks differently. You can try:

  • Focus on the “why.” Remember how these tasks fit into the bigger picture. Is this data entry useful for streamlining client projects? Are these meetings keeping everyone aligned?
  • Find the silver lining. Is it possible to inject some personal growth into “gray work”? For example, take advantage of a new shortcut during data entry. Or practice active listening during long meetings.

If you change your perspective, you can turn tedious tasks into stepping stones towards your professional goals.

3. Look for meaningful work.

Rather than simply avoiding gray work, actively seek out opportunities that utilize your strengths and spark your curiosity. It’s as simple as this:

  • Communicate with your manager. Discuss your career goals and growth aspirations. Would you be willing to take on additional responsibilities or explore new projects aligned with your interests?
  • Volunteer for stretch assignments. Don’t hesitate to step outside your comfort zone by volunteering for challenging tasks. As a result, you can develop new skills and make a more meaningful contribution.
  • Initiate new projects. Could you come up with a great idea that would benefit the team? If so, bring a new initiative and take the initiative to see it through.

Pursuing meaningful work makes you less likely to feel trapped in a gray area.

4. Get the most out of technology.

Much of your gray work can likely be automated in today’s digital world. As such, take advantage of tools such as:

  • Platforms that automate workflows. It is possible to automate repetitive tasks involving data entry, file transfers, and email notifications with tools like Zapier and IFTTT.
  • Software for project management. Workflow and communication can be streamlined with platforms such as Asana and Trello, which reduce email clutter and redundant communication.
  • Scheduling software. Meeting scheduling can be simplified with calendar apps such as Calendar or Doodle.

5. When possible, share the load.

Delegation or outsourcing may be an option if eliminating or automating tasks is not an option.

  • Delegate. Consider delegating tasks within your team to junior colleagues so you can focus on higher-level tasks.
  • Outsource. If you need help with tasks that aren’t core to your business, consider outsourcing to freelancers or virtual assistants.

6. Streamline workflows.

Identify opportunities to optimize processes within your team or department. Analyze workflows and suggest improvements to eliminate redundancies.

  • Document workflows. When existing workflows are documented, opportunities for streamlining and improving efficiency can be visualized.
  • Seek feedback from colleagues. Ask colleagues who perform similar tasks to identify common pain points for feedback.

Overall, you can help everyone by advocating for process improvements, which will make work more efficient and less cluttered.

7. Schedule frequent breaks.

The brain isn’t designed for constant work. As such, make sure that you take regular breaks throughout the day to clear your head, get some fresh air, and recharge. You could go for a short walk, stretch, or look out the window.

These short breaks might seem insignificant, but they can actually improve your focus and concentration, making you more productive in the long run.

8. Prioritize your well-being.

Burnout is a recipe for gray work. You should prioritize your physical, mental, and emotional well-being to counter this. To get you started, here are some tips:

Foundational habits:

  • Sleep. Try to get at least 7-8 hours of quality sleep every night. A consistent sleep schedule strengthens your body’s sleep-wake cycle.
  • Nutrition. Eat a balanced diet to keep your body nourished. Consume fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
  • Movement. Take part in regular physical activity, even if it’s just a daily walk. Ideally, try something you enjoy, such as dancing or cycling.

Mental and emotional well-being:

  • Self-care. Allow yourself time to indulge in relaxing and enjoyable activities. You could read, take a bath, spend time in nature, or pursue a hobby.
  • Mindfulness. Stress can be managed, and focus can be improved with practices like meditation or deep breathing.
  • Social connection. Nurture your relationships with your loved ones. Social interaction is essential for emotional well-being.
  • Boundaries. It is essential to learn to say no to protect your time and energy. You have a right to prioritize your needs.
  • Positivity. Don’t forget to be grateful and focus on the good things in your life.


  • Self-compassion. You should always be kind to yourself. Having setbacks in your well-being journey is alright, but don’t give up.
  • Listen to your body. Observe your physical and emotional cues. Don’t forget to take breaks when you need them.
  • Find what works for you. Discover what practices and activities are most beneficial to your well-being by experimenting.

9. Develop your time management skills.

In order to minimize gray work, effective time management is key. Here are a few tricks:

  • Prioritization techniques. Prioritize tasks based on urgency and importance using tools like the Eisenhower Matrix.
  • Time blocking. By scheduling specific time slots for completing tasks, you will avoid getting entangled in emails and distractions.
  • Batch and blitz. Group repetitive tasks together and schedule dedicated “blitz” periods. You can free up your mind for more engaging tasks by tackling them in focused bursts.
  • Minimize multitasking. When you multitask, you are likely to produce sloppy work and waste time. With that said, keep one task in mind at a time.

10. Make ‘No’ your ally.

If a request will overload your schedule or put you into gray areas, don’t be afraid to say no. Keep in mind that to get focused work done, it is important to protect your time.

11. Spice it up!

Are you able to inject some creativity into those mundane tasks? Consider ways to make them more interesting. Consider listening to new music, sprucing up your workspace, or shaking up your daily routine.

12. Collaborate and connect.

When you work with others, you can inject energy and bring a fresh perspective. You can, for example, brainstorm with colleagues, delegate tasks, or simply chat. The power of human connection can counteract the effects of gray work.

13. Integrate and simplify.

According to Jennings, digitization has resulted in a tangled mess of software solutions. As a result, using one tool for each problem can make everyday tasks more challenging.

By using this approach, you lose productivity, increase costs, and are less flexible when integrating and adapting core systems to maximize efficiency. To utilize AI effectively, data must be consolidated across various software solutions.

The solution? Jennings suggests consolidating data into a unified, centralized view to facilitate faster, more accurate decision-making with impactful results.

14. Celebrate the small wins.

To feel good about your work, don’t wait for monumental achievements. Acknowledge and celebrate your progress every day, no matter how small.

Did you manage to complete that tricky task? If so, give yourself a self high-five. Keeping these wins in mind can motivate you and keep you going.

15. Don’t confuse activity with productivity.

It is important to realize that busyness does not equal productivity. Don’t think you’re achieving anything just by scrolling through your inbox and attending meetings. Instead, get out of the never-ending cycle of busy work and focus on what matters.

16. Own it!

There are times when a simple ownership change can work wonders. Ask yourself, “How can I make this task my own?” By taking ownership, you are fostering responsibility and purpose.

17. Be your own advocate.

Talk to your manager openly and honestly when you identify gray work in your workflow. In order to facilitate the discussion, here are a few points:

  • Focus on solutions. Instead of complaining, suggest solutions and alternative methods of handling the situation.
  • Highlight your contributions. Consider how you could contribute more significantly in other areas if you freed up your time from gray work.
  • Offer collaboration. Identify tasks that can be automated, delegated, or streamlined.

Don’t forget that you’re more than just a cog in the machine! You can permanently banish the dreaded “gray work” by taking control and implementing these tips.


What is gray work?

You can describe gray work as unproductive or inefficient, consuming some of your time. This is due to poorly designed systems, unclear processes, and inefficient workflows.

Examples of gray work include:

  • Context switching. Jumping from one task to another rapidly.
  • Searching for information. Spending too much time searching for documents.
  • Repetitive tasks. Having to enter data into multiple systems manually.
  • Unnecessary meetings. Attending meetings that could have been handled by email.
  • Following up on unanswered emails. Chasing down information or waiting for approvals.

Why is gray work a problem?

In addition to reducing productivity, gray work also undermines morale. Additionally, it can cause errors and burnout. Gray work has the following negative effects:

  • Wasted time. Employees spend their time on unproductive tasks instead of focusing on their core tasks.
  • Frustration. Gray work can demotivate employees.
  • Reduced morale. There is a sense that their work doesn’t matter or isn’t worth anything.
  • Missed deadlines. Deadlines can be hard to meet when there is gray work to do.
  • Poor quality work. Mistakes are more likely to occur when employees are rushed or frustrated.

How can I identify gray work in my own work?

  • Is your workflow inefficient or unclear?
  • Are you spending a lot of time on repetitive tasks that could be automated?
  • Do you find it hard to find the information you need?

What can I do to reduce gray work?

  • Let your manager or IT department know about these inefficiencies.
  • Consider automating tasks or streamlining workflows with the help of tools and technologies.
  • Encourage your team to communicate and share knowledge more effectively.

How can organizations reduce gray work?

  • Take advantage of integrated technology solutions. Consider streamlining workflows and centralizing information.
  • Develop clear processes and guidelines. Provide employees with a roadmap that outlines how to accomplish their tasks.
  • Encourage communication and collaboration. Develop a teamwork culture and encourage knowledge sharing.

Image Credit: Andrea Piacquadio; Pexels