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Bored at Work: How to Reclaim Your Time, Energy, & Attention

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Read Time: 12 min

Gallup’s survey of almost 30,000 U.S. employees found that 53% of them are bored or not engaged. Employees who can see the results of their work tend to be most engaged, while 71% of government workers surveyed are unhappy with their jobs according to an older survey. 

If you're bored at work, survey results suggest you're not alone. (Image Source).

The average employee will spend about 40 years in the workforce working 40 hours a week. Even accounting for some days off each year, that’s over 72,000 hours in a lifetime--or about 9,000 days in the office. Would you be willing to spend that much of your life doing something that bores you? You might not have to if you know what to do when bored at work. Read on for our suggestions on how to overcome work boredom.

Employers Not Always at Fault

As easy as it is to blame your employer for giving you menial tasks, there are also other reasons why employees get bored at work. Here are some of them:

  • failure to think about your career in the long-term
  • poor fit between your personality and chosen career
  • entitlement issues that make candidates feel they deserve better than their current job, despite lack of skills or professional experience
  • miscommunication between you and employer regarding career advancement opportunities

How to Cure Boredom by Assessing Your Career Goals

We all have visions of what our ideal jobs. You may dream of a job that takes you to faraway places, while others prefer to create with their hands and see the fruit of their labors. Boredom often strikes when your ideal job is worlds apart from your current job.

Research conducted by Professor Cecile K. Cho from the University of California-Riverside, suggests that people who aim higher are happier in the longer run. So, switching careers and adjusting to a new job will push you out of your comfort zone, but as research suggests, you’ll be happier in the end.

Answer the questions below to find out if lack of career fit is the reason you’re bored at work.

1. Whose life are you living?

Why are you in your current job? Was it because of your parent’s expectations or because of your college degree? Maybe you chose that job on your own because of the salary, but your needs have changed since then. Assess your situation and how you got there. No need to blame yourself or others for putting you in that situation.

Talk to the people involved in your predicament. If you took the job because it’s what your parents wanted, talk to them. They may just want you to have a job that will provide for your needs and help the family. That’s why they pushed you to become a lawyer, programmer, doctor, or some other popular well-paying job. You can switch to a job that you like without suffering your parent’s wrath once they realize these aren’t the only high-paying and stable jobs around. 

Is your college degree or salary requirement the reason you’re stuck in a boring job? Try exploring job options where your skills and passion overlap. For instance, writing code for SaaS might be boring for you, but you might think differently once you start developing online games. This type of career shift doesn’t necessarily require a new set of skills, so you still have a good chance of keeping (or increasing) your current pay rate.

2. Examine the Cause of Your Boredom

Maybe you don’t totally hate your job, you’re just bored at work because your tasks aren’t challenging or in line with your skill set.  You might've started your work as a beginner, but you’ve outgrown the job or many of your tasks might be menial or repetitive. This is different from the situation described in step one because in this case, you don’t hate the job per se. Your skills are just underutilized. 

You’re not alone in this feeling. TINYpulse’s 2015 report on Employee Engagement and Organizational Culture revealed that over 70% of 400,000 employees surveyed think they’re not using their full potential at work.

You can solve your boredom in two ways:

  • Get promoted to a senior-level job with more responsibilities.
  • Transfer to another department or industry that needs someone with your skills, but that does entirely different work. (Example: Restaurant chef to catering chef).

Here's a great tutorial to help you get ready for any interviews you may face as you search for career alternatives:

3. Align Career and Life Goals

At this point, you’ve already established the source of your boredom. Now it’s time to identify the lifestyle you want and the role your professional life will play in it.

People pick jobs based on what they enjoy doing, what they’re good at, or what they’ve studied. While these are good criteria, they don’t work in the long run because it neglects one important aspect of your career: your personal life. Your choice of career affects your personal life, such as your finances, time for personal matters, and autonomy in and out of the office. On the other hand, your personal goals—whether it’s to retire early, start a business, or provide for your family—also fuel your drive to work.

You won’t last long in a job that doesn’t work harmoniously with your lifestyle and personal goals. For example, if you travel a lot and prefer to work in your own time, then you shouldn’t work as a lawyer. It takes about eight years to study law and a year or two more to pass the bar exam. Your hardships won’t be over once you graduate because then you’ll be working ten or more hours a day. Law won’t give you the time or freedom you want in life. But if you love research, defending the innocent and all the hard work that goes along with it, then legal work is a perfect fit for you.

This logic applies to all professions, so if your life goals include a stable salary and a company-sponsored retirement fund, then it’s better if you set your sights on a high-paying corporate job. But if you value flexibility more than a fat paycheck, then aim for a remote or freelance job. 

What if your life and career goals conflict? What if you want to start a family, but your job takes 70 hours or more of your time every week? Realistically, it’s impossible to build a family and render 70-hour shifts at the same time. Michelle Riklan, Managing Director of Riklan Resources suggests,

“Sometimes, reaching a goal in one area means that you need to make sacrifices or concessions in another area. Figure out what is important to you, and make everything else secondary to it.”

Not sure what your ideal career is? Julie Erickson of suggests taking the free career and personality tests at Sokanu, which will give you a list of career options based on your test answers.

This tutorial discusses finding a career you love in more detail:

4. What Steps Could You Take Now to Move Yourself Toward a Career You Like?

Answer the following questions to formulate a plan that will help you move forward to the life and career you want:

Question 1. What Skills & Training or Certifications Are Needed For My Target Career?

Identify the skills required in the career you chose based on steps one through three. Divide this list into two columns, one with the skills you already have and another for the subjects you need training. Set a plan to develop these skills through reading, volunteering, or hands-on training.

Question 2. What Am I Willing to Give Up for My Career Change?

The expenses and leisure time you’re willing to give up—temporarily—will help you find the time and budget you need.

Question 3. What Resources Do I Need?

Who do you know that has made a similar career change? What books, training materials, or network connections do you need to get your foot in the door? These resources may also include a new resume, LinkedIn profile, somebody who works at your target company, or a recruiter knowledgeable in the industry you’re after. If you’re not sure what kind of resources you’ll need, ask someone in a similar job.

Question 4. What Are the Obstacles Keeping Me From Changing Careers?

Money, time, and current work responsibilities are the usual suspects here. But an unsupportive partner or boss is also an obstacle you’ll have to deal with at some point. List all the obstacles you can think of then come up with a plan to overcome them.

5. Explore New Opportunities Before Committing to Them

The job you want may not be what you envisioned it to be, so try it first before quitting your current job. Talk to people already doing the job you want. Ask about their work, schedule, challenges, and failures to see if their day to day office life is the same as what you had in mind. You can even volunteer or intern for the job for a week to experience the job for yourself. 

6. Create SMART goals

Write a specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and trackable plan for your career goals. Break down your goals into 30 days, three months, and six months so you don’t get overwhelmed.  

For example, identifying the skills you lack and the resources you need should be part of your 30-day plan. But it may take longer to learn all the skills you still lack, so you can put that in your SMART goals for the next three months. Tasks like networking, writing a resume, and interviewing for potential jobs may be allocated for the next three months.

How to Set Yourself Up for More Engaging Work

Feeling bored at your current job doesn’t always mean you need to find a new one. In some cases, you just need to look for new ways to challenge yourself. Below are three ideas you can try when you’re bored at work.

1. Be Curious

Boredom is the result of losing your sense of curiosity. Yes, you’ve learned a lot about your current role, but your job like every other job on this planet keeps evolving. So, there’s still plenty for you to learn. Take a step back, read a book, watch a movie, or do a different task, when you’re bored.

Think of your job from a different perspective, such as that of your end-user or customer. In the book, A Curious Mind, Brian Gazer describes how Heinz researchers went door to door to inspect how customers stored ketchup bottles in their fridge. They found that people stored their ketchup bottles upside down to let gravity do its work, so they don’t have to pound the bottle when they need it. Focusing on their customers instead of their product helped Heinz’ designer create its iconic inverted squeezable bottle. As Heinz’ ketchup bottle example shows, changing your perspective can lead to exciting discoveries.

2. Start a Blog

Write a blog about happenings in your job that you’re allowed to disclose, new things you learned, or ideas you want to implement in the office. Set a schedule then commit to publishing at least every two weeks.

Your blog can open new career opportunities in your office, such as a job in the communications or marketing department. You may even get invited to events on behalf of your company. Plus, you can earn extra income by consulting or freelancing for other companies once your expertise is established online. Explore this tutorial on blogging to learn more:

As an example, Sean of MyMoneyWizard is a financial analyst who sidelines as a financial blogger. Sean's background as a banker and financial analyst makes it easy to write about investing money and understanding different investment options.

3. Teach or Share Your Skills with the Team

Teach your teammates some of your skills over lunch. If speaking in front of a group intimidates you, see if your employer has a mentoring program you can join.

Time permitting, you can also research more cost-efficient tools or procedures for your tasks, and present your findings to your manager. Here's a guide to give a great presentation to help you out:

When You Hit a Slump

What if you already love your job and you’re not feeling underutilized at all, but you’re still bored? You might be burned out or you just need a temporary distraction.

It happens to the best of us. Below are four suggestions of what to do when you're bored at work:

  • Clean your desk.
  • Clean up the old files on your computer.
  • Create a networking group.
  • Organize your calendar.
  • Join social activities or groups in your company, like a hiking club or volunteer group.
  • Research industry events.
  • Update your resume or LinkedIn profile.
  • Have coffee with a mentor.

Changing Jobs Isn't the Only Solution When You’re Bored at Work

It’s normal to feel bored at work once the “honeymoon” period in your current job is over. That doesn’t always mean you've got to go search for a new job. As you’ve read from this tutorial, switching jobs isn’t the only solution to boredom. Sometimes, you just need to set a new goal for your career, other times it’s just a matter of finding a way to challenge yourself. Either way, don’t quit until you’ve examined the real source of your boredom.

Have you been bored at work? How have you overcome the issue of what to do when you are bored at work? Share your answers in the comments below.

Editorial Note: This content was originally published in January of 2018. We're sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.

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