Are you bored (and busy)?

by | Jun 1, 2015 | Blog, Jessica Chivers | 0 comments

I had a chat recently with someone who clearly couldn’t be bothered. She exuded fatigue and indifference and I wondered “is it me?” As our conversation unfolded I decided she was professionally bored yet busy; a toxic combination. In this post I’m making a few suggestions as to how to get out of a bored funk and also how you might recognise you’re in one at all.

Sometimes it’s more obvious to others than ourselves that we’re weary. Three or four years ago I met a woman who’d recently left her job and gone back to university. She told me a trusted colleague had suggested she take voluntary redundancy and use the time to refresh and re-energise herself. She was bored and tired and it showed. She told me she thanked her colleague for holding this mirror up because she wasn’t aware how much cynicism and ennui she was spilling.

A final thought – being busy or over-worked can delay us realising we’re bored.


Signs that something needs to shift

Most of us do these things from time to time – doing them routinely or more frequently might indicate boredom (either at work or in life more broadly) is creeping in. I’ve asterisked the ones that might especially apply to what I call the ‘busy bored.’

  • In meetings or on work calls you get on with something else (checking e-mails, doodling, mental planning) rather than focusing on what’s being said. *
  • You anticipate being bored or underwhelmed (in a given situation) and feel resigned to it rather than wanting to challenge or feeling able to change it.
  • You withdraw or make less of a contribution to meetings or the non-work activities you’re involved with.
  • You mix with the same people, in the same places and feel less anticipatory and/or actual pleasure than you used to.
  • You second-guess what will happen or what will people say in given situations (usually negative associations).
  • You’re grumpy (and possibly thinking ‘it’s not fair’).
  • Compensatory behaviour – treating yourself or ‘allowing’ yourself something because of what you’ve endured during the day. *
  • You’re in do, do, do mode without time to think consciously about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. *
  • You can’t remember the last time you initiated a meeting with – or accepted an invitation from – someone you’d like to get to know better. *
  • ‘Curious’ and ‘vibrant’ were once used to describe you, but you haven’t been introduced that way in a while. *
  • There are aspects of your job/wider life you’re itching to do more of (if only there were more hours in the day or you had a wife/PA/another member of the team)*
  • You achieve a lot at the end of a given day/week/month but without commensurate satisfaction. *


Antidotes to (busy) boredom 

Again I denote with an asterisk the suggestions that may be particularly useful if you identify with the idea of being bored and busy with it.

  • Scale back. *
  • Consider who in your team (work and/or home) is able to take some of the load and ask. Highlighting the advantages smooths the way to a yes. *
  • Only attend meetings where there’s real value in you being there and excuse yourself when the value’s stopped. This may be uncomfortably counter-cultural and as Ghandi said, ‘be the change you want to see.’ *
  • Recall what motivated you start on the path that brought you to where you are now. What’s still true? Bring that motivation to the front – how might it feed daily decisions?
  • Work with a coach to identify and plan ways to make more use of your underutilised strengths – a certain way to invigorate you and your performance.
  • Mind doodle about your purpose and the best contribution you can make in the next six months. Putting that vision alongside what’s happening now, what are three ways to map the gap?
  • Bring energising people closer to you. This could be literal – time to seat swap?
  • Explore LinkedIn and invite people who interest you to connect (and by making a specific request, such as reciprocal knowledge sharing, the more likely a positive response).
  • Use LinkedIn to discover courses and qualifications people in your field are doing or have completed. Use this to feed your imagination.
  • Introduce yourself to colleagues in other teams. Where’s the crossover in what you’re trying to achieve? Is there some great work you could do together?
  • Use Twitter to find people and ideas connected to your professional interests. The ‘favourite’ button can be useful to store resources to look at later.
  • Put time aside to delve into resources (e.g. people, journal articles, talks, blog posts) that might inspire you and broaden your thinking. This might be a daily 15 minute thing or a larger session every month.
  • Pick one routine that frustrates/bores you the most and change three things.

As ever, these are just a few possibilities picked from my client work and personal experience. Do add your thoughts via the comments box below.

What are you taking away?


Boredom can creep upon us and if we’re busy, it might take us a while to realise the funk we’re in. Colleagues might even notice before we do. Three ways to stay fresh are courting new people and ideas; carving out to think about why and mixing up our day to day routines.

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