Overcoming Boredom at Work

  • 4 mins read

Even though you may have a great job, you can still experience boredom. Who hasn’t been sitting at the computer when a restless feeling starts gnawing away and thoughts meander anywhere but on the task required? A feeling of boredom can cause one to question the meaning and value of just about everything.

Boredom isn’t just wasteful, it is stressful. If you’re busy, and yet still bored, it’s even more so.

"My boredom stems not from having nothing to do but from having nothing that seems worthwhile doing. We human beings are addicted to meaning, and this kind of existential boredom signals its unhappy retreat." ~ Mark de Rond, "Are You Busy at Work but Still Bored?" Harvard Business Review, July 2012.

Boredom can come not only from having nothing to do but from having nothing that seems worthwhile to do.

If boredom came solely from a lack of things to do, we could eliminate boredom by simply having more to do. But this solution only works in the short-term when what we are asked to do does not feel meaningful.

What Causes Boredom?

Boredom is not something to be taken lightly. Research suggests that many areas of a person’s life can be seriously impacted by feelings of boredom. In studies using a boredom-process scale, those who rated low were better performers in areas such as education, career and autonomy.

Let’s explore three types of boredom. The first type shows up when we are prevented from engaging in wanted activity. The second type occurs when we are forced to engage in unwanted activity; and the third type is when, for no apparent reason, we are unable to feel engaged for any length of time in any particular activity.

A 1989 study indicated that an impression of boredom may be influenced by an individual’s degree of attention. A high acoustic level of distraction from the environment correlates with higher reports of boredom.

One study suggests that boredom has an evolutionary basis that encourages humans to seek out new challenges, which may, ultimately, influence human learning and ingenuity. Perhaps it was boredom that propelled Christopher Columbus to explore new continents. Many of today’s innovations may stem from people who seek out new challenges.

Are Some People Prone to Boredom?

Is there such a thing as boredom proneness? Apparently so, and it is defined as a tendency to experience boredom of all types – typically assessed by something called the Boredom Proneness Scale.

Boredom proneness is clearly associated with attention problems. It has been shown to be linked to symptoms of depression.

Although boredom is often viewed as a trivial and mild irritant, proneness to boredom is linked to a diverse range of psychological, physical, educational, and social problems.

Boredom at Work

How can we adjust work when boredom strikes, even though we may have more than enough work to keep us busy all day? How do we escape that feeling when we have a task that doesn’t excite or engage us?

In a Fast Company article, 6 Ways the Most Successful People Conquer Boredom at Work, Sam Harrison suggests six tips.

  1. Force yourself to be curious, because boredom is oftentimes a loss of curiosity.
  2. You can try putting yourself in the shoes of whoever will benefit from the project you’re working on. How will the choices you make affect them?
  3. Look outside your own world and see how another subject or emotion was approached.
  4. Aim to do something deliberately amusing and make yourself laugh. Interestingly enough, laughter and boredom can’t exist simultaneously.
  5. Take a hike or stroll in new surroundings for fresh perspectives. Even moving to another room or a nearby coffee shop can help. Sometimes a simple change in scenery can reignite those brain cells.
  6. Try looking at your project in a new way; anything that gives you a change in perspective.

When all else fails, commit to trudging through when that seems like that’s all you can do. At times, we just have to keep going—even while resisting it—until something interesting comes into view again.

It’s easy to dismiss critical “stuck points” in your career as temporary boredom. In actuality, boredom is a sign that you need to do something else. Don’t let it become habitual. The longer it lasts, the harder it is to get “unstuck.”

In the end, boredom can seriously undermine others’ perceptions of your potential, as well as your chances for more interesting work opportunities. Speak up and discuss its causes and solutions. Your brain craves interesting things to do.

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