Boredom and feeling too busy are the same problem. Some people claim I’m being too ambitious trying to strike down chronic boredom and busyness at the same time. I’d argue that the only way to take them out is simultaneously.
The problem stems from how you manage your attention. Both boredom and busyness stem from feeling there is a lack of quality in how you focus your attention. Boredom is feeling that there are too few high-quality ways to spend attention. Busyness is forced boredom. This means that you feel there are high quality ways to spend attention, but your attention is being stolen from you before you can use it.
Boredom (and Busyness) is in Your Mind
Feelings of boredom and busyness are subjective. You can’t look out in the world and claim it is busy or boring. To say these feelings are subjective is obvious, but that misses a key point. The real problem is quality.
Being engaged, neither busy or bored, happens when your attention is focused on high-quality activities.
You can probably remember times when you were completely engaged. This could have been working on a project you were passionate about. Spending time with your family, sky diving or vacationing under the sun. Why were you engaged in these moments and not in others?
A likely reason was because those experiences had a higher quality. They allowed you to enter into an immersive flow state, in which your entire consciousness was devoted to the activity. In the best cases your entire reality revolves around what you are doing. You’ll understand what I mean if you’ve read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (which, I must admit, inspired most of these ideas).
Conquering Boredom and Busyness is About Improving the Quality of Your Activities
So how do you improve quality in your experiences? I believe there are two major ways you can do it, externally and internally. If you are chronically busy (not just being busy, but actively disliking the busyness) or bored then you’ll need to tackle external and internal factors that contribute to these negative feelings.
Here are some ways to consider improving quality in your experiences:
1. Plan Ahead – Schedule your life to ensure there aren’t huge gaps or work overflows later. This can mean scheduling high quality experiences if you find yourself frequently bored. It can also mean dividing large projects if you find yourself chronically busy.
- Plan weekend activities for next month now. This not only gives you something to look forward to, but it also forces you to stay productive instead of just busy.
- Map out what is placing demands on your time. Can you consolidate all your “busy work” (such as responding to emails) into one block of time instead of allowing it to cause constant interruptions in your day?
2. Win-Win – If you must perform an activity you think has low quality, you’re going to feel bored. Find ways to reorganize your life so that jobs, chores and duties can become interesting high-quality experiences.
- Turn mind-numbing chores into opportunities for growth and learning. For example, listen to an audio book or lecture on the commute to work or while you’re cleaning your house.
3. Prioritize – If you don’t manage time you’ll never have enough of it. There are always more things to do than you have time for. Get your values straight so that the highest priorities are handled first and your life doesn’t get overtaken by the unimportant.
- Set a vision for your life, and determine how everything you do either contributes or detracts from that vision. Chances are, the things that don’t align with your vision are some of the same things that bore you. After you identify low-priority activities, you can try to make them more meaningful, or you can find ways to eliminate them.
4. Put Quality of Experience First – It is easy to get caught up in external goals that don’t fulfill their promises. Focus on goals that will give you a greater quality, not just a bigger paycheck or more status to brag about.
- Set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goals that align with your life’s vision.
5. Escape the Motions – Habits are a part of your life, but don’t let them become the only thing. Break out of your patterns if they aren’t giving you what you need.
- Schedule times to break from your routines. I thrive on having a routine most days, but I also give myself opportunities to break from sameness.
- Say “yes” to trying something new. Nothing spices up your day like trying something new.
Most of the ways to improve your quality of experience and conquer boredom are internal. Remember, it’s not just what you do, but also how you do it.
6. Build an Inner World – I’m not suggesting you create a complete rift between yourself and reality. But also realize that if you can’t find quality in your immediate surroundings, you can find it within yourself. Solving internal problems, reviewing knowledge, coming up with new ideas, creating stories or even planning for the future are all areas you can explore in the mind without any external stimulus.
- Use “boring” moments as opportunities to brainstorm. It’s a lot easier to cope with a humdrum reality if you’re able to use the time to explore possibilities within your mind.
- If you’re really at a loss, you can imagine a story about 2-3 of the people and objects in your vicinity. This is a great way to exercise your creativity and sharpen your observation skills.
7. Seek Quality in the Now – What are you doing right now? What can you find that has value for you? Seeking quality right now allows you to find it even if your environment is bare or overloaded.
- Activities like waiting in line can be turned into moments of self-reflection or times to remind yourself of your vision.
8. Resistance is Futile – Busyness and boredom could also be described as symptoms of resisting what is. Fully accepting whatever situation you are in and making the most of it is one way to conquer the feelings. Resistance is something that can’t be done half-way. Either completely push away and seek quality elsewhere, or accept your surroundings and find it here.
9. Unchain Yourself – A lot of mental unease is caused because you feel forced to do something. You have to go to work. You have to study for your test. You have to do this or that. Realize that you don’t have to do anything, just accept different results. Freedom is in your mind.
- Weigh whether the activity causing your discomfort is essential or expendable. For example, paying your bills is non-negotiable, but you can opt to live a more modest lifestyle or actively search for a job you enjoy.
- Use a mantra to remind yourself of your freedom. “I am free,” and “I have the power to change my circumstances,” can reinforce the notion that you have choices.
10. Stop – Boredom and feeling overloaded are both patterns. They are mental spirals you run on yourself that loop back on each other. If you just interrupt yourself for a few minutes and think more deeply about the problem you can often come up with a good answer independent of these suggestions. Stop and conquer.
- Meditate your way out of boredom. Sometimes boredom and busyness are caused by feeling disconnected from what you are doing. Use meditation to ground yourself in the present.
- Take up a gratitude practice. Whenever you’re feeling too bored or too busy, stop to think about all the things that are going well. These don’t have to be big things either. Being able to say, “I got out of bed this morning,” and “I have food to eat,” help you take stock of your blessings.