It’s a couple of weeks into the new year, and you’re settling back at work after a whirlwind of holiday activities. But rather than feeling motivated and ready to tackle 2019, you’re bored with the day-to-day drudgery.
This could be a sign that you need a new job, but it might also signal that you’re in need of habits and rituals that spark inspiration. Before you fire off your resume or hand in your two-weeks’ notice, try doing these things next time you find yourself bored at work.
1. Look for things that make you curious
Sometimes boredom results from a “loss of curiosity,” Steve Gordon, designer and director of marketing consultancy RDQLUS, told Sam Harrison in a 2015 Fast Company article. One simple way to tackle boredom is to find things that make you curious, like a documentary about a topic you know little about, or a fiction book with an intriguing storyline.
This practice can help you develop a sense of curiosity about the things that you’re doing at work. For example, Harrison suggested putting yourself in the shoes of whoever will benefit from your work. “How will the choices you make affect them?” he urges.
Harrison went on to talk about how Heinz designers came up with Heinz Easy Squeeze. At the time, they were intimately familiar with traditional ketchup bottles, so they turned their attention to how customers used (and stored) the bottle. They visited customers who stored their bottles upside down. That discovery, Harrison reported, “helped re-energize the company’s designers, who then invented Heinz Easy Squeeze, an inverted plastic bottle with a patented silicone valve.”
Sometimes boredom can come from feeling stuck, and your brain just needs is a little bit of guidance to nudge your creativity. When you’re struggling to solve a thorny problem, everything can seem monotonous.
Psychology professor and Fast Company contributor Art Markman previously wrote, “The tasks that really require inspiration are typically ones that nobody has solved directly before (otherwise you could just Google it). But that doesn’t mean that nobody knows anything that can help you to solve the problem. Chances are there’s a lot of work out there that might prove useful–you just haven’t realized it’s useful yet.”
That’s why Markman recommends surrounding yourself with as much related information to whatever it is you’re trying to figure out, even if they seem useless at first. You might discover new information that piques your interest (see point one), or you might start to identify patterns that help you figure out your next step. At times, boredom is simply a component of the creative process.
3. Make small changes to your routine
Success is built on repetitive routines and habits, but there comes a point when those habits yield diminishing returns. Take exercise, as an example: When you started your 6 a.m. boxing class, it might have taken you a while to master the punches and gestures to the point where you felt like you could keep up. But you might find that you eventually do the moves on autopilot, and what used to challenge you has become a bore.
John Stilgoe, author of Outside Lies Magic, told Jane Porter in a previous Fast Company article that unregimented time can do wonders for the brain and inspiration. And this doesn’t just apply to exercise; you can find ways to do it in your day-to-day work, in big ways or small. Examples could include changing up the time, style, or location of your meetings, or adding some humor to that update email that you write with dread.
4. Introduce constraints
It might be counterintuitive to introduce restrictions when nothing seems to interest you, but you might just find that having some constraints can provide the fire in your belly that you’re looking for. After all, when you don’t have an abundance of resources at your disposal, you have no choice but to be creative and look for solutions that aren’t immediately obvious to you. In his book, Stretch: Unlock the Power of Less–and Achieve More Than You Ever Imagined, Scott Sonenshein wrote, “Our environments . . . either impel us to see things differently or they don’t. That implies that creativity is in many ways situational, not some inborn faculty or personality trait. When people face scarcity, they give themselves freedom to use resources in less conventional ways–because they have to. The situation demands a mental license that would otherwise remain untapped.”
5. Do something that scares you
It’s great to develop expertise in your area of work, and find yourself comfortable with doing projects you once found daunting. But if you don’t seek experiences that push you out of your comfort zone, you’ll become bored and stagnant. Not to mention, you might miss out on amazing opportunities that can help you grow professionally and personally.
Fred Cook, director of the USC center for public relations and a professor of professional practice, previously told Fast Company that building creativity, courage, and inspiration is an ongoing process. “It builds up a little at a time by doing new things and trying things you’ve never done before . . . Every little step pushes you out of your comfort zone.”
The more you train yourself to face your fears, the more comfortable you will be with becoming, well, uncomfortable. When you do that on a day-to-day basis, you’ll find that beating boredom, whether at home or at work, becomes much easier.