Since 2019, I have maintained my blog with updated posts related to job searching and personal development. I used to sit at my laptop for 7 or 8 hours a day, trying to brainstorm topics, while writing cover letters for jobs, researching places to work, updating resumes, hunting for new jobs on the internet, and any other task I could find to fill my day. And it was mentally exhausting.
It was so exhausting that I quickly burned out on filling my day with these keep-busy tasks. At the time, I was equating keeping busy with feeling productive. But it was actually quite the opposite.
I was less productive in the task I needed to be the most creative — writing a blog that I published 3 times per week.
On my own, I realized that I needed to restructure my day — and fill it with more mindless tasks. Instead of focusing on brainstorming on the laptop, I would take walks around Boston. Window-shop at the mall during the summer. Watch re-runs of my favorite television shows in the morning. And any of the endless tasks around that apartment that didn’t require all of my attention.
And I found myself revisiting times in my life when I wished I had done something differently. Or wished I had known something before I made a decision that impacted my life. Or any other random thought that allowed my mind to wander. All of these thoughts were fodder for future blog posts.
And that’s when I realized what was missing from my life: I had forgotten how to be creative while working on my own.
Re-Learning a Skill
Back when I worked full-time in higher education, I was always known as a creative person. Most of my leadership inventory profiles have identified me as a connector or influencer in my style — which typically involves working with others. I was highly skilled at using my strengths to help the team brainstorm solutions. I understood how to use these skills when working in teams.
But working for myself? I was at a complete loss.
I stumbled on a solution to this issue — mostly out of necessity.
When I lived in my old apartment, we had no central air conditioning system. Typically, this wasn’t an issue until the warmest days of the summer. A quick solution: find a place to write with good AC. So this meant looking for and comparing coffee houses around Boston.
What I didn’t know was that this task of walking around would open my mind to possibilities.
While wandering around Boston, I could revisit old conversations. Or think about job postings I had seen and how I could write about them in a cover letter. And focus on how to spin a skill or strength I had to fit a new job I wanted to pursue.
What I didn’t know was that this was based on science: Manoush Zomorodi outlines how boredom can lead to brilliant ideas in the TEDTalk below.
Excerpt from the TEDTalk: “…I learned that in the default mode is when we connect disparate ideas, we solve some of our most nagging problems, and we do something called “autobiographical planning.” This is when we look back at our lives, we take note of the big moments, we create a personal narrative, and then we set goals and we figure out what steps we need to take to reach them.
“So the next time you go to check your phone, remember that if you don’t decide how you’re going to use the technology, the platforms will decide for you. And ask yourself: What am I really looking for? Because if it’s to check email, that’s fine — do it and be done. But if it’s to distract yourself from doing the hard work that comes with deeper thinking, take a break, stare out the window, and know that by doing nothing you are actually being your most productive and creative self. It might feel weird and uncomfortable at first, but boredom truly can lead to brilliance.”
Incorporating Boredom Into Your Day
Researchers believe that there are different types of boredom that people experience and not all of them can help lead you to be more creative or productive. Indifferent and calibrating boredom can help you recharge your brain and allow you to rest from making decisions after decisions. Below are three ways to incorporate boredom into your day.
Choose the Right Activities
“Everyone has those boring, repetitive work tasks, but they’re not all created equal. For example, building a pivot table and analyzing the data can be tedious, but it requires a high level of focus and mental energy. On the other hand, stuffing envelopes for a marketing event or organizing the files on your desktop doesn’t take much focus. Look for the latter type of activity: tasks that allow your mind to wander off.
“Sandi Mann, a senior psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire and author of The Upside of Downtime: Why Boredom Is Good, says that it’s important to find an activity that requires little or no concentration to experience true boredom. In an article in Time magazine, she suggests activities like walking a familiar route, swimming laps, or even sitting with your eyes closed — letting your mind wander without music or stimulation to guide it.
“Mann also cautions us not to confuse boredom with relaxation. Activities like yoga or meditation, which are designed to promote tranquility, don’t lead to boredom since the whole point of those activities is to rid your mind of stimulation. Remember: Boredom is trying and failing to find that stimulation.” The Art of Being Bored: How to Be More Productive By Doing Nothing
Face Your Feelings
“Boredom indicates dissatisfaction, and stopping to ponder why you’re so apathetic could help you discover a better path. As philosopher Andreas Epidorou put it in a 2014 Frontiers in Psychology article: ‘The negative and aversive experience of boredom acts as a force that motivates us to pursue a goal that appears to us to be more stimulating, interesting, challenging, or fulfilling than the goal that we currently pursue.’
“Seeking novelty like this can be massively helpful, and looking for new experiences can make our lives more fulfilled. But constant novelty-seeking can also be dangerous.” There’s a Right and Wrong Way to Be Bored
Reset Your Expectations for Communication
“Putting in a concentrated effort to resist your phone will, over time, make it easier to ignore it and space out every once in a while. (If that sounds hard, experts have offered more detailed advice on kicking your phone addiction.)
“But don’t I have to respond to every email I get after about two seconds, some of you might respond. Absolutely not, Rosenfeld answers emphatically. While the urge to appear frantically busy is common in America, constant running around will actually lower your chances of long-term success. Choose not to play that game.” Want to Be More Creative? Retrain Your Brain to Be Bored
Learning to Be Bored Daily
Nowadays, my morning begins by watching some of my favorite sitcom reruns in the morning. Since I know all the dialogue, I won’t be sucked into a plot and listen too closely to the characters engage on screen. I’ll scroll through LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter, but only to look for patterns rather than look at content. And I am adamant to avoid turning on my computer until at least noon, so I can spend the morning lounging on the couch or doing morning errands.
Making time to let my mind wander is now an integral part of my day. And I am quick to explain to employers why I might need to take a walk during the day that isn’t scheduled but taps into the spontaneity of my life.
All of these behaviors have helped me tap into my creativity when I am working alone. I now measure my output from engagement rather than productivity. I find that I am happier with this way of thinking, more than I have been in the past.
And I am going to avoid multitasking, when possible, from now and into the future.