I’ve actually been thinking about motivation and its effect on boredom (and vice versa) quite a bit this past week. Was I bored? Actually, not really. Honestly, I was pretty motivated. It was just something I was chewing on for awhile because it seems to be an excuse I have used before for remaining in a certain “funk,” or having a “lack of motivation,” and it’s certainly something I’ve heard others use as an excuse for not doing. Also, The Art of Manliness just wrote a post on “Characteristics of An Educated Man” that I thought touched on increasing motivation by analyzing boredom pretty well.
Boredom isn’t really something I’m struck with very often–I’ve certainly been bored, and I’m not going to say otherwise, but I’ve gotten good over the years at keeping my mind occupied enough to prevent boredom. I’ve also been motivated and productive, and at times have still been bored–so I wasn’t sure if it was something that’s been an issue for anyone else, but if so–here are some thoughts on the subject. It turns out that there have been some other bloggers talking about motivation and boredom this week as well, one of which was Trent over at TheSimpleDollar.com, who wrote Boredom is Our Enemy. I’m not going to go into his post much, as I don’t want to keep you from reading it, but I will be referencing part of it in this post soon.
Boredom as a Motivation Killer
Perhaps the most important reason we have to “prevent” or “overcome” boredom is to prevent becoming unproductive, or experiencing a decrease in our motivation. We want to stay as motivated as possible, knocking things off the to-do list, while staying focused and engaged in our work. Boredom can set in and immediately derail our motivation and productivity efforts–causing us to spend too many hours in front of the TV, on Facebook, and generally away from what we should be doing.
If you’re interested in preventing boredom for these reasons, keep reading–I’m going to go over a few ways I’ve “prevented” boredom and maintained a high level of motivation by being able to control my actions and thoughts.
Boredom as a Brain Killer
Maybe slightly exaggerated, I’m of the firm belief that boredom can actually harm us mentally. Do I have actual scientific evidence to back up this claim? Nope (at least not yet). But if you spent enough time Googling, I’m sure you’d be able to come up with something that confirms my hypothesis. My reasoning is simple–life involves interactions, whether with people, stuff, or our surroundings. The very definition of boredom seems to fit in with this concept quite well; namely that without environmental triggers to occupy or actually engage with us, we get bored, lose motivation, and ultimately “fail.”
But is this a problem of our environment or our own conceptual understanding of it?
I tend to think it’s the latter–sort of an “it is what you make it” concept. If I believe I’m bored, I’m probably bored. If I start to think I’m not motivated, I’m probably not very motivated to do something about it. If I believe I’m engaged and interacting in some way, I’m probably going to be hard-pressed to argue that I’m bored…
Enough with the idealistic rambling…
So, what can we do to “prevent” boredom and jump-start that motivational boost? For starters, it’s about understanding boredom for what it is–failure to interact with our environment, due to a lack of “interesting” subject matter, or a void of subject matter altogether. For that reason, I’ve prepared the ultimate bulleted-list of things to do if our environments begin to get too “void of subject matter” and cause us to lose that motivating edge:
- Fill it with more stuff.
You laugh, but what you may not realize is that our boredom is so often brought upon by our own doings it becomes habitually reinforcing. In plain English, we can prevent boredom by removing the things from our current situations that make us bored and replace them with things that are motivating, productive, and engaging.
What I mean is, find the things that are causing boredom–is it your work? Your nightly ritual? This can be a difficult step–easy in concept, difficult to actually figure out. But try to figure out what it is that you’re currently doing that’s causing you to feel “bored,” and replace it with something that’s not so boring. Trent (that guy I mentioned up there who wrote that post I also mentioned up there) says that he keeps a “project book” filled with projects that aren’t necessarily pressing, but things that he can pull out on the occasion he feels bored or unmotivated.
Because I’m an avid amateur alliteration aficionado, I’m going to call this my “bored bucket.” Inside my bored bucket, I’ll place projects that I’m not currently needing or wanting to work on, for whatever reason. These projects are things that might help motivate me if boredom begins to set in. Maybe these projects are:
- Not pressing. They need to get done, but not right now.
- Not interesting enough. They’re things I want to do someday, just not now. They’re currently not going to help motivate me as much as something on my current list.
- Not feasible. Building a house isn’t something I’m in a place to do right now, but it’s something I’d like to one day accomplish.
- Not fun. Some projects stay on our list because they’re not really that interesting or fun, but still need to get done. They’re dangerous, but we can’t really take them off. Often they are things our spouses have assigned to us.
When boredom sets in, we just go to the bucket and look through our list. The idea is that something should present itself as a “yeah, I guess I’ll work on that now”-style option (something that will help motivate us) and we’ll be able to at least keep our minds occupied long enough to prevent the temporary bored bugs to get the best of us, until we can resume the thing(s) we are supposed to be working on.
So far, it seems like a good and workable solution. Admittedly, I don’t have a problem with lack of motivation or boredom too often, but I’m thinking it might be because I actually have been employing Trent’s method in my mind for awhile, without realizing it. My wife loves to make fun of (among many other things) the fact that I have so many “projects” going on at the same time. Here’s a brief list that comes to mind:
- Read the Bible again
- Finish my novel
- Learn AfterEffects CS5
- Learn Russian
- Finish the Christmas album
- Create an informational product to sell here
- Create a membership site for LoopingWorship.com
- Write a music theory book
- Lose 15 pounds
Again, not all of these things are set up in my productivity system in a way that they’re “ready” to be worked on yet. By this I mean I can’t just start doing some of these larger projects without doing some planning and organizing first. However, part of using a motivational and productivity system like mine is that I create Projects that have actionable to-do Items within them, like David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology. So while I couldn’t just pop open Wunderlist (my favorite to-do program currently) and start going down the list of Items for the Learn Russian Project, I could use my “bored time” as a motivator to create the Items that need to be there.
The bottom line for me is to remain focused on a few sub-projects at a time, because that’s how I work best (not multi-tasking, which I don’t believe in, but working on subsequent projects “simultaneously,” meaning multiple projects within the scope of a business day), and using my Bored Bucket as a backup; a go-to in a worst-case scenario. As I’ve used this system, it seems that the old adage of doing something to build momentum holds true as well, so whenever I start doing a project that’s in my Bored Bucket, it often ends up leaving the bucket and becoming something that lands in my rotation of current projects.
This, of course, doesn’t mean that it’s good for my workload(!). But it inevitably keeps me from getting bored…