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Boredom Can Make You More Productive Only When You Learn These 8 Tricks

Boredom Can Make You More Productive Only When You Learn These 8 Tricks

Picture this:

You’re bored at work, almost in tears because the tasks on your to-do list seem so monotonous and dull. Your mind starts to wander and you ask yourself, “Is this what I should be doing with my life?” It’s as if your brain is trying to look for anything else to do to avoid the task at hand. You check you phone, you go on social media, you might even make a paper airplane – anything to make the feeling stop! Sound familiar? You are not alone!

But what if we could use our boredom to actually help us become more productive?

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It might seem counter intuitive at first. Boredom is the feeling that you get when you feel disengaged and unable to focus. Oftentimes we feel unsure of what we can even do to make the feeling go away. We can experience different types of boredom depending on the situation, which can stem from feelings of restlessness, apathy, or even aggression. If we’re bored, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we haven’t taken action. We might watch TV, eat a snack, or surf the web to pass the time.

Productivity, on the other hand, is the ability to take concentrated action and feel a sense of progress based on your efforts. It’s about getting things done that give you a sense of pride or accomplishment. You might have scrolled through 100 updates on Facebook, but does that make you productive? More likely, it means that you are bored! All behaviors are not created equal. To be productive, you have to find value in your action.

8 ways to transform your boredom into a productivity booster

Slow down and acknowledge the boredom

We will oftentimes try anything possible to escape boredom. In a study conducted by Timothy Wilson,[1] a social psychologist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, undergraduates were given the option to sit alone for 15 minutes with only their thoughts, or give themselves electric shocks. Sixty-seven percent of the men in the study opted to shock themselves, even though they had previously noted that they would pay money to avoid the sensation! This same type of psychology applies to our daily lives too. Have you ever sat down in front of the TV and had a snack, even if you were not hungry? Before you know it, you’ve eaten a full bag of chips. People eat, drink, and engage in all different types of activities out of boredom. By slowing down and recognizing your boredom, you can choose more productive behavior.

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Don’t let filler activities overwhelm you 

Oftentimes when we are bored, we can fall into patterns of behavior associated with filler activity, otherwise known as “busy work”. We send text messages, browse social media sites, or pace back and forth. We are physically doing something, but it’s usually a distraction and the behavior does not provide true value to our lives. Ask yourself, “Is my behavior productive? What am I trying to accomplish through this task?” Productive behavior will always be in service to an end goal.

Figure out why you are bored

Now it’s time to get to the root cause of the feeling. What is causing the boredom? Perhaps you don’t know what you want to do or accomplish. Or maybe you do have an idea, but your current job or circumstance doesn’t allow you the time or ability, and your boredom stems from that frustration. It could also be the task at hand that could be causing your boredom. Tasks that are repetitive, too easy, or out of your control can sometimes feel dull! Whatever the reason, label it and move on.

Move toward valued action and novelty

Now that you know what is causing your boredom, you can do something about it and become productive again. What do you need to change about your current environment, circumstance or mindset that will allow you to engage in behavior that will feel valuable to you? If you find yourself bored at your current job, what type of career would make you feel excited and motivated to go to work every day? What actions could you take right now to make that switch?

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Twist the boring part to add spice to it

If it’s a particular task that has you feeling bored (like data entry or another small office nuisance), what could you add to the process to make it feel more fun or enjoyable? Perhaps you could make the task into a game. In this example, you could challenge yourself to complete 100 entries within the next hour. Attach small rewards (like a 10 minute walk or a sweet treat) to the outcome of the game. Track your progress and then try to beat your own personal records. This turns uninspired, boring actions into bursts of productivity. Try to find ways to make the circumstance feel new and different to you. This will heighten your engagement, and relieve feelings of boredom.

Some Apps Actually Help

Remove the impulse to revert back to the boredom-triggered “busy work”. There are tons of apps and programs (such as Freedom) that can block Facebook, Reddit, or other distracting websites that you might find yourself visiting to escape the boredom. It’s a habit that you’ll have to break, so don’t be too hard on yourself if your impulse is to engage in the distraction at first. Productivity is a muscle that you will need to flex again and again in order to gain strength.

Turn to the more boring tasks

Try reverting back to an old tip from childhood: remember when you were a kid and you would run up to your mom or dad and complain about being bored? And what was the first thing they would always say? “I have some chores for you to do!” And, as if it were magic, you would run off and find something else to do – it was an automatic cure for boredom! You can use this trick as an adult too. What is the one thing that you’ve been putting off for awhile? Perhaps it’s doing laundry or cleaning the restroom. Start tackling some of those not-so-fun chores. Either A) You will complete them and feel a sense of relief and productivity now that you’ve finished them, or B) You will have a better idea of what you would prefer to do instead.

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Look for your genuine motivation

Still don’t know what you want to do? That’s okay. Everyone deserves a break every once in awhile! But if you do desire to be more productive, you’ll have to tap into your hidden source of motivation in order to take action. Try to make a list of the benefits: Who would be proud of you if you took action? Who could you be if you left boredom behind and became productive? Paint that picture in your mind. How would you feel? Jot down these ideas in as much detail as possible, and see if they motivate you enough to take deliberate action.

By using your boredom as a springboard towards productive action, you’ll gain a sense of clarity around how you want to spend your time. We all only have a limited amount of time on earth. To feel bored is to recognize that we are not spending our time in a way that feels fulfilling and connected to our passions. Doing this work will align your actions with your goals and will give you a sense of control over your time and life. Boredom often comes from the nagging feeling that we are wasting our time here on earth. Moving towards more productive thought patterns and behavior will help relieve that pressure.

Reference

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Brittany Ritcher

Founder + Qualitative Researcher at Soultiply

Boredom Can Make You More Productive Only When You Learn These 8 Tricks

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

More About Goals Setting

Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

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