No Time Wasted: Six Ways Boredom Can Stimulate Productivity

“Boredom always precedes a period of great creativity.” —Robert M. Pirsig, American writer and philosopher..

Productive people hate boredom, so they tend to go find things to do when nothing’s happening—sometimes even when they ought to be resting. We all know people who eat at their desks, don’t take vacations, and never seem to take a coffee-break. We often call them workaholics… but maybe they just find inactivity boring.

Even the best-adjusted worker, who dutifully follows her to-do list and takes the breaks she needs to stay energized and happy, sometimes struggles with boredom. Some people call boredom a productivity killer, and with the whole world at our fingertips to distract us, it certainly can be. But I’ve noticed something interesting: Boredom doesn’t always kill productivity. In fact, it can boost productivity instead. The savvy worker leverages boredom to enhance her work-life, propose new ideas for her organization, free up her thinking, and boost her output.

Here’s how boredom can make you more productive:

  1. Daydreaming helps you think better. According to a recent study, daydreaming, a common result of boredom, positively affects creativity, planning, and similar mental functions. Researchers stimulated their subjects’ frontal lobes (the part of the brain behind your forehead) to cause their minds to wander. This freed up their thought processes, multiplying their inner thoughts—leading to new ideas.

  2. Boredom stimulates creativity. If you have nothing to do except twiddle your thumbs, one effective thing you can do is think. You can look at tasks more closely than ever before, consider new ways to speed your workflow, brainstorm, or process ideas you’ve nurtured in the back of your mind. You don’t even have to be inactive for this to work. If your mind wanders while automatically processing a simple, boring task, you may still boost your capability for creative thinking. And don’t the best ideas always seem to come when you’re doing something else? That’s why many creative people keep a notebook with them at all times—even in the bathroom for those shower epiphanies!

  3. Boredom boosts mindfulness. Boredom keeps you focused on the present moment, giving you the opportunity to reconsider your thinking process.  If nothing else arises, take the opportunity to meditate briefly, think about your work—and then move forward to a new task while maintaining that sense of healthy mindfulness.

  4. Boredom (usually) releases stress. Like any period of inactivity, boredom helps you relax and recharge, even when you don’t want or intend to. This is especially true when you unplug. Of course, that may also make you anxious enough to find something do (see #5), and may reveal an acute case of nomophobia—a fear of being without your smartphone. (This is not a joke.) So even if a spate of boredom doesn’t help you decompress, it may help you anyway if your first instinct is to reach for your phone.

  5. Boredom may make you proactive. It’s much more productive to find something useful to do instead of playing Candy Crush, even if you’re stuck in a line or cooling your heels at the airport. Look for a daily task you can get ahead on, or a “whenever” task you’ve wanted to do for a while. If you’re at your office, see your manager and ask for something to keep you busy. If you have nothing else to do, see if you can help a co-worker with a little of their work, but make them aware you’ll have to give it back when your manager assigns you something new, or when an expected task flows down the workflow pipe to you.

  6. Boredom makes you more likely to take risks. Suppose you find you really have nothing to do, no one needs help, and your manager doesn’t have any new tasks right away. The normal round of housekeeping tasks will start again tomorrow, and you’ll probably have some expected tasks flowing in, too. What do you until then? Well, rather than go home and be completely unproductive, try something new. This is especially important if your organization rewards initiative instead of punishing it. If nothing else, you’ll learn whether or not a new idea works—and learning may be your greatest weapon against boredom.

Problems to Challenges

Most of us know to reframe problems as challenges. Well, dealing with boredom is just another problem, and a minor one at that. When you reframe it as a challenge, I’ll bet you can beat it within ten minutes. There’s always something worthwhile to do somewhere.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on productivity and performance. Funny, engaging, and full of real life strategies that work, Laura will change mindsets and attitudes so your people can maximize productivity, strengthen performance, and get the job done right. Her presentations at corporate events, sales kick-off meetings, and association conferences help audiences improve output, increase speed in execution, and save time in the office. Stack has authored seven books, including her newest work, Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (Jan. 2016). To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401, email, or CONTACT US.

Here’s what others are saying:

“Laura Stack’s session with a group of our seasoned operations managers was eye-opening. We all learned new ways to be more productive with the tools we already have. I’ve never seen each of our seasoned, experienced operations managers so engaged in a session. Many of our senior and mid-level leaders were wowed by what they learned and have already begun using the new techniques with their teams.”
—Mary Pawlowski, Learning Design, Piedmont Natural Gas

“What I enjoyed most about your presentation was that it was not only engaging but also practical in application. I’ve read everything from Covey’s system to “Getting Things Done,” and you presented time management in a way that is the easiest I’ve seen to digest and apply. Thank you for helping our system today!”
—John-Reed McDonald, SVP, Field Operations, Pridestaff

“Laura is an incredible speaker who takes practical information to improve productivity and efficiency and makes it interesting and fun! She has a great sense of humor and completely engaged our corporate and sales team. Laura motivated everyone to take steps to make their lives more productive and efficient.
—Molly Johnson, Vice President Domestic Sales, Episciences, Inc.

“Ms. Laura Stack’s program received the highest scores in the 13-year history of the Institute for Management Studies (IMS) in Cleveland! From the 83 participants, the workshop received a perfect 7.0 for “Effectiveness of the Speaker” and 6.8 for “Value of the Content.” Managers especially valued learning about task management, how to minimize interruptions, organizing with Outlook, prioritizing, effectively saying ‘no,’ how to set boundaries, and recognizing self-imposed challenges to time management.”
—Don Gorning, Chair, Institute for Management Studies Cleveland