Dealing with boredom

14 August, 2017

Five practical suggestions to help you tackle those tedious tasks

In spite of how fulfilling and challenging our jobs might be, we all have to do things that are tedious or even boring! It could be the fifty emails that need to be answered or the PowerPoint presentation that needs to be polished or the documentation that needs to be completed.

The list can go on.

Like it or not, these seemingly mundane tasks may be really important. Many of us end up procrastinating or doing a shoddy job on these tasks. And it may have a detrimental impact, not just to you personally, but also in its rub-off on the people you work with.

Therefore, it is certainly in your best interest to find a way to deal with what you may find monotonous.

Veronica Toumanova, in her Facebook post, Why leaders get bored with themselves and what to do about it, sums up an oft-heard complaint from leaders:

‘When I dance, I get bored with my own dancing. At some point it seems like I have already danced all the combinations, tried all the variations and I just don’t have any inspiration anymore. It is a terrible feeling because if I am bored with myself, I guess the follower must be bored out of her mind with me.’

Does this sound familiar to you? If yes, then my message this week, which focuses on how to combat boredom, may be of particular interest to you.

Here are five suggestions that will hopefully help you deal better with the boredom:

1. Find your north pole

Mark de Rond, in his Harvard Business Review article, Are you busy at work, but still bored?, shares how despite having a rather enviable work life, he was still bored:

‘I travel twice a month to such exotic places as Kuala Lumpur, Doha, New York, and Helsinki to teach bright executives. I write books and articles, give interviews for newspapers and radio. I get to meet interesting people from society’s upper echelons. I have been lucky enough to win some fairly prestigious awards. I get to spend months living full-time with teams of high performers in such unique environments as elite sports and war hospitals. I have more projects in the pipeline than I can shake a stick at. I am busy. And I am bored.’

Introspection led him to realise that his boredom was stemming, not from having nothing to do, but from having nothing that seemed worthwhile to do.

Behind every task is a purpose—and finding that purpose is key to igniting your passion. Ask yourself—Why are you engaged in this work at all? What is the end goal it is going to help you achieve? For example, it could be that you’re upskilling so you can do your job better and ultimately become eligible for a new role.

Your true purpose is like your north pole. It can guide your day-to-day efforts and give you much-needed inspiration. By keeping your north pole in mind, you give your work context, thereby transforming it. Think about how great it will feel when you finally get there, and try to bring that positive feeling into the present.

2. Be realistic

When it comes to acquiring new skills or knowledge, “boring” is often a code-word for “too difficult”—it’s almost impossible to enjoy something when you feel you’re bad at it. Unfortunately, all too often, people jump to this conclusion because they don’t get the hang of a new topic or skill immediately.

In her Harvard Business Review article, How to Get Excited About Topics That Bore You, Barbara Oakley recounts her personal battle with boredom and how she was eventually able to overcome it. As a young girl, Oakley was a self-professed mathphobe: she found mathematics unbearably insipid. In fact, she couldn’t wait to graduate from high school so that the much-hated subject would be out of her life forever. But fast-forward a couple of decades and guess what? Today, Oakley is a professor of engineering, with a deep and enduring love for mathematics. By putting in the work and creating inspiration where none seemed possible, she was able to transform an utterly uninspiring topic into something that not only interests her but also forms the backbone of her career.

As Oakley points out, it’s totally normal to not understand something at the first try. Most of us learn by going back and forth through a state of focus (when your brain is actually concentrating on learning) and a state of relaxation (when your brain has time to consolidate and absorb the information). In other words, learning takes time and repetition. So, don’t label a topic boring right away. Instead, give it (and yourself) a chance—like Oakley, you might be pleasantly surprised at how good you become at something that seemed so incomprehensible in the beginning.

3. Shake things up

Toumanova, in her Facebook post, identifies routine as a leading cause of boredom:

‘Routine sets in not only because you repeat the same things over and over again, but also because you repeat how you do them again and again. Routine is when you become predictable to yourself, when your reality stops to be surprising and delightful to you. It has a lot to do with functioning on automatic pilot.’

When was the last time you did something for the first time? If it’s change you’re craving, go find it. Instead of getting swept up in how mundane you’re finding things, look to shake them up a bit. There are different ways in which you could do this. Mike Myatt, in his article, 5 ways to free yourself from a leadership rut, suggests:

‘If you want to drive innovation, lead change, and create growth, stir the pot – go break something. Slaughter a few sacred cows, challenge conventional wisdom, break a paradigm, and inject a little chaos into your ordered world. Old isn’t necessarily wrong, but likewise, it’s not necessarily right either. Overlay a new business model on top of the existing one, and look for ways to create new advantages and make needed improvements. Reengineer a best practice into a next practice.’

Tom Kelly of Ideo, says that sometimes, when stuck in a rut, going back to the start with a beginner’s mindset, could be helpful. He proposes ‘vuja de’ (basically ‘déjà vu’ turned on its head) as an option — ‘looking at something you’ve seen before, but seeing it in a novel way’.

4. Work in bursts

If your boredom is centred on a specifically boring task, then chances are that you would be losing interest easily or procrastinating endlessly. Fortunately, there is a fairly simple workaround to this. The Pomodoro technique, invented by developer and entrepreneur Francesco Cirillo, suggests breaking work down into manageable, timed chunks. This allows you to maintain intense focus and be hyper-productive in short bursts.

Using the Pomodoro technique is fairly straightforward:

  • Get rid of all distractions—switch all your smart gadgets to airplane mode, hold your calls, put on headphones to block out noise, etc.
  • Set a timer for 25 minutes
  • Focus all your attention on the task until the timer goes off
  • Take a 5-10 minute breather—have a cup of coffee, listen to a song, etc.
  • Begin again
  • After four Pomodoro intervals, take a longer break—at least 20 minutes

By breaking the monotony and coming up for air at regular intervals, the work becomes much more do-able. Also, you will end up completing it much faster thanks to the intense concentration enabled by this method.

5. Take a break

By stepping back and finding ways to rejuvenate yourself, you could possibly change your take on the boredom completely. So, find something that you enjoy and break the monotony with it. It could be a quick run to get a change from sitting at your desk. Or catching up with a friend over a drink. Perhaps exploring engaging and relevant supplementary materials on the topic you’re exploring—movies, videos, TedTalks, books, articles, apps, quizzes, discussions with friends who are passionate about the subject. If you need more time off, a quick weekend break could even be an option. Use this time as a breather.

I hope that some of these suggestions can help you make a few of your boring tasks into something you look forward to—or at least something you don’t dread. As writer-philosopher G. K. Chesterton put it, ‘There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people.

I look forward to your thoughts.


  • Viswanath says:

    Hi Vivek,

    I manage Business & Technology Transformation at Future Consumer, a Future Group entity.

    I wanted to pass my compliments for this blog. I found constructive and simple steps one could use to get out of the boredom spiral. I myself have faced such bouts multiple times – especially around the time when I wind up one large transformation and the next one is still in infancy. The withdrawal pangs of my previous engagement is still not offset by the curiosity and excitement of the next engagement and often this results in me getting into a very passive, in-active mode.

    As I write I just completed the first step of our digital transformation and am still pitching for our next supply chain transformation work. I will try to follow your suggestions and see how they work out during this phase.


  • Jorge Ramírez says:

    Buenos días Vivek:
    Gracias por sus aportes me ayudan mucho en mi trabajo y crecer en esta gran empresa.


    Jorge Ramírez
    Godrej Chile


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