5 Things to Do When You Get Bored Working Towards Your Goals, Backed by Science.
What do you do when you’re bored at work? Bored of eating healthy and exercising? Bored of your relationship?
Do you keep going or throw your hands up and give up?
When we first get started, we’re excited and highly motivated to take action towards our goals.
But after a few days or weeks, we begin to make excuses and procrastinate on following through on our plans.
Luckily, there are five effective, science-backed ways you can overcome boredom whilst working towards your goals.
Here they are.
5 Ways to Cure Boredom
“I am never bored; to be bored is an insult to one’s self.”
1. Turn your tasks into a game.
In 2014, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University conducted an experiment to find the most boring task out of six 5-minute tasks—peg turning, audio, video, signature-matching, one-back, and an air traffic control task. 5
At the end of the experiment, one task emerged as the most boring of all: turning pegs.
Afterwards the researchers began to test different ways to reduce boredom of peg turning.
One of these tests was to make the pegs a lot smaller and let them dart around the room, so that participants would have to chase them.
By gamifying the experiment—i.e. changing portions of the boring task into a game—participants experienced less boredom whilst completing the task.
There are different ways to gamify your boring tasks as well, including 30-day challenges with a reward at the end, using a tool to help you track your entire to-do list like Todoist, or using stakes to motivate yourself.
Regardless of what method you choose, make sure to include these essential elements to turn your tasks into a game: tracking your progress, rewards for completing tasks, including other people when possible and a challenging difficulty level.
2. Do it differently.
A study published in the Journal of Marketing Research led by Wharton marketing professor, Barbara Kahn, discovered that contrary to popular opinion boredom isn’t caused by what we’ve done. It’s caused by what we think we’re going to do in the future. 2
For example, the researchers discovered that when participants in the experiment were told they were going to eat orange jelly beans immediately and subsequently in the following week, they experienced boredom much quicker in the present.
But when they were told to imagine that they were going to eat something different next week, for example Cherry Jelly beans, they experienced boredom more slowly in the present.
Aside from visualizing variety in your future, you can pre-plan different ways to complete boring tasks:
If you’re bored at work, take different routes on your commutes and go for walks to different locations during your lunch break.
If you’re bored with eating healthy and working out, eat different meals each week and participate in team based activities instead of working out alone.
If you’re bored in your relationship, pre-plan mini-weekend trips away from home and try different activities each week for date night.
By anticipating something new that’s going to happen in the future, not only do reduce boredom of repetitive tasks, but you also experience more pleasure in the present moment.
3. Let your mind wonder.
During a study on boredom and creativity, Dr. Sandi Mann—a leading boredom researcher—asked participants to create as many uses as they could for a pair of plastic cups. 3
Prior to this creativity—or divergent thinking test—the subjects were asked to either participate in a boring reading task, a boring writing task or to do nothing at all.
The results: the most bored group (the group of phone-book-readers) scored the highest for creativity, followed by the group of phone-book writers.
In other words, boredom makes us more creative.
The reason for this according to Dr. Sandi Mann, is that boredom experienced during passive activities, like reading a long paper or writing a report, creates a “daydreaming effect” which allows the subconscious mind to make different connections that boost creativity.
4. Get more sleep.
In 2016, researchers from the University of California conducted a study to examine the effects of sleep duration on technology use. 4
For a period of seven days, the researchers logged the computer and phone use, as well as the sleep diaries of 76 college students.
The results: shorter duration of sleep leads to greater use of technology (particularly social media), stress and lack of focus.
These negative effects of lack of sleep further contribute towards unbearable boredom you may be experiencing on a daily basis.
5. Listen to music.
Music isn’t just a source of entertainment. It’s also a powerful tool to help you cure boredom and improve your focus.
In the book, This is Your Brain on Music, neuroscientist, Daniel Levitin, explains how music can make repetitive tasks more pleasurable and improve your productivity.
For example, a study revealed that music could improve the performance of surgeons who participate in repetitive nonsurgical laboratory tasks. 5
The best way to get started with using music is to first familiarize yourself with the 7 science-backed ways music affects your productivity, then experiment with listening to different songs during boring tasks to find what works best for you.
Fall in Love with Boredom
“Life swings like a pendulum backward and forward between pain and boredom.”
― Arthur Schopenhauer
In today’s digital world, we’re constantly bombarded with images and stories of success.
And it’s never been easier to fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to successful people, who seem to never run out of motivation and passion for what they do.
But this is only half the whole picture. The other half is this: success is a by-product of a repetitive, often boring, daily routine.
Boredom isn’t the enemy. Fear of unused potential is.
Fall in love with boredom, because it may just bring you one step closer towards achieving your goals.
1. Markey, A., Chin, A., VanEpps, E. M., & Loewenstein, G. (2014). Identifying a reliable boredom induction. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 119, 237–253. http://dx.doi.org/10.2466/27.PMS.119c18z6
2. Barbara E. Kahn, Jiao Zhang, and Julio Sevilla (2013) ,”Anticipating Variety Reduces Satiation From a Current Experience“, in NA – Advances in Consumer Research Volume 41, eds. Simona Botti and Aparna Labroo, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research.
3. Sandi Mann & Rebekah Cadman (2014) Does Being Bored Make Us More Creative?,Creativity Research Journal, 26:2, 165-173, DOI: 10.1080/10400419.2014.901073
4. Mark G, Wang Y, Niiya M, Reich SM. Sleep Debt in Student Life: Online Attention Focus, Facebook, and Mood. Presented at the ACM Computer-Human Interaction; San Jose, Ca, USA: ACM; 2016. p. 12.
5. Allen K, Blascovich J. Effects of Music on Cardiovascular Reactivity Among Surgeons. JAMA. 1994;272(11):882–884. doi:10.1001/jama.1994.03520110062030