Keeping Your Head Above Water: Five Reasons Why You Get Bored at Work, and How to Fix Them

“The two enemies of human happiness are pain and boredom.” – Arthur Schopenhauer, influential German philosopher.

No one really likes boredom, because it often makes us do unwise things. If ever an old saying was accurate, it’s “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” You’re better off staying busy at work.

Now, it would be nice if you could just point your brain in a direction, press go, and have it keep moving steadily that way until you told it to stop. But it doesn’t work that way for most of us, no matter how dedicated. Free will and a tendency to chase new ideas can derail our best efforts at focus, sometimes leading to boredom. This, in turn, causes us to engage in unproductive behavior—even when we know we’re doing it.

You’ll probably recognize these five common reasons why you get bored at work. Let’s look at what causes them and how you can best avoid them.

  1. A basic mismatch. Do your job and interests match? If not, your job will get very old very quickly. You may convince yourself that experience (especially leadership experience) in one field will transfer to another, for example, but it doesn’t always. Or maybe you just took the job because of the pay. Either way, you have two options: you can either find a more suitable job (a painful but often rewarding process), or you can decide to enjoy the work you have. That may sound unlikely, but with an attitude adjustment, you can make it happen. True professionals know you can’t just “do what you love and the money will follow,” no matter how often optimists tell you otherwise. Otherwise we’d all be pro golfers, chefs, or fishermen. What does work is finding parts of your existing job you can love, and extending that love to the rest of your work.

  2. No room for advancement. You may have worked at jobs that left you no “wiggle room.” The scope was tight, work roles restricted, and you could only move up the ladder if someone died, got fired, or left the company. If you’re facing this, and a discussion with your manager fails to shake loose opportunity for you (especially if this is the person who would need to die), you can either find a way to enjoy your work anyway or move on.

  3. No opportunity to learn or grow. You should be able to learn new things regularly for your job, but it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, things don’t change quickly. Sometimes your manager fears that if they teach everything they know, they’ll lose their own job (classic paranoid territorialism). Whatever, if you do the same things day after day, boredom sets in. You might avoid this by setting an appointment with your manager and discussing the problem and potential solutions.

  4. You don’t have enough to do. Back to the idle hands! If you don’t have enough work, you may end up looking for things to fill your time, including that bane of all things productive, surfing the Internet. This will inevitably lead to trouble. You can head this off at the pass by asking your manager for more work or volunteering for a few cross-functional committees. It’s their job to find that work for you, and they may not know they need to if you don’t tell them. Take the bull by the horns. If your manager can’t find you work, look on the bright side: now you have a chance to get a better job.

  5. You haven’t set clear goals. If you lack a purpose, just floating through life, things will get boring. Rather than wander randomly, plan your path from points A-B-C on so on. This works not only for specific tasks, but also for projects and your career in general. When you know what to do, when to do it, and how to do it, boredom is much less likely.

Bored Is Just a Word

It may seem difficult, but like everything else attitude-related, you can decide not to be bored. Don’t just dismiss this statement as New Age feel-good hokum—because sometimes, attitude really is everything. The ideas presented here are just a few ways to help you decide.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

© 2019 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.

Here’s what others are saying:

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“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.”
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  1. Melissa Hunter says:

    Totally agree with all those points. I am in a job where the boss is a micro-manager, keeps me in the dark about things, doesn’t seem to trust that my 30 plus years experience makes me capable of doing my job. There is no room for advancement, no opportunity to grow and not enough to do. I am in full job search mode. time to find some new challenges.