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The importance of being bored

For a long time I thought that an important part of working in tech meant that everything I did now had to be about tech. Subscribe to programming subreddits, listen to coding podcasts, be (doing nothing, probably) on my laptop all evening - basically fill my brain to the brim with nothing but technology and screen time.

Then one day I listened to an amazing (and yet, apparently impossible to find) podcast in which the guest proposes that in our modern world we never let ourselves get bored - we take any opportunity to cram a constant stream of content in through our eyes and our ears.

By occupying our minds every second of the day, we never give our brains time to rest. In boredom, our minds are able to wander and process and make plans - this is when we are able to do our most creative and original problem solving, and many of us never let this process happen regularly. They suggest that by not getting bored enough, we could be making ourselves ill.

“Not me”, I thought listening to this. Until I looked at how every day panned out.

6am - Wake up, listen to a podcast whilst in the shower. Watch television until leaving for work
7am-8am - Listen to a podcast, browse Reddit during commute
8am-4pm - Screen time at work
4pm-5pm - Listen to a podcast, browse Reddit during commute
5pm-7pm - Time with kids, music or radio on in the background (with a little screaming)
7pm-9pm - Television, browse social media
9pm-10pm - Browse reddit before bed

Not for a single moment was I allowing myself to be bored. Not for a second was I taking time to be away from some form of media or noise. And I could feel it - in my head, towards the end of the work day I would feel a little overwhelmed and I didn’t know why. Not long into the afternoon I was finding it difficult to concentrate, and (as I was brand new to my role) I was being trained up by my colleagues and it just wasn’t sticking. Also, my mind would drift off in meetings and I would snap back, having no idea what had been discussed for the last few minutes. It was actively affecting my mind and wellbeing, and I was attributing it to not being smart or capable enough to do my job. It was pushing me into imposter syndrome.

I decided to do something about it. I’m very lucky that part of my commute includes a 15 minute walk along a leafy footpath, bordered by trees and only occasional traffic. I began by militantly not allowing myself to use my headphones in between leaving the bus and getting to the office. It gave me at least half an hour a day where I could get bored, and be forced to think about what I wanted to achieve that day or further in the future, or who I needed to get back in contact with, or any number of things that previously would have been ignored for a podcast. It gave me some time in the day to relax in the sounds of nature.

Not long after I found that I was remembering a lot more of those things that my colleagues were teaching me. My productivity didn’t wane in the afternoon any longer, and I noticed that I was able to focus much more during meetings (well, depending on the meeting). I also found that when I got to work I already had an idea of what I wanted to achieve that day. I wasn't overwhelmed at the end of the day. Overall, my mind felt much clearer.

All it took was to take some time to let myself be bored.

So maybe have a look at when your mind gets time to wander each day. If, like me, it’s nowhere near enough, consider putting down your phone, taking out your earbuds and spending some time in the analogue world. It’s a small change that, for me, made a massive impact.

(Check out the awesome Bored and Brilliant podcast by Note to Self , in which a group of participants try to reduce their exposure to their mobile phones. I do see the irony of a blog post asking you to put down your phone then recommending a podcast...)

Top comments (1)

niorad profile image
Antonio Radovcic

I see it like white-space in design. Or the same but different negative-space in layout and illustration.
Both on and off are of equal importance. The off-state can help greatly with problems you couldn‘t solve. Lots of times, deferring it to the subconscious and going for a walk will yield the correct solution. Also putting kids to bed is perfect for this kind of boredom.