Being bored at work seems to be a theme in the lives of most recent college grads I know (especially those of us who majored in things like gender studies or english). It’s next to impossible for us to find jobs after graduation, and then eventually we land boring, crappy assistant jobs that involve staring at a computer screen for eight hours straight and trying to suppress our desk rage. This leads to a very specific and pervasive type of existential dread, one that usually results in rageful gchatting about wasted potential, forgotten dreams, and murder/suicide plots.
In my time as a lowly, bored assistant (wench), I have done the following things to suppress my boredom at work:
- Tried to see how long I could stretch out my morning coffee (record: 2.5 hours)
- Provoked gchat fights, just for entertainment
- Endlessly refreshed my twitter feed in the hopes that something fascinating would pop up
- Googled myself
- Googled everyone I know
- Played Text Twist
- Completely exhausted the blogosphere (while avoiding taking in any actual news or learning anything)
- Crafted and sent long, absolutely gratuitous e-mails to ex-lovers
- Purchased numerous books on Amazon that seemed like good ideas at the time (Spoiler alert: they were not good ideas.)
- Snooped in my boss’s e-mail for evidence of torrid affairs (and even found some)
Obviously, none of these activities are productive uses of my (or my former employers’) time– and they don’t even work to stave off boredom. If anything, doing all of this stuff just made me even more bored with my life, my job, and the world at large.
But I have learned from all of this, lovers and friends! That’s what this whole growth mindset thing is about. I have done all of this spinning and tail-chasing, and I have figured out what we assistants and underused temps of the world have to do to keep our minds and hearts engaged while we toil away for the man.
The way I see it, there are three paths to ending boredom at work.
1. Get a Side Project.
The term “side project” doesn’t come close to conveying how wonderful it can be to have work that you do, on your own terms, outside of your day job. To decide what work you want to be doing and put a plan together to do it is a really powerful and validating thing. Side projects shape your days and hours, and keep you goal-oriented and focused on the things that really excite you. Having a project that I do for my own enjoyment and on my own time (hi guys!) has exponentially improved my focus at work. It’s easier to resign myself to doing boring tasks during my day job when I know that I get to leave at 5 and do work that I really love.
Whenever I find myself getting restless or bored at work, I turn to the giant list of things I need to do for my side project instead of trolling the internet or starting trouble. Doing something productive when I get bored at work makes the time fly by, and it also keeps my mental momentum going, which makes it easier to transition back into excel spreadsheets and endless photocopying. Get yourself a side project (or ten). You’ll be shocked at how much your focus and energy will improve.
2. Get Better at Your Job.
You can refuse to be bored at work. This means doing all of your boring assistant work as quickly and efficiently as possible, and then, when boredom and empty stretches of time appear, asking people if they need help with other projects. You can also just do things that you see need to be done without asking. There are bound to be tons of projects in your office that no one has had a chance to get to, and you can take it upon yourself to tackle these, even if no one has assigned them to you.
In his book Linchpin, Seth Godin asks us all to see our jobs as platforms to do the work we’re really meant to be doing. I think this is completely brilliant (and Linchpin is a must-read for all bored assistants out there, and everyone else, too). Your job can be way more than the menial tasks you’ve been assigned. If you ask a lot of questions, are genuinely interested, go above and beyond your job description, and vow to learn as much as possible, you will never be bored at work. You will also prove yourself to be an indespensible employee, which will get you promoted into a more interesting position.
3. Get Another Job.
If you’re really and truly bored to tears at work and see no way to use your current job as a platform, I think you owe it to yourself to find another job. Not just another job, a better job– one that will fulfill your creative needs and not leave you completely depleted and grumpy at 5 p.m. If this is the case, you should use your bored time at work to look for other, better jobs and apply for them. The act of searching and applying will keep you entertained and focused, and you will ultimately end up at a job that doesn’t make you miserable. I guess some people might have ethical problems with using work time to search for other jobs, but I think that if you’re truly unhappy in your current situation, you’re doing your employer a favor by trying to get out as quickly as possible so that they can replace you with someone who truly enjoys and excels at that job.
When I was a kid and I used to whine about being bored, my mom would tell me that only boring people got bored. I think that she has a point. Being bored sometimes is inevitable– we all need time to recharge and be silent and still– but there are always ways to ensure that we’re living lives that are engaging, fulfilling, interesting, and fun. Boredom isn’t a feeling that we should indulge. Figuring out how to keep ourselves happy, amused, and engaged is part of growing up and doing the work we’re supposed to be doing with our lives. So, I say we do that instead.
Do any of you have any tricks for avoiding boredom at work (or anywhere)? Spill the beans in the comments!
Full disclosure: I have recently moved from being a super bored assistant to something more interesting. More on that soon!