30 Things to Do to Keep From Getting Bored Out of Your Skull at Work
The war between being and nothingness is the underlying illness of the twentieth century. Boredom slays more of existence than war. - Norman Mailer I’m not one to get bor...
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The war between being and nothingness is the underlying
illness of the twentieth century. Boredom slays more of existence than
war. - Norman Mailer
I’m not one to get bored, ever … but a number of readers have
written in with the question: What do I do if I’m bored out of my skull
Photo courtesy of zebrastripes
It gave me pause, to think about why I can’t recall ever getting
that bored at work. And I realized: I always keep myself busy, doing
something, whether it’s productive or not.
Sometimes, I’m creating a new project, or improving myself somehow …
but sometimes I just find interesting stuff to read online or find a
cool solitaire game to play. (Well, I haven’t played any games in
awhile, but Freecell used to be my poison of choice a few years ago.)
So the short answer: just find things to entertain yourself. Keep your mind busy. Challenge yourself. Talk to somebody. Break out of your mold.
The longer answer has to do with analyzing why you’re bored in the first place.
Is your job that boring? Are you really doing what you want to be
doing? Is there a way to start pursuing something better? Or are you
already in a great job, but something or someone is holding you back?
And what can you do to improve the situation?
I’m not going to pursue the longer answer in this post, but give you
some ideas for the shorter answer. It’s not an exhaustive list of
ideas. Just some things I’ve done to keep my mind busy — pick and
choose those that might work for you.
- Create a new challenge. I think this is by far the
best thing on the list, but you may differ. Many times we’re bored
because we don’t have a challenge — things are too easy or routine. So
instead of waiting for someone to create a challenge for you, do it
yourself. How can you challenge yourself? Set a new goal at work.
Challenge yourself to produce more than ever. Explore new projects. Set
personal goals and pursue them. Whatever excites you.
- Pursue your next job. If your job is so boring you
don’t know what to do with yourself, you may need to move on. But
instead of quitting right away, start lining up your next gig first.
Look around for openings, call people, update your resume and submit it
to a few places, pick up a few applications, send out some email
feelers. Find something that will never get you bored, something you’ll
be passionate about.
- List your life goals. What is it you want to
accomplish in life? Not just with work, but personally? If you’ve
listed them before, it’s always good to update them. Then choose one of
those goals to achieve this year. Now think about what you can do today
to move closer to that goal, even if it’s just a small thing. Get the
ball rolling. Do this every day — move yourself closer to that goal.
- Read Zen Habits. Or whatever your favorite
distraction is. If it’s something that will improve your life, even
better. Just limit how long you read at one time, so you’re not reading
through the Zen Habits archives in one sitting.
- Declutter your workspace. If I’ve got nothing
better to do, I’ll clear off my desk (if there’s anything there), or
start looking around critically at everything in view and asking
myself, “Does that really need to be there? How can I simplify this?”
Weird, I know, but I have an oddly uncluttered workspace. Right now my
desk is a table, my iMac, an nothing else. No files, no papers, no
office supplies, nothing. Everything is done on my computer, and I love
it that way. Nothing on my walls. You may not need anything as spartan
as that, but decluttering can be a lot of fun.
- Pursue a hobby. My hobby (until it became a
profession) was blogging … I would do it at work in my spare time, or
before or after work. Not everyone can pursue their hobby at work — the
model airplane glue might bother your coworkers, for example — but
sometimes you can just read about it while at work. I was upfront about
my blogging and freelancing at work with my boss, btw, but many people
get away with doing it on the sly. I won’t make a recommendation, but
just don’t get fired.
- Make your work a game. You can make a game out of
anything. See how many widgets you can crank in 10 minutes. Pretend
that your coworkers are evil villains. Imagine that you are a CIA agent
in disguise, and no one knows. Or a fairy princess. Whatever floats
your boat. :)
- Educate yourself. On Guam, this is called
“edumacation” — it’s not a real word, but we like to play with English.
Whatever you call it, you can improve your knowledge online in any area
— whether that be work-related or not. Be your own college instructor.
Wikipedia is a great place to start, but if you’re going to have a
specialized knowledge in anything, branch out from there.
- Improve your skills. Along the same lines: choose
a skill that needs sharpening, and challenge yourself to get better at
it. Whether that’s computer programming, writing, working with Adobe
InDesign, or whatever. Perfect your skills — you can use it to further
your career, get a new job, or become self-employed. Or just have the
satisfaction of knowing you’re the best you can be at that skill.
- Play Sudoku. Perhaps not the most intellectual
game of all time, or the most exciting … but I still find it a lot of
fun. I only played it a little while and didn’t get addicted like other
people I know, but I have to admit it’s a fun way to pass the time.
- Choose a soothing desktop picture. I like to do
this when I’m procrastinating. I will go online, to flickr or some
desktop wallpaper website and browse around until I find a very simple,
soothing picture. I do this maybe every month or so. In fact, I’m going
to go do that right now!
- Do some pushups and crunches. If you’re bored, you
might as well start getting in shape. You can do pushups and crunches
right there on the floor next to your desk (or go outside if you’re
worried about your coworkers seeing you). Or walk up some steps, or do
squats and lunges without weights, or dips in your chair, or butt
squeezes (that means squeeze your own butt, not your coworkers’).
- Take a day or two off. Sometimes you just need to
refresh yourself, recharge your batteries before starting again. Don’t
do any work while you’re out. Veg out, or read, or sleep, or exercise,
or whatever. Get your mind off work. Think about your priorities. Get
out in nature. Reconnect with your life.
- Take a walk. Often this is all I need, especially
if I’ve been sitting all day and my blood is pooling up in my butt and
legs. I need to get that blood circulating! Go outside, walk around,
look at people, look at nature, think about your day and your life and
the people in it.
- Drink some water. Dehydration can make us tired
and sluggish. Water can refresh us. Keep that water coming all day long
— you may need to pee more though.
- Call a loved one. What better time to call someone
to catch up, to tell them you love them, to just say hi … than when
you’ve got nothing better to do. It’s a nice way to stay connected.
- Read. I like to carry a novel everywhere I go.
Then I whip it out anytime I have spare time, waiting at the doctor’s
office, in line at the post office, driving in the Indy 500 … you know.
If not a novel, carry around a “to read” folder with stuff you want or
need to read but don’t have time for right now … then whip it out at
your desk when you’re bored. You could have a “to read” folder on your
- Start writing your novel. Many of us have a novel
that’s tossing itself around in our heads and hearts, waiting to come
out. Well, start getting it out, mister. Just start by writing some
notes, thinking about characters and plot and what the hell this book
is about anyway. It’s not going to come out by itself.
- Take a nap. If you don’t have a good place to do
this, you can curl up under your desk with a sweater, or go to your car
and sleep. I’ve learned how to fall asleep at my chair, but thank
goodness I’m working at home and can go to the couch in a napping
- Create a new project or role. If things are
stagnating at work, start something new. Create and innovate. What can
you do that has a lasting impact for your company and for yourself, for
your career? If you’re stuck in a dead-end role, create a new role for
yourself. It doesn’t matter if it’s not in the job description. Find
something that’s not being done by someone else, something that needs
to be done or that hasn’t been thought of yet, but that would really
benefit the company — and take it upon yourself to do it. You might
need to talk to your boss, but sometimes you can just start doing
something and inform the higher-ups later. If it’s good for the
company, and if they’re smart, they’ll be happy.
- Write a love letter. If you have a significant
other, write a letter telling them why you love them. They’ll love it.
Email is fine, but pen and paper are even better.
- Do one small thing to make yourself wealthier.
That might be creating a savings account if you don’t have one yet, or
setting up an automatic transfer between checking and savings every
payday, or researching a money market fund or index fund, or simply
reading Get Rich Slowly or The Simple Dollar for personal finance
- Write a blog post. This is something I love to do
when things get slow. I’ll just call up a text file and start writing.
I love lists, of course (you guys should know that by now), so often
I’ll just start making a list, and writing down my thoughts. If things
are really slow, I’ll do the whole blog post. I can always post it
later if necessary. Make sure you love what you’re writing about.
- Do an errand. This can either be in the office
(”Where’s that ink cartridge I’ve been needing all week?”) or outside
the office (”I really should buy toilet paper today!”). It gets you
moving, it gets you away from the scene of your boredom, and it
accomplishes something useful.
- Update your personal finances. I used to track my
finances through Microsoft Money, but I’ve since switched to using a
Google spreadsheet, so that it’s online and accessible from anywhere. I
considered other online solutions, but personally, I like to keep
things as simple as possible. However you do it, it’s a good idea to
update your financial tracking system once a week or so, so that you
know where you stand and you don’t overspend. Got some spare time?
- Meditate at your desk. Some people would say this
is just a fancy term for taking a nap. But for me the key is not to
fall asleep, but to close my eyes and focus on my breathing. Nothing
new-agey about this — it brings your focus back to the present and
calms you. Sometimes it’ll calm you so much you’ll fall asleep. I say,
two birds, one stone.
- Organize your files. OK, this might seem boring to
many people, but I like to organize things. I get a perverse
satisfaction from purging useless stuff and having everything be
smaller, neater, and in order. And it doesn’t take long.
- Clear out your inbox. I get joy out of an empty
inbox, whether that’s my email inbox or physical one. Crank through it
until it’s empty — you don’t have to do everything in the inbox, but
just make a note of it on your to-do list if you plan to do it later
(or delete, file, forward, or do it now). Got a thousand or two emails
in your inbox? Put them in a temporary folder and do them later,
starting with a fresh inbox. Chances are, you won’t need to do them at
all. Now just keep your inbox empty from here on out.
- Crank up the tunes. Some funky or upbeat tunes
might just do the trick. They can make any job much more fun. Either
play it on your speakers if your coworkers don’t mind, or plug in the
earbuds. Currently on my playlist: Radiohead, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah,
the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Jack Johnson, Snow Patrol … I could go on and on.
- Get wild! Sometimes we just need to let loose.
Start singing at the top of your lungs, or dance around the office.
Sure, people might stare or laugh, but a little fun in the office isn’t
a bad thing. Or get out of the office and do something fun or crazy.
One afternoon of wildity isn’t going to hurt you (well, stay away from
things that are illegal or life-threatening, if possible).
The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity. - Dorothy Parker
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