The Power of Boredom

Some of us are more readily susceptible than others to the feeling, but we all hate boredom. Although we’ve all experienced long periods of it, few of us have learned to recognize the power of boredom as a signal of opportunity.

Think about it: One definition of “boredom” is simply “feeling that the moment lacks purpose or meaning.” It happens when we’re stalled, doing nothing we feel is important in our work or our lives. Feeling bored, therefore, can be taken as a powerful indication we are wasting precious time and should look for something purposeful or meaningful to do.

With this approach, you can turn boredom into a powerful “making lemonade out of lemons” moment, as follows:

Find a Purpose

One of the simplest ways to counteract boredom is to be ready with one or more of what I call “five-minute tasks.” These are short, self-contained activities you can start working on at a moment’s notice. They can be set up to build toward any goal, including your most important ones.

You can’t build a marketing plan or repair a broken dishwasher in just five minutes, of course, but you can take a specific step in that direction. It’s not difficult to break down some of your larger tasks, projects, and goals into simple, self-contained five-minute tasks and keep them on hand to tackle sequentially whenever you get a chance, including moments you feel bored.

You can also replace five minutes of boredom with something like installing a new app on your smartphone or writing a “thank you” or a “here’s what’s new” note to a colleague, friend, or loved one.

If you want to fill more than five minutes, you can carry something useful to read, watch, or listen to – and get started being productive the moment you begin to feel bored.

Find Meaning

Another response to boredom is to look for meaning in the moment. There are several ways to do this:

Meditation and Mindfulness: These are mental/spiritual practices that build and support meaning in your life. The idea is to quiet the usual chatter in your brain and pay more attention instead to your inner self. Engaging in such practices will not only pass the time but help further your progress in one of both of these disciplines.

Awareness and Presence: It has been said there are no meaningless moments, only people who lack awareness and total presence in the moment. Many people are able to alleviate boredom by consciously paying closer attention to their surroundings and by trying to fully experience each moment.

One way to do this is by tuning into each of your senses, paying maximum attention to the sights, sounds, textures, smells, and even tastes available in your immediate surroundings.

Finding meaning in the moment is not directly productive – which is admittedly the main focus of this blog. But just as exercise isn’t directly productive yet has value because it builds your strength for other activities that are, finding meaning builds extra capability for awareness and sensitivity which will boost your productivity in a great many other situations.  

The bottom line is that boredom is an emotional state you need not simply endure. You can easily learn to take some kind of action that helps you circumvent or mitigate the feeling. Ultimately, you can actually learn to appreciate boredom as a powerful stimulus toward making better use of your time, energy, and effort.

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