The Big Idea
Boredom can make you more productive.
Questions I Answer
- What should I do if I’m bored?
- How can I enjoy my downtime more?
- What’s the benefits of being bored?
- Can being bored help you?
Actions to Take
- Embrace boredom. That’s right, be bored. Let your mind wander, unplug. Put your devices down, daydream. Let the boredom stir up some creative juices inside of you.
Key Topics in the Show
How to fill your days with meaning rather than passing the time
Taking advantage of the benefits of boredom
Learning to use boredom to spark creativity
Allowing space for our brain to play and explore
Embracing boredom rather than moving away from it
Resources and Links
- Watch my TanyaTV episode: 5 Tips to Make Time for Reading – the ideal solution when you’re feeling bored!
Welcome to Season 10 of Productivity Paradox with Tanya Dalton, a podcast
focused on helping you achieve your best life. Join Tanya this season as she explores the concept of bending time, so you could stay focused on what matters
To get her free checklist, Five Minutes to Peak Productivity, simply go to
Now here’s your host, Tanya Dalton.
Hello, hello everyone. Welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host, Tanya Dalton, and this is episode 126, how to make the most out of boredom. Now I know
ou’re thinking, why would I want to make the most out of boredom? It sounds boring, right? I know. Boredom kind of has a bad rap. I get it, but I promise you’re going to change the way you feel about being bored by the end of this episode. So, before we get started, let me give a quick shout out to today’s sponsor, inkWELL Press, inkWELL Press has their new academic year planners available for purchase now, and I’ll be sharing a little bit more about those later on in the episode.
Let’s go ahead and get started because I want to talk about boredom. We’re continuing our season on bending time, but here’s the thing that I find so fascinating about time. It has the ability to stretch and bend like taffy. Well, we think about time as this very rigid, straight line of hour after hour. I want you to think about how do you perceive time? Is it all equal? Does it all feel exactly the same or are there windows of time in your past that have felt long and slow, and others that felt hectic and fast paced, almost moving so quickly you barely remember it. Think of it this way, go back in your mind to an hour spent racing a deadline at work trying to accomplish something big. Those 60 minutes felt rushed and hectic as you race the clock. And now think about the last time you spend an hour at the beach laying in the sand with nothing but the ocean in front of you, maybe a good book by your side. Now that our felt really long and enjoyable, you lingered and stretched time in that moment. Didn’t you?
Now, both are the exact same amount of time. Both are 60 minutes, but one felt stressed and the other felt more like lingering, savoring the time and really enjoying it. So which 60 minutes do you want? I think we can all agree, we want to really enjoy time. We want it to slow down a little bit, so we can savor it a little bit. So, time itself isn’t about the sheer measurement of passing minutes and seconds on a clock. Time is experienced through emotions and feelings that we associate with that time. So how does boredom fit into all of this? When we think about boredom, it seems to have this negative connotation. We think we should do everything possible to avoid it. And in fact, when faced with the choice of doing nothing or receiving painful electric shocks, the average person will shock themselves five times. Peop/ would rather experience pain than boredom.
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And in that study, one man actually shocked himself almost 200 times in an effort to avoid being bored, 200 times rather than be bored. We think that we don’t want to be bored, so in an effort to chase away boredom, we end up missing out on stretching out and actually enjoying our days. Maybe it’s not electric shocks that we choose, but we fill our time with these mindless tasks that make us feel, you know, productive. Like checking email, again, or thoughtlessly picking up your phone, time and time again, have you ever done that? Where you find yourself picking up your phone, you glance at your lock screen, you set it back down only to find yourself minutes later doing the exact same thing again. Ah, dopamine, right? Got us again. We get that little bit and it feels so good, so we keep coming back. Not really doing anything of substance. Simply filling the time, helping it pass even more quickly.
We have the ability to stretch or compress time. When we stop to live in the moment, we can choose how we feel about each passing day. So, we have to change the way that we look at boredom. Remember when you were a kid and you’d complain about being bored and your mom or maybe a teacher would say, “Only boring people get bored,” Yeah, I know. You know why? Because I say it to my kids today, but it’s true, Being bored isn’t a bad thing unless you allow it to be. So, what is boredom? Well, according to the dictionary, it’s this state of feeling weary because one is unoccupied or lucks interest in one’s current activity. That does sound boring, doesn’t it? But we’ve all experienced this, right? So, when we think about boredom, we remember sitting back in a college lecture with that professor with the crazy hair that went on and on, and on, and on, and on. And we had to do everything in our power not to fall asleep in our chair.
Or maybe boredom makes you think of being stuck in a meeting at work with that sales guy from the second floor who really likes to hear himself talk a lot. Or maybe it’s the thought of sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office waiting and waiting and waiting. Yeah, boredom can be miserable, it can be unpleasant. It can make us feel frustrated, sometimes boredom can even influence our actions in negative ways. Have you ever, you know, felt bored and then maybe you found yourself wandering into the pantry and looking on the shelves and suddenly finding yourself eating an entire sleeve of Oreo cookies. Yeah, I don’t think I’m alone in that, right? Boredom can be troublesome and wreak havoc on our waistlines if we let it. But what is it really? Is it really this idea of this weariness or is it something else altogether?
Well, in a paper in perspectives on psychological science, researchers
d that attention plays an important role in creating boredom. So, attention is this key component you’re going to find again and again in boredom. And basically, they believe that three conditions need to be met in order for people to actually feel bored. First of all, they needed to have a reasonable amount of energy in order to feel bored. For example, when people have low energy and not much is happening, they
felt relaxed, not necessarily bored. But with high energy and nothing that’s engaging or using up that energy, the feeling of boredom is the result. The second thing is
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boredom usually happens when people have problems focusing their attention. And they believe that the environment is the cause.
So, for example, think about when you’re sitting at the airport waiting on a delayed flight. There’s lots of activities going on around you. There’s conversations, there’s TV’s blaring, announcements being made, people walking by, all kinds of things going on. But the stress of the delayed flight, that makes it really hard to concentrate on any one thing. So, your mind jumps from one thing to another, to another, not able to really focus or give your attention to one particular thing, and ultimately you feel bored. And then the third component to boredom usually happens when there’s a lack of control over the situation. Lecture halls, doctors’ offices, waiting rooms, airport lounges, all examples of places where you lack control over this situation. Boredom happens as a result of being unable to change the situation, So, our attention really plays a role in how we feel about boredom.
And I want to dive into how we can make boredom really work for you, to allow you to bend time and use it to your best of your abilities. But first I want to give a word from today’s sponsor. Today’s episode is brought to you by inkWELL Press and our new line of customizable and stylish disc planners for the academic year of July 2019 through June 2020. You know I always say planning should be personalized. Well, with the disc system it can be, you can add, remove and even shift pages around as you like. And you can still choose favorite cover designs and disks, it really is a way to make your planning customized. These planners are ideal for teachers, students, parents, or really anyone who likes to plan around the school calendar. You can shop now at inkWELLpress.com and start setting up your days for success. Okay, let’s dive back into this idea of boredom and now we know a little bit about that recipe for boredom, high level of energy plus the challenge of concentrating on one particular thing, plus a lack of control over the situation equals one bored person.
stion is this, is boredom really a bad thing? It seems like it’s got a pretty negative connotation to it and if you’re eating sleeves of cookies in the pantry, not so great. Right? But let me tell you about the flip side to boredom. There’s actually some really great benefits to be had from a little bit of boredom and I know it sounds crazy, but Sandi Mann, a psychologist and author of the book, The Upside of Downtime, why boredom is good, has actually found a lot of positive things about boredom. She wanted to uncover more about the emotion of boredom and why it’s perceived as such a negative, pointless emotion. She was researching emotions in the workplace and she found that the second most commonly suppressed emotion was boredom. Second only to anger, so people suppressed anger and then boredom.
That’s pretty amazing, right? When you think about all the emotions to be had, but according to Mann boredom is actually a really necessary emotion,
In fact, she says, “Imagine a world where we didn’t get bored. We would be perpetually excited by everything. Raindrops falling, cornflakes at breakfast time.” / think she makes a pretty good point. Without a little rise and fall in our emotions, we wouldn’t appreciate those peaks of happiness or excitement. As with all things in life,
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we need the valleys to appreciate those peaks. So, to explore this idea of how boredom could be used to our benefit, she devised a few experiments where she tested boredom and its effects on creativity. And in one experiment she gave participants the boring mundane task of copying telephone numbers from the phone book by hand for about 20 minutes. It was basically a completely meaningless task and then afterwards she asked participants to come up with as many uses as they
I for two paper cups. The participants came up with a range of original ideas including sandbox toys, pots for holding small plants,
But then Mann took that experiment even further and she ratcheted up the boring factor a bit by actually having the participants recite phone numbers out loud instead of just writing them down on paper. This was an activity that the vast majority of us can agree is absolutely boring and pointless, but the results of this really, really boring activity, even more creative ideas for those paper cups, earrings, musical instruments, a Madonna style bra even. So, this group thought well beyond the idea of the cup being a container to hold things and they went even further outside of the box. It really pushes their creativity. During these studies, Mann observed that it was more difficult for subjects to space out when they were engaged in an active task like writing as opposed to doing something passive like reading, and according to her, when we’re bored, our minds are searching, searching, searching, searching for
something, anything to stimulate us, something that’s not currently in our immediate surroundings.
So, our mind tends to wander, and we end up going to other places inside our brains. This in turn can fuel creativity because once we start daydreaming, we start getting into the subconscious. We get out of our conscious brain that tells us, “Oh, this won’t work, or that’s not okay.” And we began to really explore. So, in the end, Mann concluded that people who are bored think more creatively than those who aren’t. In a nutshell, boredom can actually be a gateway to mind wandering, which can help our brains create new connections, new solutions, new ideas. It really does allow us to think outside of the confines of what we know when we allow boredom in. It’s only been in the last few decades with the help of brain imaging technology that researchers have made discoveries around the phenomenon of mind wandering, which is basically what your brain is doing when you’re bored, when we’re not doing anything at all.
We think that our mind wandering is a bad thing, but what research is showing us is that mind wandering is a good thing and before some of this innovative research, most studies were based on the brain’s reaction to external stimulus. Things like the phone ringing or the doorbell as opposed to current research, which is what explores what the brain is doing during quiet moments. You see, they used to believe that the resting brain only generated noise and it jumped into action in response to outside events like the doorbell ringing or the phone. But we now know that the brain, whether awake or asleep, organizes itself into networks that connect their
activity and ramp up and down simultaneously. This activity appears even during light
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sleep, even under general anesthesia. So, this suggests that this mind wandering and this stimulation that goes on is a fundamental characteristic of brain function.
In other words, our brain is constantly working and when we’re bored, we can see an even more increased activity in the regions associated with memory and imagination. So that’s why allowing that space for our brain to play and explore is so important because it really does allow us to stretch outside of the confines of what we know. Instead of being bound by these boxes of our conscious of what is possible and what’s not, our subconscious doesn’t play by those rules. So, our mind wandering allows us to stretch it out a little bit. So contrary to what most people originally believe, when we space out, our brains are not switched off, even though we think it means our brains are shut down and the person’s off in outer space. Our minds are still at work. In fact, our brains are in this default mode and we’re using 95% of the energy that we use when our brain is deeply engaged in focus thinking.
So, despite an inactive state, your brain is definitely not inactive. We need to embrace this boredom a little bit more, we need to be able to explore those areas of our brain that our conscious doesn’t really allow. Maybe we’ve been thinking about things all wrong. For a long time, we felt compelled to hastily switch away from this state of boredom and get moving and do something. Maybe we should be embracing boredom all along. Think about this, back in the day before cell phones and devices, when people sat in that airport lounge that we talked about, even though we were still faced with the same state of boredom that we’re in, in today’s airports, back then we found ourselves looking around, maybe having conversations with other travelers, Perhaps getting up and watching the guys load and unload the luggage. Maybe we commented on the book that the woman sitting next to us is reading, and you talked about your love of this genre, right?
Or maybe you talk to someone wearing a university tee shirt and talked about friends you have in common who went to the same school. Back then, a little bit of boredom inspired us to make connections with other people, to look around and really take in our surroundings. But today we find ourselves feeling the pressure to never be bored, never sit still, never let our minds wander. We feel the need to fill every waking minute with something in order to feel productive. We feel like we need to cram our day’s full, and in doing this, we’re losing sight of our time where we‘re allowing it to pass so quickly. If we just slow down and we really savor the moments, when we embrace some boredom, it can really make a difference. But instead we feel obligated to fill our time with this useless, mindless monotony of pecking away at our cell phones, scrolling through social media or the internet or email.
These days if you’re in that same airport lounge, you only see heads down and shoulders slumped over a cell phone or a tablet, while people are furiously tapping away at some electronic device. Even in restaurants, they’re packed with people with these tablets to make sure that we are never ever, ever bored. So yeah, we’re all connected and yet we’re not. We‘re connected to the internet, but not to people. We’re busy and we think we’re not bored, we’re also not exercising our creative muscles if we’re just busily tapping away our lives on these tiny little keyboards. So,
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this is the part of the podcast where I’m going to urge you to embrace that boredom. That’s right be bored. Let your mind wander, unplug. Put your devices down, daydream. Let the boredom stir up some creative juices inside of you. It’s okay to be bored, not only does boredom induce some mind wandering and some creativity, it
also gives you some space. Some space to take a break, to catch your breath, to recharge a bit, to unwind and relax, to stretch out your time and actually live in it. We need that
We need time to really enjoy our days. So, I’m giving you permission to not feel like you have to jam every second full of every single day, so you’re constantly on the go. We‘re not meant to be like the energizer bunny, we’re human and we actually have to recharge and refresh and who knows? Maybe during a moment of boredom, you’ll discover a moment of brilliance. Even though boredom and brilliance seem like opposites, they’re actually quite connected. Boredom can breed brilliance because our minds are searching for something to inspire us, to ignite us. Remember that when you lose focus of the outside world and you move inward, it doesn’t mean you’re shutting down. It means you’re tapping into your subconscious, a treasure chest of memories and imagining future possibilities, playing out scenarios and thinking creatively. These are all valuable ways to use your brain. Even though downtime may feel frivolous, use moments of boredom to help you daydream and allow your brain to wander.
I’ll leave you with a quick inspirational story related to boredom. Back in 1968 J.R.R. Tolkien told the BBC that one summer while he was a professor at Oxford, he was faced with a gigantic pile of exam papers, And while he was going through and marking up exams, which he claimed was a very time consuming and boring task, he happened upon an exam page that was left blank. While he was excited, there was one less page to read and grade, he also decided to use the blank space to write, “In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit,” which most of us know later became the opening line of his famous fantasy fiction novel, The Hobbit. It was during a moment of boredom that the brilliance of the Hobbit was conceived, and who knows what you’ll create out of boredom? So, let’s make the most of our time. Let’s let our minds wander a bit, stretch out times so we can fully enjoy the present moment. I want you to embrace a little more boredom in your life.
So, I hope you’re feeling inspired to be bored and let your mind wander at will. If you‘ve been inspired to embrace boredom a little bit more, / sure would love for you to do me a favor and leave me a five-star rating and a review on iTunes or wherever it is that you’re listening to this podcast. It really does help me out
incredibly. First of all, it gives me feedback. I get to hear from you, which I love, but it also allows other people to learn more about the podcast as well and if you appreciate the messages that we talk about here, about productivity and really living your best life, I sure would love for you to share that with other people, so they can listen as well.
And if you need help with understanding how to leave a rating, just go to inkWELLpress.com/ratethepodcast. I’ve got a short little video that shows you how to
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do it. Next week on the podcast we’re going to continue talking about bending time. Part of bending time is creating spaces and making allowances to use time to your advantage. So, I’ll be talking about how you can work from anywhere, whether you want to work from home or while traveling, I‘ve got lots of great tips and insights to share with you, so I hope to see you then. All right, until next time, have a beautiful and productive week,
Thanks for listening to Productivity Paradox. To get free access to Tanya’s valuable checklist, Five Minutes to Peak Productivity, simply go to inkWELLpress.com/podcast.