Open laptop, type in password, scroll through email, check to-do list, start first task, get bored, open Facebook …
Ten minutes later, you’re on your fifth Buzzfeed quiz and … wait, what are you doing? Do you really have that short of an attention span, or are you — like the majority of your generation — just bored?
In a Gallup poll, we learned that 55% of millennials are not engaged at work. So don’t worry — if you find yourself gazing longingly at the clock every five minutes, alternating between browser tabs, or furiously scrolling through your Insta feed, you’re not alone. But just because everyone’s doing it, does that make work boredom OK?
Maybe you literally have nothing to do. You already checked off all your tasks for the day, and now you’re just sitting there like … now what? Or, maybe you have plenty to do but zero desire or interest in getting it done. That’s boredom.
But then there’s this thing called active disengagement. According to the poll, 16% of us are in this state at work. It’s when you’ve moved from just “being bored” to actually doing things that are counterproductive to work (online shopping, leaving work to do other things, looking for another job, working on a side gig on company time). You’re taking direct action to keep yourself from getting things done, and you’re setting yourself up to stay in that state, indefinitely.
Be careful if you’ve moved into this stage. If you’re so disengaged that you’re not getting your work done, ask yourself, why are you even there? It might be time to move on. Or, maybe it’s just time for a shift in perspective — boredom isn’t your enemy. It’s trying to tell you something, and it’s time to listen.
Here are three times when, actually, it’s OK to be bored with your job (and what to do about it):
1. Maybe it’s not your Dream Job
We all have to pay the bills. Maybe you’re spending 40 hours per week at a job that’s not even close to ideal. That’s OK. It’s just your day job — for now — and hopefully, you’re putting in extra hours outside of work on a side hustle or taking online classes to get to where you want to be.
Take a moment to reflect. You probably don’t entirely hate your job (if you do, maybe it really is time to move on). Think about why you took the job in the first place. Maybe it hasn’t panned out the way you hoped it would, but is there anything you could do to create opportunities to feel more engaged? Is there something you still want to learn from this role? Talk to your boss about taking on a new project or participating in training sessions for new tools. Think outside the box, and take the initiative to do something outside your role.
Personal example: I was feeling ultra-bored at my executive assistant job (scheduling meetings and making travel arrangements aren’t my passion — sue me). But, then I heard that a new project had been assigned to a manager of a different team. It just so happened I had this exact project experience at a previous company, so I approached her and asked if I could help. Not only was she open to the idea, I could tell she was actually relieved to be able to have someone to work with on it.
2. You’d like your job (maybe even love it) if you didn’t have to …
Everyone has those parts of their job that are just like UGH. But just because you’re bored with this one project or task, that doesn’t mean your entire job is a snooze. If you’re in a position to delegate that work to someone else or collaborate with a team member, do so (FYI that’s not an invitation to drop all the grunt work on your intern). Knowing your areas of weakness is a strength in and of itself. Taking the initiative to actually do something about it is a sign of real maturity.
If you can’t outsource to someone else, try the “worst things first” approach, i.e. scheduling your least favorite tasks first thing in the morning. That way, you’ve already cleared the boring stuff off your plate before you’re tempted to become unproductive.
3. The dreaded lull
At nearly every job, there’s an ebb and flow. The good news here is that most of the time you’ve got lots to do, but what about those days when all projects are completed and you’re wondering why you’re even at work today? It’s OK. Take this downtime to appreciate a little reprieve from the madness, and use it to prepare for the next rush. Is there anything you can do now to make those crazy busy times a little less stressful?
Train yourself up on Gmail’s functionalities — add some rules to your Inbox so you can spend less time clearing out junk mail every week. Submit your expense report early for once. Take a coworker out to lunch, and see if you can learn something new about what they do. Learn how to write a macro in Excel so you can run your reports faster, and then actually write it. Voila! You just saved yourself and the company precious time, and you learned a valuable and transferable new skill.
So, yes, it’s really OK if you’re not perpetually energized by endless reports and data analysis. Whether you’re biding your time at a day job, or you’re just going through a slow period at work, remember that boredom is a natural part of life. Instead of trying to cure your boredom, pay attention to the message that boredom is trying to tell you, and use it as a tool to reexamine your priorities, change your habits, and improve your skills.