When your brain thrives on challenge, but you’re stuck in a situation where there isn’t any, you are likely to get bored … and restless, disengaged, uninspired and even depressed. Today let’s talk about what you can do to combat boredom and bore out when you can’t leave an unchallenging situation.

What Is Boreout?

    Boreout is the opposite of burnout, and it’s what happens when you’re understimulated, when your skills and abilities are not being fully utilized or when you’re stuck in a monotonous, unfulfilling role.  You get so bored, you start to check out.  You become disengaged and dissatisfied, your motivation disappears, your morale sinks to the bottom of the barrel, and you start to feel useless and sometimes even worthless. 

    Because you can’t always immediately leave an unchallenging situation, and because the longer you stay, the more your mental health suffers, it’s important to take steps to proactively change the dynamic of your situation as soon as you can, while you’re waiting for an opportunity to make a bigger change.  

    What Can We Do to Combat Boredom? 

    There are four things you can do to transform the energy in a boring situation, revitalize the environment so it’s not such a drag, and transform your mindset in the short term to preserve your enthusiasm and make sure you’re still YOU when you can finally make the transition to a role that does challenge you and makes use of all of your gifts and talents. 

    Those four things are:

    1. Reframe Tasks to give them meaning

    2. Set MicroChallenges

    3. Expand Your Skills

    4. Become an Intrapreneur

    Let’s take those one at a time. 

    1. Reframe your tasks to give them meaning – That means you want to look at the tasks that you find the most boring and try to uncover their hidden value.  Where are the opportunities there?  Make it a personal challenge to find real meaning and purpose in the most mundane responsibilities, and try to see how you can transform them into opportunities for your personal growth.  So, for example, maybe one of your tedious tasks is posting events to online calendars.  It’s routine, it’s repetitive, and you can do it with your eyes closed and one hand tied behind your back.  How can you reframe this boring job?  

    You want to ask yourself two questions: How does this support the larger organization, and what is the silver lining for me? 

    In the example of the online calendars, as boring as it is, posting events is an essential link in the marketing strategy for your organization, because no one will come to these events if they don’t know about them.  And, because posting events online is typically free, what you’re doing is high value, low cost and low risk.  The limited output on your side results in a potentially huge benefit for your company.  Which means you are actually holding something of great value that you can use as a bargaining chip when you need something. You can keep that in your back pocket and bring it out when you’re negotiating for changes in other areas of your job, or when you want to give an example of how essential you are to the company’s success, or you even can use it as a launching pad when you want to pitch an expansion to your duties … Think about the fundamental, intrinsic value of your boring task and challenge yourself to figure out how to leverage that. 

    Then the second question you ask yourself, what is the silver lining for me, will help you reframe a boring task into something that you don’t hate quite so much.  You can adjust your mindset and not dread a monotonous task if you can find something about it that’s actually positive and keep your focus on that.  So, in the case of the tedious posting of events onto the online calendars, you might say to yourself, “Well, at least I can wear headphones when I do this job, and because it’s so easy, it’s almost like taking a break in the middle of the day, since I can listen to my favorite music or podcast while I’m posting online.”  Sure, it would be more fun to do something else, something challenging and exciting, but if you can’t right now, for whatever reason, find the silver lining in what you are doing and focus on that, purposely just to preserve your mental health.  You’re not trying to convince yourself that black is white or white is black and this boring task is actually fun, you’re just using this mindset trick as a kind of life raft to keep your head above water. It never turns out well if you open the door to frustration and disillusionment, because that will inevitably seep into the rest of your life and blunt your enjoyment of everything else.  

    2. Set micro-challenges for yourself. If your job or situation doesn’t provide enough challenge to keep your gifted brain engaged, you can provide some for yourself. Set yourself mini missions or goals within the tasks you are already required to do, so you can benefit from the dopamine hit you’ll get from reaching those little milestones many times during the day. 

    Maybe you challenge yourself to do your typical tasks more efficiently, or more creatively, or you give yourself a time limit, or you give yourself a handicap, meaning that you take something away from yourself to make the job harder, like doing calculations without a calculator.  

    So if I really hate stuffing envelopes for mass mailings, I could time myself to see how long it takes to stuff 10 envelopes and try to beat my best time, or I could do it to the beat of my favorite songs, or I could look at the names on the envelopes and try to think up limericks that include them. 

    You can take this as far as you want – if you hate sitting in meetings that drag on forever, you could conceivably teach yourself shorthand and challenge yourself to literally write down everything everyone says.  You probably won’t have a need for the finished product, but you definitely won’t be as bored in the short term!

    You might even like to gamify your tasks, and give yourself points and rewards for reaching certain milestones or completing tasks in a creative way.  If you answer the phone a lot, you could make up a game where when you hear the phone ring, you throw a dart at a target that includes all the types of callers you are likely to get, and if your dart lands on the kind of person who actually called you, you get a point! That’s fun 🙂

    And it’s not a bad idea to literally give yourself a reward when you hit your mini goals, either for completing a task, accruing points, or even just making it through the day.  

    Pick a day when you’re in a good mood and compile a list of all the free, activity-based things that make you happy, that you could realistically do at work, and dole them out when you need a reward.  This can be things like taking a short walk outside, or visiting a friend’s desk with a cup of tea, or listening to a song or part of a podcast, or reading one page of a book.  You can obviously also reward yourself with a snack or a treat, but that might open the door to an unhealthy relationship with food, so use that reward sparingly. 

    3. Expand your skills. The more you can give your brain more challenging things to work on, the better you’ll feel. And by learning new skills, you’re not only keeping yourself busy, but you’re also setting yourself up for a potential move to a better situation.  

    You can add to your technical skills by learning new software or specialized equipment.  Maybe you can learn to use Canva to create better graphics for your flyers or newsletters. Or you can boost your creative skills by learning something like photography or video editing so the marketing materials you create look cooler. 

     You could learn more about your industry, and use that to make yourself more useful or more valuable.  Maybe you work in the food service industry and you learn about robotic kitchen automation using AI technology.  

    Or you can learn to improve your soft skills, like your project management skills, or your presentation skills, or your leadership skills, or your time management skills – anything that will make you a more valuable asset. And whether you use these skills at your current job or not, you’ll always have them, which makes you a better candidate for any interesting new job opportunities that come along. 

    4. Become an Intrapreneur. This is just like being an entrepreneur, but you’re doing it within the confines of your current job. You can turn your prodigious brain and your talents toward thinking up new ways to make your position or your department or your company more efficient, more profitable, or more successful. 

    Now, there’s a risk here, since there’s a solid chance that you’ll be met with a brick wall of resistance when you propose the changes you develop, and that might make you feel worse, but there IS an opportunity here.  You just want to decide whether it’s better in your particular situation to share your ideas or just keep them to yourself and work on them as a hobby, or a time filler until you can get out of there. 

    But whether this is just a thought exercise or you’re truly hoping to make a difference in your workplace, one place to start is to analyze the pain points you see around you. Find the areas within your organization that could be improved or streamlined, like inefficient processes, outdated technology, or recurring problems that affect productivity or customer satisfaction, and develop a solution.

    Then, think about all the ways someone might try to torpedo your solution, and come up with responses to those.  Think about the budget, and the personnel necessary, and any technology upgrades or training that’s needed.  Think about the effect on your boss and how it might make her look or affect her trajectory.  Treat this like you’re planning an Oceans 11 style heist – think of all the moving parts and have a contingency plan for absolutely everything.  If nothing else, it will keep your mind stimulated! 

    You can consider bringing other people or departments on board with your new suggestions, to make your idea seem stronger when you pitch it to management, and you can also initially pitch your project as a pilot initiative or mini version of a larger plan, so you can test it out and gather data to help you make a case for a larger rollout.  Whatever happens, just keep in mind that your main goal at this point is not to enact a major change, but to keep your mind occupied.  Anything beyond that is icing on the cake. 

    Hopefully, these four tricks will only be necessary in the short term, and you’re eventually able to move on to a situation that does challenge you in a place that does value your gifted brain.  

    In the meantime, if you’d like more help turning your job into a place you don’t dread going to each day. I’ve linked my “Turn Your Frustrating Job Around” toolkit below.  This 34-page downloadable workbook is filled with exercises to help you not only overcome boredom, but also to clarify your goals, build better relationships with your colleagues and bosses, create a more autonomous situation for yourself with more opportunities for creativity, and adopt a growth mindset.