In between TV, Internet, smartphones, tablets, new apps and the latest gaming systems, it’s no wonder the current generation has been dubbed “the most distracted”. On any given day, the average American has their pick between reading the latest industry research on their iPad, digging into a new book on a Kindle, playing Angry Birds, or watching the latest episode of a TV show on Netflix at any given time. In fact, according to a recent PEW Research study published in the New York Times, “nearly 90% of 2,462 teachers said that digital technologies were creating ‘an easily distracted generation with short attention spans’.”
But surprisingly, many researchers think boredom is a good thing–especially for kids. The argument is that it allows for imagination stimulus and unstructured play, which is how we learn to be creative. Some people argue that it’s not limited to children,including writer Mark McGuinness, who finds that boredom leads to curiosity, which leads to new ideas for writing projects. Not only that, but research itself finds that distraction combined with relaxation is great for stimulating creativity, even going so far as answering the question of why we tend to get our awesome ideas in the shower. But what if you’re stuck on how to channel that boredom toward better productivity and creativity on the job?
Healthy boredom solution #1: Creative side projects are your friend
If you’re more goal-oriented and having a set amount of unstructured free time doesn’t work for you, consider starting a creative side project. Having a project to gear your right-brained energy toward will allow for some downtime and relaxation without making you completely unproductive. The best creative side projects are low-risk (i.e. not attached to your income, which means there’s no pressure to fail or succeed), don’t have a deadline, and have a purpose (personal or professional).
There’s also some compelling research that people who actively work on creative side projects are better employees (being rated by coworkers as more helpful, creative, and collaborative on the job). And those same people feel more relaxed and in control of their lives. Having a creative side project gives people a way to escape from their work constraints without resorting to unhealthy escapism, like being on Facebook too much on the job or overeating to relieve the stress.
You could also choose to learn about something entirely unrelated to your day job, in a way that isn’t necessarily project-based. Coursera and Udemy have free courses on everything from Latin American culture to how to play the electric guitar, and Duolingo is a great free way to learn a new language from your computer or phone.
Healthy boredom solution #2: Let it go
Don’t try to fill up all your spare time with activities. Leave some time without structure, whether it’s going on a walk around the office, choosing not to listen to your favorite business podcast so that your mind can wander, or simply browsing Pinterest on your lunch break instead of working. The key is to set aside a half-hour or so; as long as the unstructured activity isn’t taking over your day, you should be fine. If you want to take it to the next level and cut out your devices as well, there are apps like AntiSocial and SelfControl that will take a set amount of time and block your phone/computer/tablet from being able to access email and social networking sites.
It’s our natural instinct to avoid boredom, because hey–it’s typically not inherently fun! In our daily lives, we crave feeling like we have a purpose that we’re working toward, so much so that we’re now filling it up with as much technology and communication-oriented activities as possible. Regardless of personality type, to function at our best, our brains need some off-time. The next time you find yourself feeling a sense of “I’m boreeeed” syndrome, lean into it instead of fighting it and take some time to yourself, guilt-free.