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How Being Bored Makes You More Productive

When were you last bored?

Chances are as soon as boredom reared its head, you reached for your smartphone.

Within seconds you’re watching engaging YouTube videos, chatting with friends on WhatsApp, secretly admiring booty or ab selfies on Instagram (not judging), or listening in on Clubhouse chats.

But with this involuntary reaction to reach for your smartphone, your tolerance for boredom — and your ability to sit still and do nothing — is diminished.

Whilst curing humanity of the boredom problem might sound like a good thing in the short term, the higher-order consequences are not so good.

We lose the ability to reflect.

We lose the mental space for ideas to appear.

And, we lose the ability to do our best work.

Boredom and the Flow State

You see, human beings are up to five times more productive when we get into ‘the flow state’ (aka deep work, the zone). But how we behave away from our desks transfers over to how we behave at our desks.

If you’re reaching for your smartphone at the tiniest hint of boredom, then you are also likely to switch windows, check Twitter, respond to emails, message people on Slack, and do all manner of shallow level work when that high-value task you’re working on becomes a little difficult or uncomfortable.

People now switch screens every 40 seconds during a workday.

And every time we switch, we’re opting out of flow.

When you consider that it takes 23 minutes to get back into flow after we switch tasks, most knowledge workers aren’t spending any time in flow at all.

In order to build up your tolerance for boredom — and for deep work, try the following non-exhaustive steps:

  1. Don’t reach for your phone when idling (at traffic lights, while waiting in line)
  2. Consider a social media fast
  3. Put your smartphone away for a couple of hours a day
  4. Try and be more intentional about when you reach for your phone, and do it with intent — not because of some involuntary internal reaction forcing you to reach for it.
  5. Go for a walk without your phone or any distractions, and just be present in your environment
  6. Meditate for 20 minutes a day