Many years ago, I found that I was not a very patient person. Waiting for people bored me. I got into the habit of always carrying with me a book to read and a notebook to write in. It didn’t matter where I was, what I was doing or how much time I had to wait, I always had something to do while I was waiting for someone to show up or to complete a work task.
I learned through these experiences that I expected life to always be interesting. My curiosity about people and their life and work situations had a counterpart in boredom. I saw the same attitude in other people. The more I reflected upon this, the more I realized that boredom is a combination of two things. One is our inner life and secondly, how that inner life interacts with our surroundings.
Most of us have had jobs where we spent part of every day in boredom. Overly repetitive tasks that are necessary make us wish for some robot to do the work. In many instances, our skills feel far advance compared to the requirements of our job. Boredom, as a result, creeps into our work experience. This is part of the nature of boredom.
My kids, like all kids, used to complain about being bored. Their unsaid expectation was that I existed to entertain them. In a culture where entertainment exists in the palm of our hand, boredom is to be avoided at all costs. Yet, the source of boredom is not having anything to do. It is something within us.
The 17th-century philosopher and scientist Blaise Pascal saw boredom and the need for diversion as a basic experience of humankind. “I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room. … The only good thing for men, therefore, is to be diverted from thinking of what they are, either by some occupation which takes their mind off it or by some novel and agreeable passion which keeps them busy.”
Yet, to simply divert ourselves with activities that take our minds off our boredom is not the answer either.
Making a Shift in Our Perception
When my children would complain about being bored, my response was, “Use your brains. Be creative. Turn off the electronics. Do something with the things that are right in front of you. Your books, games and Lego blocks.”
I wanted them to see that the solution to boredom was already within them. Boredom is a product of not being creatively engaged with our surroundings. After all, their rooms were filled with things that could occupy their time and our home was surrounded by fields and woods for them to play in. Yet, they were still bored.
How then do we shift our frame of mind from seeing our situation as boring to seeing it as an opportunity for creativity? It begins with a change in our self-perception.
Boredom suggests that nothing is at stake in a particular situation or activity. When there is a lack of compelling purpose in our lives, it would be unusual to feel boredom about the things we must do.
However, if our purpose was sufficiently clear, then we could look at every situation as an opportunity for that purpose to find resonance in our life. This is where we can apply the Circle of Impact to our issues of boredom.
Today, I carry a notebook to write in everywhere I go. Even if I only have two minutes to spend, I’ll write something down. Some observation, some thought or some reminder that I’ll come back to later. Many of my blog posts began as a word or phrase written in my notebook. This post began because I was sitting in a restaurant waiting on a friend who was late arriving for our lunch. My thought was, “How many minutes a day do people lose by waiting for someone to show up or some meeting to begin?”
Two Solutions to Boredom
Over the years, working in offices and going to offices of clients, I can tell when people are bored. Elaborate paper-clip designs or the doodles that I see people draw during our meetings showed me that there was a disconnect between the work that they had to do and the purpose of that work. Boredom is a symptom of this disconnect.
The solution is two-fold. First, we, individually, must decide that we are not going to let circumstances create the conditions for being bored. We decide like I did many decades ago, that I will do something with those minutes. For me, it is writing. For you, it may be quietly meditating or praying for people you care about. For someone else, it may be reading a book or an article. Whatever the solution, it is a decision that fits with who you are.
The second solution is in how we organize our businesses. This is where the application of the Circle of Impact adds value.
A business has a structure for its work. Presumably, it has a purpose that allows the people in the business to identify their contribution to the fulfillment of that purpose. But it takes more than having these ideas as concepts. They need to be translated into activities that elevate the meaning of the work that is being done.
For example, watch this video of the Morning Huddle that staff 1800GotJunk has each day. It is six minutes of high energy that engages the whole team with a purpose for each day. Even if there are daily repetitive tasks, the experience of working on this team transforms the meaning of those tasks. Everyday people can see the impact of those tasks.
Boredom is a product of the disconnect between our inner sense of purpose and the places where we live and work. The key to filling up those short empty spaces of time is not to just find busy work. Instead, it is to see how our purpose and the purpose of the business can inspire us to fill those moments of boredom with meaning and impact.
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