Boredom is a psychological state of mind where one feels that time is not moving, where one has nothing to do, where one feels slow and lazy, where one is not interested with what is going on around them, etc. When one is bored, there is no room for productivity or creativity.
This state of mind is common in most workplaces and is often created unintentionally. Typically, this means that either there is no work to do or that the one’s task is not challenging enough. Before we look into how to get out or get others out of boredom, let’s review the preconditions to be in in flow:
- Goals, objectives and/or tasks are clear
- Feedback is rapid and unambiguous
- Individual feels that they are in control of their actions and output
- Skill and challenge level are reasonably high and matched with each other
If any of these conditions are not adequately met, please review the articles about Clear Goals, Continuous Feedback, Sensation of Control and Balanced Challenges for how to do so. Once they are adequately met, bringing one out of boredom involves providing yourself and others with more complicated tasks.
Now if the task is too onerous, one will give up. If the task is only moderately more challenging, then one risks falling back into boredom. The complexity of the task should be such that it provokes curiosity and a sense of challenge but not so much that is seen as insurmountable. Ex: When we as children were learning to play soccer, first we try to kick the ball, then we try to kick the ball in the desired direction, then we try to score penalties, then we try to score of free kicks, etc. Notice how we progressively take on more and more challenging tasks. Initially the challenge was only to kick the ball, then came direction, then came power, then came swing, then came a goalie to stop us, etc.
In a workplace also, we see common progression of challenge – a junior consultant works with one client, then multiple clients, then with clients that require integrated services and so on.
Now that we understand the method and importance on taking on and/or providing challenging tasks, the next thing to look for is providing the necessary resources to execute them. While playing soccer, initially all you need is a ball and shoes, later on you need cleats, then you need a ground, teammates to train with and a coach to train you, etc. The same is true at the workplace – a junior consultant will need a desk, a laptop and access to team resources, later he/she will need access to subject matter experts, even later access to supporting resources such an interns, etc.
In summary, to bring yourself or others out of boredom in the workplace, ensure that the flow preconditions are satisfactorily met, then provide new and slightly more challenging tasks and finally support their implementation with minimum necessary resources such as training, access to information and people.