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Six scientifically supported boredom-busting tips

Most of us spend at least eight hours a day working. This includes schoolwork, housework, and every other activity that ends in “work.” As a high-functioning workaholic (yes, I work in the bathroom), I’ll be the first to tell you that this isn’t a bad thing. Psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi agrees. He found that people actually tend to be happier when they’re working than in their “free time.”

And yet sometimes work sucks. Particularly when it’s boring. The good news? A dash of skillful surprise can make a big difference.

Diagnose Your Boredom

First, figure out what kind of stimulation your brain is missing. Is your task too easy? To repetitive? Too isolating? Once you identify the problem, you can craft your boredom butt-kicking strategy. Below are a few ideas to get you started.

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1. Up the Challenge

If your mind wanders while you work, you may need to turn up the difficulty dial on your task. Build in new challenges or, at the very least, push yourself to go faster. If there are more important things you can be doing, your boredom may be a sign that it’s time to delegate.

2. Get Curious

The surfaces of things are usually dull. If you are skimming, it may be time to dig deeper. Get curious and say: “I wonder…” and “I want to know…” Explore your task until you notice something new and surprising about it. 

3. Make it a Game

Long and repetitive isn’t a problem when there’s a reward dangling in the distance. Just think of how video games work; half the fun is in earning points. How can you turn your task into a game? For some inspiration, checkout chorewars.com for chores, loseit.com for dieting, and habitrpg.com for creating good habits and breaking bad ones. Or go low-tech by printing or drawing a fun image, cutting it up into squares, then posting one square at a time on your wall after completing each step of your task. 

4. Reframe It

There’s a big difference between “doing dishes” and “showing your partner you love her by helping out around the house.” Dishes are boring; love is lovely. Whether you are entering data or picking up trash, reframe the activity to find the deep meaning in it. Ask yourself: “Why does this matter?” “Who am I helping?” “What am I learning?”

5. Interrupt Your Pattern

Sometimes just one or two small changes help us feel refreshed. If you are sitting at your desk for four hours straight doing the same thing in the same way, your brain is probably thirsting for some surprise. Change your space (work outside if you can), turn on music, stand up, use your non-dominant hand, or just take a power break every 45 minutes and do something different.

6. Get Social

Even stuffing envelopes can be fun with the right partner in productivity. Form a duo or a small group to tackle your tasks together. Set an alarm to go off every 45 minutes and reward yourselves with guilt-free talk time. Don’t forget to celebrate your accomplishments together. Personally, I think there are few things as satisfying as a shared victory dance.

What are your boredom-busting strategies?

Tania is the CEO of Surprise Industries and a psychology instructor and researcher at Hunter College.

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