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I’m Feeling Bored: 10 Ways to Conquer Boredom (and Feeling Too Busy)

I’m Feeling Bored: 10 Ways to Conquer Boredom (and Feeling Too Busy)

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.

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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.[1] 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:

Externally:

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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.

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  • Set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goals that align with your life’s vision.[2]

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.

Internally:

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.

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  • 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.

Reference

More by this author

Brian Lee

Chief of Product Management at Lifehack

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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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