Bev's Tips for a Better Work Life
Bev Jones' twice-monthly ezine offering you suggestions
for making your career more productive and more fun.

Dear Friends and Clients,

Perhaps it is a sign that the economy is indeed recovering. In the last week I have heard several people talk about being bored at work. Since the recession took hold it has seemed politically incorrect, or perhaps too much like tempting fate, to complain about boredom with our jobs. But now the issue of boredom seems to be coming back in style.

I hope that you are not feeling bored. But just in case, in this issue I’ll take a look at what it means to be bored and offer suggestions for getting over it.

Warm Wishes, Bev

Feeling Bored?
Get Over It &
Find Flow

October 20, 2009 * Number 113

Although most of us have our own idea about what it means to feel bored, the concept of boredom is hard to pin down. Psychologists say that boredom is highly subjective, and the experience varies greatly from individual to individual.

I asked Georgetown clinical psychologist Pam Rudat about the first thoughts that might come to her mind when a client complains about feeling bored. She suggested that she might start asking questions along two lines.

First, Dr. Rudat said, she would consider the possibility that the client’s feeling of boredom is masking other emotions. It is not unusual, she said, to probe beyond the sense of boredom and find depression, or emotions like fear or anxiety.

Another possibility, Dr. Rudat said, is that when someone says they are feeling bored what they actually are experiencing is the absence of a habitual stimulus. Think, for example, of colleagues who habitually check their BlackBerrys. Each time they see a message their bodies respond with a little shot of adrenalin. And when they are in a meeting where BlackBerrys are not permitted they may miss that adrenalin and feel bored regardless of the topic under discussion.

At work, boredom seems to be the opposite of what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has called “flow.” When we are in a flow state, he wrote, we are totally involved, and “action follows upon action according to an internal logic that seems to need no conscious intervention by the actor.”

Csikszentmihalyi, who has been studying flow for more than 35 years, says that it tends to occur when these conditions are present:
  • Your skills match the level of challenge presented by the environment. Tasks that are too easy are boring, while tasks that are be too difficult may lead to anxiety.
  • Your task includes clear goals.
  • You receive direct and immediate feedback.
  • You have a sense of control over the situation.

    If you want to bring more flow and less boredom to your workdays, consider these strategies:
    • Create challenges. If your work doesn’t feel stimulating, find ways to enrich it with new levels of complexity and challenge, like by creating games as you pursue tedious tasks. One study reported that long-distance truck drivers who played mental games, such as counting passing objects, reported little boredom and were also safer drivers.

    • Engage with others. Particularly for extroverts, isolation can feel boring. Take the time to really focus on the people around you. Csikszentmihalyi suggests, for example, that a supermarket clerk might stimulate flow and at the same time improve service by striking up genuine conversations with customers.

    • Vary your routines. Make an effort to change your habitual patterns. Flow is associated with exploration, and even simple changes can make you feel more alive. Try alternative routes to work, different restaurants at lunch and new ways of getting your tasks done.

    • Learn something new. Research suggests that flow is the state most beneficial to learning and forging new neural connections. And it works both ways – if you are regularly engaged in learning you are less likely to fall into a state of boredom.

    • Hang with do-ers. Boredom can be contagious, and if you hang out with passive, disengaged people you may start to feel the same way. Look for opportunities to spend time with people engaged in worthwhile, interesting activities.

    • Exercise. Get up and move around at the office, walk as often as you can, and build regular exercise into your life. People who are physically active are less likely to feel bored.

    • Journal. You are more likely to feel bored if you lack self-awareness and tend to be out of touch with your own emotional state. Writing in a journal can help you to develop your emotional intelligence and that can translate into a happier life.

    • Develop mindfulness. Develop a meditation practice or explore other routes to cultivating a mindful state. When you are feeling mindful, you are engaged in the present moment in a meaningful way, and you are not feeling bored.

    Want More Insights Related to Your Work Life? In addition to providing executive coaching, Bev is available to speak about a broad range of issues related to your work life. Visit her website at or email to Bev directly. Bev is associated with Executive Coaching & Consulting Associates.

  • Bev’s Tips for a Better Work Life is published on the first and third Tuesday of each month by Beverly E. Jones of ClearWays Consulting, LLC. Bev is a lawyer and former executive who now coaches accomplished executives and other professionals to bring new direction, energy and enjoyment to their work lives.

    Copyright ©2009, ClearWays Consulting, LLC & Beverly E. Jones

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