How to Overcome Boredom in Times of Social Distancing

Six ways to make it an opportunity, not a threat

This period of isolation forced us to find creative ways to be productive and, to be honest, don’t go crazy in the meantime. Did you feel pressured to start new courses, clean every inch of your house, learn new languages and new tools to meet with others virtually? Me too.

But despite the number of things to do, everyone got bored quickly. I lost count of how many times I heard my friends and family complaining about how bored they were at home.

Have you thought about how to take advantage of these dull moments, without feeling overwhelmed? Yes, because it’s not a race of who wins at doing more, it’s about doing what you can with what you have, smartly.

Fortunately, you can incorporate strategies and habits in your daily life to find purpose and, why not, joy in boredom. Yes, you read that right.

Here are six strategies that will help you achieve your goals.

1. Add Productive Boredom to Your Day.

In his memoir, Bob Iger, Disney’s former CEO, mentioned he used to go for long walks with Steve Jobs. It was not the first time I had read how this habit is common among many CEOs; this reminded of Cal Newport’s productive meditation practice.

The goal of this practice is to focus your attention into a problem you need to solve while you do something physical — washing dishes, ironing clothes, waiting in line, driving, etc.; activities that don’t require mental effort. Austin Kleon wrote in his Steal Like an Artist book that he loves ironing his clothes; his best ideas come when he’s bored!

According to researchers, when we are bored, our mind wanders. It’s at this mind state that the brain unlocks something called “default mode”; it’s when we connect fragmented ideas and find solutions to our problems.

You can’t lose on this one; you’ll be killing two birds with one stone!

2. Add Small Challenges to Your Everyday Tasks.

Scientifically speaking, we get bored due to the lack of neural stimulation. When we do something that’s not satisfying or challenging, we don’t concentrate, our mind wanders, and the last thing we want to do is the task at hand.

We get bored with activities that are too easy for us; things we have already mastered. Overcoming this problem is quite simple: we need to force ourselves out of our comfort zone and to do that, we need to practice failing deliberately.

When training for the U.S. Memory Championship, Joshua Foer eventually stopped improving and concluded that he was simply bored with his training. When he called the researcher that was helping him, his advice was that Joshua should force himself out of his comfort zone and accept mistakes; it’s the only way not only to learn but also, keep things interesting.

On the other hand, the challenge has to be something slightly outside of your comfort zone. If the obstacle is beyond your skills, you will likely feel frustrated and, ultimately, give up.

Time yourself, compete with a friend, try something new, set lofty goals; these are just some examples of what you can do to keep yourself engaged.

3. Complete Boring Chores in One Go.

Laura Vanderkam, a productivity expert, suggests paring little tasks together to save time; I’d say pair those tedious tasks together! Spend some time thinking about the chores you consistently avoid and identify which ones you can do in the same block of time.

Putting off tasks that you know you need to complete but never go about doing is exhausting; it’s a waste of energy. When you identify which tasks you can stack together, schedule a power-hour once a week and steadily work on these chores.

This strategy will help you take these nagging tasks out of your head and free up space in your mind for things that matter. Besides, we can all agree that an hour a week doesn’t seem scary at all!

4. Give Context to Boring Tasks.

Ever since the massive success of Eat, Pray, Love, people started to ask author Elizabeth Gilbert if she wasn’t afraid of never being able to write another successful book. She was, of course, and many times the pressure of writing something that nobody will ever care about, got to her.

In this TED talk, Elizabeth describes why she puts herself through the pain of writing and having her work sometimes scrutinised, sometimes acclaimed. To her, “writing is her home”, is the thing that grounds and centres her.

Your “home” can be anything, as per Elizabeth’s explanation: “it might be creativity, family, invention, adventure, faith, service, or raising corgis at a farm”. In summary, it’s whatever you love; it’s your north, it’s your purpose. I know I’m going deep here, but you get the drill.

Whenever you get bored, remember the “thing” that centres you. The thing that reassures you that even a tedious task has meaning, and it will get you wherever you need to be.

Think about it, “what is this task helping me to achieve?”.

I can guarantee that even the most tedious chore in the world — to me is washing dishes — is helping you to achieve something.

5. Buy Yourself a Timer.

This strategy is a personal favourite. I’ve been using the Pomodoro technique for a while, and it’s brilliant. It’s somehow satisfying realising I was able to work without interruptions. Even when I’m working through something tedious, it’s ok because each round only lasts 25 minutes.

In this technique, each 25-minute round is called “Pomodoro”, and the expectation is that during this time frame, you deep-work with no interference. After each round, take a 5-minute break; do anything not work-related to help you wind down a bit; go to the toilet, check social media, get coffee, etc.

After four pomodoros, take a 20 to 30-minute break. If you are anything like me, something probably will start to bug your mind during pomodoros rounds, but resist the urge to act on it! Just write the thought down and deal with it later.

The Pomodoro method is excellent because it takes our minds off the clock, but at the same time, it gives us control over it. We know exactly how long we’ve been working on something and we won’t have that feeling “where did the time go?”. It’s incredible how quickly 25 minutes go and still, we get so much done!

6. If Nothing Seems to Works, Keep Showing Up.

Elizabeth Gilbert is going to help me make another point. She wrote a whole book making a case for the power of “simply showing up”.

In Big Magic, she describes how creativity does not come out of thin air and how she needs to sit down to write every single day even when she has no inspiration at all.

Like any human being, she likely gets super bored in those situations. Lucky us she keeps showing up, she wrote seven books in nine years. Bringing this example to your life, if you are bored, persist and keep showing up.

Daniel Pink, a bestselling author, says that writing is like laying bricks. Every day you set some bricks and out of a sudden, you built a big wall, right? With writing is the same, every day you write, rewrite, edit, and eventually, you have a book or an article ready to be published.

This is true for absolutely any type of work, and even when all the forces in the universe conspires for you not to show up, Daniel Pink advises: soldier up and show up.

Wrapping Up

We can look at this time we are living two ways: as an opportunity or a threat. Either way, time will pass, right? Unfortunately, life is not adventurous, thrilling and sexy 100% of the time. But it’s up to you to decide which approach to take — positive or negative?

The strategies discussed will demand attitude; if you don’t do your part, nothing will magically happen.

There are countless of little steps that need to happen before something bigger takes form. Inevitably, some of these steps won’t be fun or compelling, but they will help you to accomplish the life of your dreams.

Brazilian in Ireland | PMP | Avid learner | Harry Potter enthusiast. Sharing what I know about leading awesome teams and Project Management.

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