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?
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, 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.
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?
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.
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.