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Boredom Can Be Good For You

Boredom Can Be Good For You
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Being bored will help you be better at what you do
Big yawn

    There are a great many books, web sites, and training courses today more or less dedicated to the idea that being bored is a major sin, for which the only cure is to find ways to be busy and productive every waking moment. People who follow this idea are constantly on-the-go — any feelings of boredom quickly smothered with yet more activity.

    At work, at home, at play, each moment must be filled with things to ward off the slighest possibility of being bored. As a society, we’re over-stimulated to the point of mania, like hyper-excited children in those few moments at a party before it all goes wrong and everyone starts crying. I suspect the rise in ADHD isn’t only due to eating strange chemicals in the diet; we’re training ourselves to require continual distraction, reducing our attention-span to less than a few seconds before we’re bored again.

    It used to be only teenagers who sighed, “I’m so bored!” Now almost everyone acts as if not having something truly exciting to do every moment is either the first sign of senility or — much worse — positive proof that they, and their careers, are gone, past it, over the hill, on the way towards oblivion.

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    Yet boredom is, in reality, crucial to any ability to be truly productive, let alone effective. If you’re flat-out busy and engaged all the time, you may feel important, but the reality is different. It’s those who are constantly distracted with activities who are most likely to be headed towards a nasty let-down.

    Busyness is a great excuse for becoming tired and repetitive

    The trouble is that people who are afraid of being bored soon become too busy to stay effective. In all their rush and haste to stay active, they have no time left to think about what they are doing, let alone add any new tricks to their repertoire. Besides, just sitting around in some classroom learning stuff is so . . . boring. I want to be out there, in the thick of the action, doing things.

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    Of course, being so active makes you tired, but resting is boring too. With the help of a lot of coffee, some superficial excitement, and a great deal of sheer determination (plus youth), you can get through on remarkably little sleep. And once you get into the habit of keeping your mind racing, ready to leap into the next crisis, you’ll find it hard to sleep anyway, until you are so exhausted your body rebels and knocks you out. Who cares what this is doing to you, physically and mentally? That’s years away, whatever it is. Plenty of time to worry about that when you’re old.

    It’s not true, sadly. A large proportion of Americans are chronically sleep-deprived: a situation that is known to have serious present and long-term ill effects on both body and mind.

    How boredom will help you towards success — if you let it

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    Being bored turns your mind inward and encourages reflection. When you’re rushing about, there’s no time to think. When you’re bored, there’s nothing else to do but think. The fashion today may be to admire action heroes and denigrate the power of the mind, but fashion never made anything right. With time to consider what you’re doing and why, you may just come up with some useful questions about the direction you’re headed in. We may be living in an age full of self-regard, but that doesn’t mean people spend much time in introspection. It’s more like they keep looking at themselves in a mental mirror, seeing how they look on the surface. They don’t go any deeper.

    Boredom is nearly always essential to creativity. It isn’t true that creativity is mostly sparked by having a specific problem to be solved. It’s far more likely to arise because the person is bored with the way something has been done a thousand times before and wants to try something new. That’s why new movements in technology, the arts, and even public life usually start when there are still plenty of people polishing and refining the current approach. They don’t begin because what is being done now is totally played out; they begin because a few people decide that’s boring and start playing around with how to change it.

    Boredom stimulates the search for better ways to things like nothing else does. How many improvements in processes and ways of producing things have come about because the people doing the job are so damn bored with going over same thing again and again? My guess is that it’s the single biggest spur to working smarter, far exceeding cost-cutting or abstract ideas of ‘constant improvement’. It’s become a truism that vast amounts of creativity and improvement are available from simply asking those who do some job how they might do it better. Those dull places where processes never change, and people spend their working days with minds numbed by boredom, relieved only by gossip, get that way because the people in charge are control freaks who can’t stand that anyone might have an independent idea.

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    Boredom is an essential step in falling asleep and getting enough rest. Watch almost any animal. If they’re stuck somewhere with nothing to do, they go to sleep. It’s the natural thing to do. We do it too. People usually can’t sleep because their minds are too active. They’re thinking about what they will do tomorrow, worrying about what they did today, or mad because they ought to be asleep and aren’t, and lying here wide awake is so boring. If they would only give in to being bored — relish how dull everything was and how there was nothing to do or think about — they’d be asleep in a matter of moments. But their minds are trained to seek constant stimulation. Even when they fall asleep, those minds fill the night with dreams of frantic activity. No wonder they wake up feeling tired.

    The next time you find yourself saying, or thinking, that you’re bored, be happy. You’ve just been handed a gift you can use in any of these ways. If you do, you’ll find that being bored is sometimes the very best state to be in.

    Photo credit: Jessica Lim

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    Last Updated on July 21, 2021

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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