I stare at the screen in front of me. It’s 2pm. The effects of lunch coma are slowly setting in.
I look around me in the office. Everyone is busy looking at their computers.
Or they are bustling around me, getting another shot of that afternoon coffee.
To stay awake, probably.
I’m not sure if they are pretending to work, or if they are a little like me, trying to figure out what to do.
Welcome to boredom world, at work.
‘Boreout’ has come to attention recently. And if you don’t know the official definition for it, it means,
Understimulation at work.
You’re underchallenged, you are doing something that’s menial and manual, and you’re wondering why the hell you’re doing it.
Why you’re being paid your $4000 a month to push emails, reply emails, and just push things through the system.
You might even be so bored that you start wondering whether you should throw your money into crypto (please don’t, it might be more worthwhile to donate to a charity like Care Corner).
You feel like another cog.
I remember the first time I felt this.
Being my second month at work, the boss assigned me a list of phone numbers and email addresses to contact. He wanted me to ask if they would like to come to an event we were organising.
Sure, I could.
After all, I couldn’t say no to the boss.
But it left me reeling.
Much of the conventional advice out there today about combating boredom at work doesn’t work.
You’re comparing yourself to your peers
If you’re scrolling through your friends’ reels, you’ve probably seen how they are posting pictures of them having lunches and big meetings with the boss.
Then you look at the boring stuff you’re doing, seated in front of the computer.
You’re comparing. And that’s bound to keep you unhappy.
You’re having high(er) expectations of work
If you’re expecting to change the world because of the work you do, forget it.
At least not yet.
The Greta Thunbergs, or the Forbes 30 under 30, or the 25 under 25 people you read about in the news, are the anomalies.
And they might be overhyped.
You want to be that? Sure.
Stop reading this article. Because there are no hacks here for you to get famous fast.
Just principles that work.
Let’s address the myths.
Myth: You need to do more challenging work
When you start, you’re going to be a minion. Yes, one of those cute, jumpy ones.
You’re going to be asked to do the menial, most boring work that your boss doesn’t want to do.
And if you complain about doing that, you will soon be out of the company.
Here is where most of the advice is around how you should ask your boss for more challenging and stimulating work.
That’s not going to work. Because until you can prove yourself with the boring work, why would the boss trust you?
And okay, let’s talk about why the boring work is important.
Let’s first try to understand why work is boring.
- It’s repetitive.
- You might need to go down the list, and call people as a sales development rep. the rejections get repetitive, and finding more leads is repetitive.
- You don’t feel you can learn much from it.
- After a while, you slowly get the hang of it. Call people, try to talk to them for more than 10 seconds, and prevent getting cut off.
- You’re not too sure how it contributes to your wider career.
But this matters because it teaches grit.
Getting through the boring work, prepares you for the hard work.
And that’s going to require a lot more hard work. Where you would give up.
If you would give up on easy, menial work, why wouldn’t you give up on the harder work that comes your way?
A better approach is to treat boring work as a discipline
Rather than saying this work is boring (with an exclamation mark!), it might be better to reframe it as ‘I’m gritting through this.”
Always, always, look for something to learn.
As we were writing Vault!, the book we wrote for young working adults to transit better to the workplace, we interviewed Chris Gee, a senior researcher at a Singaporean thinktank.
Interestingly, he pointed out that even in the context of parcel delivery, there could be something learnt.
Everything is a learning opportunity.
The delivery rider going up the hill, can learn something. Actually, probably should be learning quite a lot of things. If all they’re doing and thinking, “Oh, my God, what a hard ride it is up this hill!” they’ve probably not learned very much.
And you should capture all of this and use as much of it in your CV.
That’s how you customise all of these individual learning experiences.
You may end up saying, “Okay, I was a delivery rider for three years. This is what I ended up learning for myself, about the world. And this is what this learning allows me to tell you where I’m going to deliver value to you.”
And that future employer may be me, my own self, because I’ve learned all of these things. Instead of riding a bike and delivering food, I know now what I can do, in other areas.
Rather than saying this is boring, look at how it can be a learning experience.
Don’t believe me?
Remember how I wrote earlier of my experience where my boss told me to call everyone on the list? I later used that to learn how to send cold emails, and get replies.
Myth: You need to do more creative work
Often when we are bored at work, we think the solution is to do more ‘creative’ work.
Your work may be process driven. And that may bore you bonkers.
I recently spoke to a friend who was doing customer service, checking through perople’s documents to ensure they had the right documents before they could get their purchase.
He was bored. He felt like a cog in the entire machinery.
And he wanted to quit.
Looking at his situation, where he loved the outdoors, and loved being with people, I could see how this was driving him nuts.
But the solution may not be to look for creative work.
The solution might be what he did, where he looked for creativity outside of the 9 to 5 he did. He started a ground-up to bring people together on adventures. He tried a dating initiative for people below 30.
Finding creativity outside of work
One of my favourite quotes is from David Brooks, who wrote in the New York Times,
“(Great creative minds) think like artists but work like accountants.”
As quoted in Deep Work, by Cal Newport
During COVID, I suddenly realised that I could finish my work in 3 hours, rather than the 8 hours I was paid for.
I looked outside my work for stimulation.
That’s the easy part.
Sticking with it is the tough part.
There will be days when you will want to stop the nice side hustle you started. You might say,
It’s okay. I will just take a break for a day.
But slowly that break becomes 9 days.
And regaining lost momentum is one of the hardest parts of work.
Boredom at work isn’t about getting better work, it’s about gritting through bad work
This might sound like unconventional advice, especially in a world where you’re free to choose whatever work you want.
You might think that quitting your job, and going for something more stimulating might be a good idea.
But over the years, speaking to countless individuals, we’ve found that quitting or staying doesn’t exactly change the equation. Because you might quit, but still hold the same mindset towards work.
That work needs to change, for you to get more out of work.
No, not that.
You need to change.
Make work the way you want it to be by choosing to grit, and learn, rather than to just sit and gripe.