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How to fight (and beat) office boredom

25 October 2022

The dreaded boredom monster lurks within us all. It can strike anytime and anywhere - whether you’re sitting at home on the sofa playing on your phone, or in the office when you have a mountain of work to complete and only just the right amount of time to do it in.

It can be easy to lump all forms of boredom into the same category, but that’s not quite right. We can become bored for many different reasons, some of which might be short-term and relatively superficial, while others stem from a much deeper root cause.

When office boredom strikes, it can be a nightmare to drag yourself out and can also lead to numerous problems such as missed deadlines, poor relationships with colleagues and even being branded lazy. What’s more, those who suffer from chronic boredom are at higher risk of alcoholism and other addictions, so it pays to address the situation properly.  

Why are we bored?

Unpacking the reasons behind boredom is like opening Pandora's box - things can get very murky the further we go down.

Probably the biggest cause of boredom is that we feel stuck in a never-ending cycle of monotonous experiences. This might happen if we have to do a task that we don’t get any enjoyment from and therefore feel aggrieved that we even need to do it. After all, human life is finite, so who really cares about reports, cleaning, and dull meetings?

The second problem is a lack of flow - which is defined as being totally immersed in a task that is challenging but is still closely matched to our abilities. We also refer to flow as ‘being in the zone’ and it’s often during this period when hours suddenly fly by like they’re minutes.

Flow is typically associated with activities that we are passionate about, such as hobbies and sports, but that’s not always the case. If you manage to become entirely immersed in a project at work and finally look up and see that it’s 8 pm, you have no doubt achieved a flow state.

Other reasons include the need for novelty, excitement, and variety, which is much stronger in some than in others, as well as attention problems, lack of autonomy, and failure with one’s inner amusement skills, which often sees people seeking external diversion because they cannot regulate their own desires properly.

What about boredom outside of work?

Next, we come to the strange case of boredom despite a seemingly endless number of possibilities on offer. If you’ve ever felt bored on a Sunday afternoon, it’s usually not because you don’t like the activity you’ve chosen to do, it is that the human brain is doing its best to self-sabotage.

Humans have dreadful problems when it comes to being in the moment. We are constantly scanning ahead in time for a better period and the result is often a complete disregard for the activity you are currently doing. This means that we begin to classify the present moment as dull or boring because it can’t possibly live up to the fairy tale going on inside our heads.     

How can I fight boredom?

Boredom is something that every human feels, but how you react to it is up to you. When it comes to fighting boredom, it’s important to separate things into short-term and long-term solutions.

In the short term, successfully beating down office boredom can be achieved by simply keeping yourself busy. The longer you are actively thinking ‘I’m bored’ the worse things will get and it’s always preferable to be doing something rather than sitting in your chair stewing over how unfair the world is.

Perhaps ask your colleagues if they need any help, rearrange or tidy your desk, clean up your inbox or start planning for a new project even though you don't technically need to until next month. Above all though, avoid distractions as these are an absolute killer. Scrolling through Instagram will only exacerbate your longing to do absolutely anything but work, and that goes for any social media and even communicating with people outside the office.

The bottom line here is that feeling bored, and feeding the boredom, will not speed up the day. If anything, it has a nasty habit of making time move at an agonising speed. There’s no use raging against certain activities that have to be done, so you might as well get on with them.

How do I fight boredom in the long term?

Boredom is often at its worst when we feel we aren’t truly living. We only have a certain amount of time on this planet and doing things that don’t fall into the ‘fun’ category can make us feel irritable and even angry.

Addressing this in the long term is no easy feat as it involves meeting boredom head-on and asking yourself some difficult questions. If you always feel bored at work this could be a good indication that this is simply not what you know deep down that you should be doing. Should that be the case, you have two options; make the best of it or make a major change.

However, your job should probably be considered a unique situation. We can’t simply change every activity because it’s not what we are meant to do and countless tedious activities need to be done in everybody’s life.

To really address boredom in the long term, we must begin rewiring the mind. When that internal tyrant begins screaming at you and urging you to pick up your phone and snap out of this flow state, we need to learn to overcome it. One of the best tools for this is meditation, a form of flow state in itself, but which also helps us to create a border sense of calm that allows us to pull back when the brain goes into boredom mode.