What Your Boredom at Work Is Actually Telling You

What Your Boredom at Work Is Actually Telling You

We’ve all been bored at some point during the workday—work isn’t meant to be mentally stimulating for every moment. Whether we’re bored routinely during a certain time of day or with our career in general, boredom is a common workplace experience. It’s a common life experience—so why shouldn’t the same be true at work?

Boredom can be unpleasant, so it’s natural that we’d resist it—but like every parent knows, boredom isn’t all bad, for kids and adults alike. In fact, it can lead to all kinds of insights.

What is boredom?

Boredom isn’t about not having enough to do—you could have a lot of tasks and activities and still be bored. It’s about how engaged we feel in what we’re doing. That is the big misconception about boredom—that it has to do with activity—and it affects how we treat it, by trying to avoid or eliminate it by filling our day with activities and deadlines that keep us “busy.”

Boredom forces us to be with our thoughts, something many people are loathe to do. In fact, one study found that participants would rather self-administer electric shocks than be alone with their thoughts. “Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing,” the study concludes, “even if that something is negative.”

But boredom can lead to creativity and innovation—and that’s where it’s good to be bored at work. Idleness allows our brains to rest and explore, freed up to generate new ideas and inspirations. We reconnect with what is important to us, and we are reminded of our values. Boredom can be a “functional emotion” that guides us to helpful behaviours, which lead to better outcomes for ourselves or our work.

Begin by giving yourself permission to be bored—and once you do that, here are a few more tips for maximizing the feeling.

Examine your boredom

Figure out what exactly is boring you. Are you experiencing a lack of interaction? For many people who work from home, boredom sets in quickly (despite having plenty to do) because there is a lack of social interaction. Some people thrive and get energy from having people around them. This lack of social stimulation often settles in as boredom.

Or maybe it is about the work itself that you’re doing. After being in a job for a couple of years, I found myself bored because the work was no longer stimulating. I could do most assignments without much effort, and I wasn’t having new experiences. In hindsight, I now realize that the work had become mind-numbingly predictable. I craved newness: new people, new problems, new systems and processes.

Another common experience is the need for high-quality rest. Boredom sets in as a by-product of burnout or overwork. It might even look and feel like apathy. Maybe your attention is no longer captivated at work because you’re just too tired to care about it.

Decide whether you need to take action

Once you understand your boredom, you can do something about it. If you recognize you’re bored because of a lack of people around, you can find activities that increase your social interaction. Maybe you have a direct conversation with your boss about having more challenging assignments or you finally enroll in a program you’ve been eyeing. It might also come down to rest and that you need more than a long weekend off. The bottom line here is to be intentional about handling your boredom.

You can also do nothing at all and just settle into it—sit with your boredom, let your brain wander, and challenge yourself not to fill it with “noise” like surfing the internet or scrolling social media. Just be with your boredom and see where your mind takes you. If that’s too uncomfortable (and electric shocks start to sound good), then go for a walk outside. It’s a daily habit from which everyone benefits, and it’s also a surefire way to embrace and even maximize your boredom.

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