The Value in Boredom
May 4, 2017
Contributed by Alyssa Peiser
Do you allow yourself to be bored? I recently ran across this quote: “To simply wait and be bored has become a novel experience in modern life, but from the perspective of concentration training, it’s incredibly valuable.” You know this feeling – anytime there is a break in interaction (or just as often in the middle of it), we grab our phones. We do this at red lights, when our friend goes to the bathroom at the restaurant, when we feel bored, the moment we feel our minds resisting laser focus.
We do this as often in our personal lives as our professional lives. And the negative repercussions are just doubled since it is hard for our bodies to distinguish the difference between those two worlds. We know that phones and technology are a part of our daily lives – integrated into every day things (grocery lists, when to pick up our kids) and our work (taking client calls, checking email in between appointments), so the challenge to set it aside and allow ourselves the freedom to be bored and thus allow time for focus isn’t necessarily easy or natural.
I had a coworker that would keep his phone in his desk so he wouldn’t be distracted by texts. I turn my phone off sometimes in order to get a big chunk of concentrated work done. Most client emergencies can wait 30 minutes – or even an hour. Everyone has a friend that tells the story of everyone putting their phones in the middle of the table at dinner and whoever picks their’s up first has to pay for everyone’s meal.
We’ve talked about engaging in Deep Work here frequently (see posts here and here), but if you are taking constant breaks from focused work instead of occasionally allowing yourself to take a break to be distracted (whether by lesser, more “shallow” tasks or something more arbitrary – like checking social media – then Deep Work isn’t going to happen. And ultimately, Deep Work is where we are most engaged, most productive and most useful.
Make an experiment for yourself – try turning your phone off for a couple hours on a weekend, or even just resisting the urge to grab it every time there is a lull in activity. At work, create a block for yourself – remove yourself from technology (phones and internet) for even just a 15 minute block of time to work on a project, then allow yourself a quick “focus break,” check in, and then start again.
It might feel unnatural and difficult, but creating those blocks and allowing “boredom time” will in the end benefit the work we are actually able to produce. Allowing space for “laser focus” and dedicate yourself to it can be revolutionary.