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6 Ways The Most Successful People Conquer Boredom At Work

Boredom affects us all. Here’s how to break past it when every last trace of creative energy vanishes.

So there you sit, staring at a screen, or several. You’re frustrated, tired, on edge–and completely uninspired. “Boredom is an aversive state characterized by dissatisfaction, restlessness, and weariness,” Andreas Elpidorou, a University of Louisville researcher, noted in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. “Being in a state of boredom feels like being emotionally trapped.”

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So how do you escape? When you have a task or project that doesn’t remotely excite or engage you, it can take an extra effort to get motivated just to keep plodding forward, let alone think really creatively about it. These six tips can help.

1. Force Yourself To Be Curious

“My boredom is usually the loss of curiosity,” Steve Gordon, director of RDQLUS Creative Arts and Marketing, told me recently. “If I catch myself bored with a project, I’ll stop to read magazines or watch a film, even in the middle of the day. I search for something far away from work, yet linked to the same battery crucial to that work.”

As an alternative, try putting yourselves in the shoes of whoever will benefit from the project you’re working on. How will the choices you make affect them? Switch around your perspective and give a boost to your creative thinking.

Heinz designers knew everything there was to know about their company’s traditional ketchup bottles, so they focused their curiosity on how people used and stored them. As Brian Grazer recounts in his book A Curious Mind, Heinz researchers visited customers’ homes and opened up their refrigerators, where they found ketchup bottles balanced upside-down to let gravity pull down the remaining ounces. That insight helped re-energize the company’s designers, who then invented Heinz Easy Squeeze, an inverted plastic bottle with a patented silicone valve.

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2. Look Outside Your Own World

John Jamilkowski, senior creative director at TNT cable network, tells me that when he finds himself bored by a project, he turns to unrelated mediums.

“If I’m bored or stuck while trying to create a trailer for a new show, I may look at a fine arts exhibit or perhaps an installation piece,” he says. “When I see how another subject or emotion was approached, I often have a breakthrough and bring those discoveries into my own media.”

Julie Klappas, executive creative director at Clementine Entertainment, also finds looking elsewhere helps shake her out of boredom. “I’ll sometimes check out an Instagram feed from a creative person I admire,” she says. “Or maybe I’ll scan the Pinterest board of a favorite designer. Seeing the creative choices of others inspires me to make the most of the job that’s boring me.”

3. Make Yourself Laugh

Feeling bored, frustrated, or stuck at work is no fun. So try doing something deliberately amusing. After all, laughter and boredom can’t exist simultaneously.

“I’ll press the pause button on a boring project for a few minutes and watch a couple of YouTube classics,” says Klappas. “Something like ‘Girl Licks Pickle,’ ‘Fat Cat Watches TV’ or ‘Dog Eating Spaghetti’ will get me laughing and help brush away boredom.”

Moments of play can have a similar effect, according to Dan Monroe, principal and chief wordsmith at Cayenne Creative. He generally relies on his office’s vintage shuffleboard table.

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“Spending a few minutes sliding those metal pucks down the table makes me feel like Mozart with the billiard balls in Amadeus,” Monroe tells me. “Pretty soon I’ve conquered my malaise.”

4. Take A Hike

When a project bores me to tears and I’ve hit a roadblock with it, I’ll often grab my laptop and move to another room or a nearby coffee shop. Sometimes a simple change in scenery can reignite those brain cells.

Stephanie Jolluck, creative director of Coleccion Luna and winner of a Spanx Female Entrepreneur Award, suggests getting up and going for a walk. “If I’m stuck in boredom, I head outside,” she says. “Rain or shine, the outdoors always provides new energy and a fresh perspective.”

Victor Hwang, T2 Venture Capital’s managing director, likes walking in unusual places. “I take walks in hidden suburban neighborhoods, department stores, community colleges,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “When you’re walking with no purpose but walking, you see things in fresh ways.”

5. Make The Familiar Strange

Try looking at your project in a new way–pretend you’re seeing it as a film director, a theme park designer, or your Aunt Josie–anything that gives you a change in perspective.

IDEO’s Tom Kelley recognizes the value of cultivating a beginner’s mind-set when facing a familiar project. Speaking at the Creativity World Forum, Kelley turned “déjà vu” around and proposed the term “vuja de”–the act of looking at something you’ve seen before, but seeing it in a novel way.

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6. Put Your Head Down And Move Forward

When all else fails, just committing to slogging through is all that’s left. Sometimes we just have to keep going–even while resisting it–until something interesting comes into view again.

The composer John Cage cited the Zen koan, “If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then 16. Then 32. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”

About the author

Sam Harrison is a popular speaker and author on creativity-related topics and presentation skills. His books include IdeaSpotting: How to Find Your Next Great Idea, IdeaSelling: Successfully Pitch Your Creative Ideas to Bosses, Clients and Other Decision Makers and Zing!: Five Steps and 101 Tips for Creativity on Command.

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