Being bored is boring. Not to state the obvious but it is. At some point in your life, you’re bound to experience it, which is why it’s important to understand what boredom is, why you might be bored in your job and what to do when you’re bored at work.
So what is boredom?
Firstly, while most people think that being bored is all about having nothing to do, this isn’t the case.
You can have plenty of things on your to-do list and still be bored.
Boredom often comes from not having the desire, or not wanting to do any of the things that are available to you. You might have energy, but feel like there’s no desirable outlet for it.
Secondly, some studies show that boredom is connected to attention. When you’re having trouble focusing your attention this can lead to feelings of boredom. In one study, groups of people were asked to read an article. Those who could hear a barely noticeable TV reported being bored, while those who could hear a loud TV or no TV didn’t.
In short, the people who heard the loud TV might have been annoyed, distracted or frustrated but they weren’t bored. Those who heard nothing could focus, but those who heard the soft sound couldn’t concentrate but didn’t know why and as a result, they assumed it was because they were bored.
So when you’re struggling to concentrate on something, but can’t figure out why, you’re likely to conclude that it’s because you’re bored.
Finally, researchers have found that there are 5 different types of boredom.
The 5 Types of Boredom
Boredom type 1 – Indifferent boredom
Indifferent boredom is what you feel when a task you’re doing doesn’t interest you. In this type of boredom, you’re likely to feel tired and your mind will wander. While this state might be positive or relaxed, you’re not engaged.
Boredom Type 2 – Calibrating boredom
Here, the feeling is more unpleasant. You know you want to experience something more interesting but you don’t know what. You’ll be open and receptive to things that might reduce the boredom. But you won’t necessarily actively go and seek them out. In this stage, you might start to feel a little irritable.
Boredom Type 3 – Searching boredom
In searching boredom, you’ll definitely feel irritable and restless and you’ll actively start searching for a way out of the boredom-inducing situation. If you’re out with friends, you might be on your phone. This is when you’ll probably say you’re bored out loud.
Boredom Type 4 – Reactant boredom
In reactant boredom, you experience strong negative emotions. You’ll do what you can to escape the situation or the person that’s boring you. You might become highly annoyed or aggressive and you’ll be persistently thinking about more highly valued situations. Basically, you’d rather be somewhere else, with someone else doing something else and you want out now!
Boredom Type 5 – Reactant boredom
Apathetic boredom is unpleasant but it’s different from the other types of boredom. When you’re in a state of apathetic boredom you’ll have low arousal, a lack of positive or negative feelings and a feeling of helplessness.
Psychologists have likened apathetic boredom to depression.
Clearly, boredom is a sign that something needs to change.
So, what can you do when you feel bored at work?
Before we talk about how to stop being bored at work, let me tell you about my experience with boredom and how I know that it’s definitely possible to overcome these feelings of being bored at work.
Looking back, I’ve had some seriously boring jobs. From checkout girl, to call centre operator and the best one… working in a factory line, sticking labels on the side of a plant pot – ALL DAY, that was definitely the most boring!
But these jobs served a purpose. They got me through uni and helped me pay my rent. And as boring as some of them were, I was mostly able to stick it out for as long as I needed to, that is until I found something else, or until I made a conscious decision that it was time to leave. I tried not to “jump ship” because that’s a reaction that usually comes back to bite you in the butt later.
If you really don’t like your job and you find it seriously boring, you might want to find a job that’s a bit more stimulating. I get it, in fact, I highly recommend you do because life’s too short.
But finding a new job can take time. That’s why it’s important to learn how to overcome boredom. Not to mention, just because your bored, it doesn’t actually mean you need to change jobs, more on that in a minute.
“But why am I so bored at work?”, you might be wondering…
…and what can you do about it when boredom strikes?
It’s worth trying to figure out exactly why you’re bored in the first place because this can help you figure out the best solution to overcome it, and you’ll be able to manage your boredom more effectively if you understand its true source.
Here are 10 common reasons why people get bored at work and what you can do when it happens.
Reasons why you’re bored at work #1: You don’t find the work you’re doing stretching or challenging enough
Whether or not you have the opportunity to learn and develop has a major impact on your job satisfaction. If you’re in a job where you know everything backwards and forwards, it’s therefore likely that you’ll start to feel bored since you’ve outgrown your job.
For each activity you undertake, your brain uses neural pathways to transmit the signals required to perform the task. When you do something you’ve never done before, there’s likely to be no ready-made path, so your brain must create a new one, which is difficult and takes time (welcome to learning).
Once you’ve done something a million times over, then the pathways are already there and your brain will find the easiest and quickest route to perform tasks.
This means you can practically do the job with your eyes closed ( or autopilot). Just like the saying goes.
Without challenges, your brain gets stuck in the same neural “ruts”. This requires little to no energy from your brain and you’ll be able to feel it because you’ll feel tired.
What to do about it
Improve your performance: Are you doing the job at the highest level, if not, what can you do better? Start working on that – what are the top performers doing that you’re not?
Develop yourself: Find out what you need to do to progress to the next level and start working on that ( learning new skills, reading up, going to conferences)
Develop in the role: Get clear on what challenges or development you want, then have a discussion with your boss about how this can be incorporated into your role ( TIP – make sure it’s a win-win for you and your company, especially where training budgets are involved)
Reasons why you’re bored at work #2 – You’re working in isolation
As humans, we’re hardwired to connect and have social interactions and when we don’t get the level of interaction that we need, things don’t feel so great.
Being stuck alone for long period of time without enough interaction can at worst lead to feelings of loneliness, but on the milder end, without the welcomed discussions and updates with colleagues, being stuck in your own head can soon get boring. Particularly if the activity itself is repetitive or you find it boring for other reasons. ( see below)
What to do about it
Schedule regular catch ups with a colleague, by phone Skype, Teams, or in person
If working from home, with distance, plan to be in the office at least once a month
Make a point to pop out for lunch rather than stay isolated, the fresh air and just being around people can help.
Watch an inspiring TED Talk
Reasons why you’re bored at work #3: A lot of your work is repetitive
Repetition is not all bad. It aids learning and when used in balance with more complex demanding or difficult tasks, repetitive tasks can actually be the thing that gives you a moment to regain some calm in an otherwise potentially stressful day.
The problem arises when you feel that too much of your work is repetitive or the majority of it is. Your brain needs a challenge or at least some novelty in order for you to stay alert, engaged and on task and having a job which involves a lot of repetitiveness doesn’t just lead to boredom, but can also cause you to make more mistakes as you drift off into a daydream. LINK NEEDED.
What to do about it
Automation: Where possible try to automate repetitive tasks to free up time for more interesting tasks
Process improvement: Assess if there are any other areas in the processes that can be changed or streamlined to minimise the receptive aspects
Reasons why you’re bored at work # 4: You’re being under-utilised
If you’re being under-utilised in your job it means that your job isn’t maximising your full potential.
This could be in the form of skills or knowledge that you’re not getting the opportunity to make use of, but it could also be in the form of time.
Feeling like you could do more but not having the opportunity to can be frustrating and will definitely lead to boredom if you don’t take action to resolve the issue.
What to do about it
Process Improvements: Analyse processes and see where improvements can be made – then make them and document them.
Support others: Offer your support to others in the team or even outside the team with the knowledge you have. ( TIP doing things with other functions stops working in silos and improves cross-functional relationships and your business visibility and understanding)
Learning: If there’s really nothing further that can be done, use your time wisely to learn a new skill, read up on industry insights
Reasons why you’re bored at work #5 – Your work doesn’t fit with your personality
Have you ever taken a personality assessment and if so, what did you think of the results?
While your personality isn’t the only measure of how likely you are to enjoy a certain job, it’s definitely going to play a part and more than likely a big one.
There are lots of different personality assessments out there to choose from, and if you haven’t ever taken one before, it’s definitely worth considering.
Every assessment will either follow the type based or trait-based personality theory, in psychological terms ( but we won’t go too deep into that here!)
The difference between type and trait-based personality assessments
Type-based personality assessments are based on type based personality theory. This type of assessment puts people into specific categories based on the answers they select in the questionnaire.
While some people feel that this type of assessment is too restrictive since you’re “this” or “that” with nothing in between, it can still provide you with great value and insight about yourself. This is why it’s still often used by companies as a development tool.
A well-known example of a type based theory personality assessment is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
Trait-based personality assessments, on the other hand, don’t put people into neat categories. Instead, they’re based on the theory that there are a number of traits and each of us has all of them within us, to varying degrees.
In these assessments, there is a sliding scale for each trait. Where you are on the scale for each trait indicates your preferences.
The 5 most commonly used traits across different assessments are:
So, as far as your career or job is concerned, if you’re someone who is high on the extraversion scale, this means your the life of the party and enjoy getting out there. Therefore, you’re more likely to enjoy working in an environment that’s social.
So, if you’re a big-time extrovert you’ll probably get bored sitting in a room staring at numbers all day long!
What to do about it
Sharings caring: You have strengths that your colleagues may not find out what your good at that they might need help with so you can get to do more of it.
Mindset shift: Write down all the tasks in your job that do play to your personality and strengths and find a way to do more of it and write down the areas where your job doesn’t fit your personality and find a way f working that accommodates this. For example- mix tasks you love with the boring tasks or do all the boring things in a block.
Look at the wider picture: Assess your time outside of work, are you doing enough of what you love in your own time. If not, then it’s time to start. If your time spent outside work is riveting it gives you plenty to look forward to.
More on mindset – Remember why: Sit down and write down the reasons you took the job – it helps to remember why you got here in the first place.
Reasons why you’re bored at work #6: There’s not enough variety in your work day or week
People like variety and novelty and this is true for all aspects of our lives. Even if like me you love a routine, the fact is doing the same thing day in and day out without mixing it up will eventually become a snooze fest.
Clearly, how long it takes before you get bored will depend on your personality and preference ( see above), but even if its years before it happens, at some point you need variety.
What to do about it
Mix it up outside the office:
- Drive a new route to work
- Listen to a new podcast in the car
- Change your gym routine
- Do something mid-week like watch a film
- Reconnect with an old friend
This might sound crazy but at least it will give you a bit of variety in your life.
Mix it up at the office:
- Change your schedule
- Move desks
- Start and finish at a different time if that’s an option
- Switch tasks with a colleague
- Do something different for lunch
- Listen to a webinar or attend a lunch and learn
- support a different business area
- Decorate your desk with things of interest
Reasons why you’re bored at work #7: You have too much idle time on your hands
A slow day at work can sometimes come as a relief. Perhaps you’ve been working really hard to meet that deadline or you’ve just finished a nightmare project, or maybe you’ve just gone through an insanely busy spell. Either way, a slow day can be just what you need to take stock before it all kicks off again.
While being swamped at work might be stressful, when you have nothing to do at work you’ll soon discover a different type of stress.
Have nothing to do for a few hours here and there or even for the odd day is one thing, but having nothing to do or having very little to do on a regular basis is another matter.
From worrying that your job might not be needed to trying to find things to do to feeling guilty for the situation, not having anything to do will not only lead to boredom but can definitely lead to stress. Especially if your conscientious and actually want to do a good job and provide value for your “not so hard earned” cash!
What to do about it
- Tidy your desk
- Organise your inbox
- Help a colleague out
- Write a process manual
- Update your LinkedIn profile
- Offer to run a lunch and learn and start working on that
- Analyse processes and improve processes
- Improve your Excel skills
- Read LinkedIn updates
- Learn about other departments
- Meet a mentor for coffee
- Find and connect with other people you admire and respect
- Offer to attend an industry-related event ( during the day)
- Research and analyse competitors
- Research your salary
- Do those things you’ve been putting off because you didn’t have the time
- Take a course and update your skills/ knowledge
Reasons why you’re bored at work #8: There are no clear goals or objectives
Goals give you something specific to focus on, which means if you go off course or lose focus, it’s a lot easier to get back on track. But that’s not all, the best goals will align with something that’s important to you, like getting that promotion, learning a new skill to be able to take on more responsibility, or dare I say it… getting that bonus or commission cheque!
According to scientists
“we get bored when we have difficulty paying attention to the internal information, such as thoughts or feelings, or outside stimuli required for taking part in satisfying activity; when we’re aware of the fact that we’re having difficulty paying attention; and when we blame the environment for our sorry state, thinking, “This task is boring,” or “There is nothing to do.””
Having a well set , clearly defined goal will focus your attention, because whatever the goal is linked to, even if it’s the sense of accomplishment that comes from its achievement, you’ll feel more connected to the job at hand and you’re therefore less likely to lose focus or stop paying attention, avoiding boredom in the process.
What to do about it
Set goals and targets: daily, weekly and monthly. That’ll get you focused.
Reasons why you’re bored at work #9: You’re pre-occupied with something else
Sometimes your mind is elsewhere. You’ve got a sick child or another family member, your long-term relationship is breaking down, you’re trying to find a new place to live. These things are stressful. They can definitely take over your mind and make it hard to focus on the job at hand.
When you’re pre-occupied in this way, whatever the reason, this loss of attention can lead to a sense of boredom, coupled with the other emotions. Because ultimately, you’d rather be somewhere else. The situation might be temporary but it’s still not good.
What to do about it
Take time off to deal with the issue if possible
Be open and honest about what’s going on for you as much as you can be
Learn to compartmentalise – decide to leave your troubles/ worries or other matters at the door when you walk in ( TIP: Start a ritual and routine for starting your day to help you get in the right frame of mind.)
Practice self-care and meditate and exercise
Reasons why you’re bored at work #10: You just need a change
You like what you do, you get on with your colleagues, your manager’s great, but for some reason, things just don’t feel the same as they used to. Maybe you even feel guilty and ungrateful for feeling the way you do.
Sometimes it’s hard to put your finger on it. All you know is that you’ve become disconnected and distant and despite having seemingly good opportunities, everything just feels “Meh”
What to do about it
In this instance it’s all about self-awareness, reflects and working to understand what you want.
It might well be time to quit, but you need to be clear. Take time to think about where you want to be in the next year and answer some questions:
Does this role lead you to where you want to be?
When were you happiest, what was happening then?
What has changed since you can last remember not being bored?
- There are 5 types of boredom
- Boredom is a sign that something needs to change. You just need to figure out what it is, specifically, that needs to change
- Taking the time to understand exactly why you’re bored will help you figure out the best solution to stopping it.
Conclusion and actions
There’s clearly more to boredom than meets the eye. It’s definitely not a simple matter of having nothing to do.
So, before you throw in the town and head for the hills because your job is boring you to tears, take a moment to really figure out what the reason is and more importantly, if you want to improve the situation, commit to taking the recommended actions.