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How to Counter-Balance Boredom in the Workplace

As a kid, I would complain about being bored and the response was always the same. Go outside. I knew what the response would be, but it never prevented me from voicing my dislike for the state of boredom.

I bore easily, so it’s with some enthusiasm and excitement that I report that I can’t remember the last time I was bored.

Being bored is the antithesis of being engaged. The statistics on how many workers are engaged in their jobs is staggeringly low. In 2015, Gallup shows:

  • 32% of people are considered to be engaged at work
  • 50.8% of employees were “not engaged” and
  • 17.2% were “actively disengaged”

What impact does this have on the companies, the employees and the economy? These statistics are very similar to 2014.

I remember being bored at work. In retrospect, going outside was actually the best possible advice.

Go outside to gain perspective, to physically move, to remove yourself from a situation you don’t like and to make a change. For myself, being bored triggered a need to change, sometimes in radical ways.

Boredom at work has less to do with the tasks assigned, and more to do with the perceived importance to you and the challenge they represent. If you sense that the project you are working on will never be implemented or is political and not practical, it will likely not feel important to you, even if it is to someone else.

If a task is mundane, but you believe it to be instrumental in some way to the organization, you can get into it, with the desire to get it done and done well. Why? Because you can see how it fits into a process that requires it, and it feels worthwhile.

Boredom at work is intolerable in the long term for some of us. That feeling leaves people lethargic, drained, and results in low productivity, and a lot of excessive snacking.

Finding work that feels meaningful, in the right environment won’t be boring. From the school bus driver to the tech genius, knowing why they do what they do and finding value in it keeps them engaged.

Woman working online

If you find yourself being assigned work that feels insignificant or irrelevant, you take on the feeling of insignificance yourself, and that invades the other areas of your life and limits the quality of your life outside of work as well.

Here are some ideas for counter-balancing workplace boredom:

1. Develop Mindfulness – If you assess the level of boredom vs. the valuable aspects of your work, and find that other factors are too good to pass on for you (high salary or important benefits), then you will need to still find a way to accept the boredom and be more mindful and present in what you do.

No question, there are ways to do this. Mindfulness training will allow you to gain presence no matter what you are doing and it will teach you an art form that may enhance your life.

2. Go outside – Yes, we are back to that. Take breaks and venture outside for a walk or something else that connects you with nature and fresh air. Breathe and tell yourself a different story about what you are doing.

If your inner dialogue is negative, then get outside and focus on something that you can be proud of with respect to what you are doing that gives it value (maybe you are training someone else who may not find it so tedious). Visualize where patience and engagement might take you, as opposed to continuing the same pattern. Are you developing skills that could be used somewhere else where they might be of more value?

3. Become an entrepreneur – The really interesting thing about being an entrepreneur is the very high level of engagement you experience.

You are learning all the time. There is a great mix of challenging problems to solve, and ideas to conceive, develop, market and monetize. When everything you do has an impact on the trajectory of your business, and on how your time and dollars are spent, everything is important and worthwhile.

That doesn’t mean doing it all yourself, but you understand and appreciate where it fits into the puzzle and why it is necessary. That creates instant engagement.

4. Make a change within your organization or to a new one – If the boredom just won’t end and you can’t tolerate it, and other factors are not worthwhile enough to justify the pain, then make a change. Set yourself up to make a change first by understanding the boredom you feel so you don’t repeat it somewhere else. The Desire Map by Danielle La Porte is a great starting point to figure out how you do want to feel in the next chapter.

5. Find significance elsewhere – Be as productive as possible at work, do what you need to do efficiently so you can accomplish other goals outside of work, and set boundaries accordingly. It’s not easy to manage yourself so that you can work a full time job and still have a second vocation or hobby that enriches you, but for some that is the preferred choice.

There is intrinsic value in nearly every legitimate job in the world. Jobs that are completely unnecessary phase out as new ones make the scene. If it is important in some way to you, you will be more interested in performing well which will lead to feeling better and projecting a value contribution.

Leave the opinions of others or the job status off the table when trying to determine what is important and see what comes up. Make the choice to feel good and enjoy your work authentically and boredom will be a thing of the past.