Boredom the Hidden Asset

I’ve been fighting boredom and procrastination for as long as I can remember.

Boredom on personal projects

Ah, new stuff. Fresh, untouched, exciting – and safely without practical use. Boredom and procrastination usually sets in when the first road block is hit. Like actually writing lines of code in that new language. Or using the long researched best web framework. And it results in more research and more looking at new things. Seldom staying long enough with something to make it useful.

Moving is not a solution

Same went for my workplace – I’d be all over it the first few months or even up to a year or two. Then when progression started to slow down – I knew the sites and the layout of the code its shininess faded and – hello boredom again!

Previously working as a consultant this didn’t turn into a problem since I changed workplaces often enough to keep things new and fresh. But this wasn’t really a solution on the problem, it was simply running away from it.

Neither are processes

So, true to engineer fashion I looked for remedies in the shape of processes and tools. I tried task lists, pomodoro, time boxing to name a few. This usually started out well but when the new effect wore off – about the same or more procrastination. And in the back of my mind I couldn’t help but think that all of those processes seemed too rigid. It was forcing it.

Blog post to the rescue

This hit me like a two ton heavy thing (yes there’s probably some irony in finding the solution out there in a blog, the siren song of procrastination). To sum it up: It’s ok to be bored. In fact – if you’re bored and it’s the right kind of bore you are on to something big.

Preparing to climb

So I decided to work it. To leverage boredom instead of trying to suppress it.

The setup was this: close all the usual suspects. No mail notification icons, no rss feeds, no open applications except for the minimal amount really needed to get the work done. Don’t minimize the windows. Close them. Deinstall what you can. You need to implement it the hard way and really maximize the potential for boredom.

Now sit there and let the boredom set in. Look at the code, stare at it. Don’t leave your workplace for anything less than critical. Do not open any mail clients or the likes. Gorge on boredom… and waaaaiiit for it.

Downhill sunny side

Past this point was a bit like that monkey meeting Jane Goodall. She just stood there and didn’t run away. What now?

Turns out boredom is a hill you’re meant to climb. The steeper the climb up, the sweeter the ride down. You eventually start to tinker in small pieces. And then in larger pieces, and before you know it you’re totally emerged in what you wanted to avoid. Beyond that hill of boredom is the pot of voluntary productiveness.

On this side you’ll be glad you deinstalled all those notifiers and closed all those windows with sweet sugary distraction. You’re in the productivity zone cruising – but it’s a fragile zone. Any distraction will break your concentration and you need to go through the build up phase again.

Boredom as an innovator

Here’s a bonus I didn’t see coming from this. When hitting boredom full on and closing down the distractions you get annoyed by manual and slow things. You know, the build window where you’d check your twitter account only to notice the build finished 15 minutes ago. Those hurt much more now because you’re now in productive mode after being bored you don’t want to go back – so you automate and innovate to minimize the mundane and time consuming parts.

Switched tables

Wow. How’s that for a flip side? Turns out boredom is not a liability – it’s an asset. And a valuable one at that. Its your personal indicator of how much you’re going to enjoy the task once the resistance subdues.