Keep It Interesting

Thinking Tools

Boredom kills concentration, productivity, and pleasure. It’s hard to motivate yourself to pay attention when you’re bored out of your mind. If you find yourself bored in a meeting or on a project, you need a remedy. Here are three things you can do.

One idea is to take a quick timeout to pick favorites. If you’re in a meeting, what do you like best about the person speaking? Or the meeting setup? If it’s a project, what is your favorite task? What do you think is most important about the project? You can stop to pick favorites anytime, anywhere. It takes only a moment, but it gives you an important mental refresh .

For example, I pick favorites when I go to museums. After I’ve looked around a room, I stop to choose my favorite painting. After I’ve been through all the rooms in a section, I choose my top favorite for that section. If I don’t pick favorites, I get museumitis — that glassy-eyed, mentally numb state which comes from looking at each item with equal intensity. By picking favorites, I get much more out of my visit.

You will always have some kind of favorite, or some positive you can focus on, and identifying that it is pleasurable. It perks up your attention, because you have to look — really look — to identify it. That process clears your head, and helps you come back to your work a little fresher.

If there doesn’t seem to be any way to pick favorites, a second idea is to add variety to the process. Old familiar routines may be efficient, but they can become boring. When that happens, look at the task fresh and find a different way to do it.

For example, when you proofread a report, you may become bored if you previously read earlier drafts. To concentrate fresh, print out the report in a weird font before proofing. Or proofread backwards (one paragraph at a time, starting from the end).

It’s amazing how a small mechanical change can help you experience something as fresh. (Even sitting in a different part of the room in a meeting can help.) Just by taking a moment to find some way to change the routine can help you concentrate and get the job done.

Finally, my fallback when I’m bored is to criticize (silently) the thing that’s boring me. It’s always easy to criticize — and as long as you don’t just blurt out the criticisms, you can learn something without any negative impact.

In a meeting, I’ll write criticisms at the side of my notes. I might argue with the points being made by the speaker. Or I might analyze the delivery. Anything is fair game. As soon as I start evaluating, I perk up and start paying attention. My own analysis adds interest. Sometimes I learn what not to do, and sometimes I reflect on my thoughts and ask a question or raise a concern, if that’s appropriate. I retain much more with the information than if I had just tried to force my eyes to stay open.

When you’re bored, your mind is craving useful work. Each of these three suggestions perks up your attention by giving you something useful to do with your mind — whether it’s find favorites, explore something new, or look for problems. A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Next time you are stuck in a situation feeling bored, know that you can create your own sparks of interest with one of these suggestions.

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