Productive Things To Do When Bored (Staying Happy In Times Like These)

Maili
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Last updated on May 17, 2020

I’m sure you’ve been there: you’re bored, but you just have no idea what to do about it. Boredom hinders our thinking and makes it harder to resist the temptations of mindlessly scrolling on Instagram and eating everything in your snack stash.

At the time of writing this, a large amount of the population is forced to stay home due to the coronavirus, and for some, boredom may already be setting in. We all get bored, and it’s okay to be a little lazy sometimes – this is what makes us humans, instead of robots. But maybe you’ve finished Love is Blind on Netflix and want to consider more productive alternatives?

In this article, I’ll take a look at what boredom is and some simple and productive things you can do to relieve it.

This article is part of a much bigger guide on learning how to become happy that I’m sure is the biggest freely available guide on the internet right now. This article contains some great tips, but you’ll find a lot more actionable tips in the section Happiness Tips!

What is boredom?

Psychologically speaking, boredom is fascinating. As of yet, we don’t have a way to reliably measure it, nor do we have a specific definition of what boredom is. Yet, most people report feeling bored fairly often.

While doing research for this article, I found that the following description from a 2006 article resonated the most with me:

“Findings indicated that boredom is an extremely unpleasant and distressing experience. […] Feelings comprising the experience of boredom were almost consistently those of restlessness combined with lethargy.”

Boredom does make me restless – I can pace ten laps around my apartment while trying to figure out what to do. If you’re a naturally more anxious person like me, you may recognize yourself in this.

5 types of boredom

If you don’t, that’s okay – in fact, there is evidence of five different types of boredom. In their 2014 paper, Thomas Goetz and colleagues propose the following types of boredom:

  1. Indifferent boredom, characterized by feelings of relaxation and withdrawal.
  2. Calibrating boredom, characterized by uncertainty and receptiveness to change or distraction.
  3. Searching boredom, characterized by restlessness and active pursuit of change or distraction.
  4. Reactant boredom, characterized by high arousal and motivation to leave the boring situation for specific alternatives.
  5. Apathetic boredom, characterized by unpleasant feelings similar to depression.

According to the researchers, these types of boredom are more related to the boring situation, rather than individual differences between people. There is, however, evidence of individual differences in proneness to boredom.

How prone to boredom are you?

Boredom proneness is a stable personality trait, meaning that some people are more prone to boredom than others. Among other things, boredom proneness is correlated to higher levels of paranoia and belief in conspiracy theories, emotional (over)eating, and anxiety and depression.

By now, you’re probably thinking that boredom is something terrible. However, there is a silver lining, as reported by researcher Andreas Elpidorou:

“Boredom helps to restore the perception that one’s activities are meaningful or significant. It acts as a regulatory state that keeps one in line with one’s projects. In the absence of boredom, one would remain trapped in unfulfilling situations, and miss out on many emotionally, cognitively, and socially rewarding experiences. Boredom is both a warning that we are not doing what we want to be doing and a “push” that motivates us to switch goals and projects.”

On that note, let’s look at some productive things to do when bored.

Productive things to do when bored…

As we’ve learned, not all boredom is the same. Since boredom is often dependent on the situation you’re in, I’ve divided my tips into three categories that are situation (or location) based:

  • Productive things to do at home
  • Productive things to do at work
  • Productive things to do on the road
productive things to do at home

Productive things to do at home

1. Learn a new skill or language

Even if you’re not going to start a YouTube channel in Italian, you never know when some knowledge of video editing and Italian vocabulary might come in handy. From Skillshare to Coursera to Duolingo, there are so many learning platforms available for free or less than the price of Friday night takeaway, so why not give them a try.

2. Get creative

Painting, writing, crocheting or sewing can be productive in different ways. Firstly, if you’re making something you’ll actually use, you’re being productive by definition. But secondly, creative pursuits are a great stress-reliever, which will make you more productive in the long term.

3. Journal

Journaling is a great way to learn about yourself, which is always a worthwhile pursuit. Have a look at one of my previous articles for specific tips on journaling for success.

writing a letter to your future self journal

4. Exercise

Working out is good for your body, soul and happiness. The best part about working out is that you don’t have to join a gym to do so! You can jog around your neighborhood, go hiking in the forest, or yoga or bodyweight exercises in your living room.

There are thousands of tutorials on YouTube to get you started, but here’s a quick shoutout to my favorites:  Adriene’s yoga flows are beginner-friendly and her voice is very calming; but if you’re after something a little more active, Maddie Lymburner’s aka MadFit’s short workouts choreographed to your favorite pop songs are sure to leave you gasping for breath.

5. Go Marie Kondo on your closet

A boring afternoon is a perfect time to sort out your closets and cupboards and let go of the things you don’t need anymore. You can use the KonMari method or develop your own, as long as you’re letting go of your old stuff.

6. Fix that light

You know, the one you’ve been meaning to fix for the last 6 months. Or put up the shelf that’s been standing in the corner since you moved in. When you’re bored at home, a little home improvement seems like the perfect cure.

Productive things to do at work

1. Organize your computer/emails

Take the time to declutter your desktop and go over your correspondence. If you haven’t already, create a system and stick to it. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself when work gets busy.

2. Organize your desk/drawers

Unsure if there even is a desk under all the papers? Find out by clearing out what you don’t need and creating a system for your physical files and materials. Again, you’ll thank yourself when it gets busy and you can find the necessary stuff in seconds.

3. Plan ahead

Take some time to make a plan for the coming weeks. Not only are you making things easier for future you, but I’ve found that planning gives me a sense of control even in the most hectic of times, which is a nice psychological bonus.

4. Move a little

When you’re bored at work, chances are that you don’t have anything time-sensitive on your plate anyway. So why not take an active break? Take a short walk around the office or do some office yoga at your desk. Moving will give your brain a boost, so it’s definitely better than endless scrolling on Reddit.

5. Do some professional development

This may not be the case with every job, but the 40 hours a week I spend at work is supposed to include time for professional development – keeping up with the latest findings in my field, going to training sessions, finding and testing out new tools. The rare times I find myself bored at work, I usually take a look at my favorite databases and professional blogs and familiarize myself with new methods and tools that I don’t need right now, but might need in the future.

The next time you find yourself bored at work, try finding a development resource in your field and seeing what’s new.

productive things to do on the road

Productive things to do when you’re bored on the road

1. Read

This is a very simple one. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a bus or a plane, reading is the easiest productive way to pass your time. It also doesn’t matter if you read educational non-fiction or indulgent fiction, as long as you’re keeping your brain engaged.

2. Listen to a podcast or watch a TED talk

If you get travel sick and reading while moving is not an option for you, try these audio-visual alternatives. There are thousands of great podcasts and talks to choose from and often, you can download them beforehand so you don’t have to worry about having wifi on your journey.

3. Answer emails

During my last year in university, I used to travel between two cities a lot: I went to university in Tartu, but my thesis advisor lived in Tallinn. The last month before the deadline, I spent 5 hours a week on the train, 2 and a half hours each way. If there’s one thing I learned from this, it’s that traveling is the perfect time for correspondence.

It’s a little harder if your emails are confidential, which mine mostly are, given my profession, but I bought a privacy screen for my laptop screen that only allows you to read the screen if you’re looking straight at it.

Being on the train gave me a deadline, too: I always aimed to get all the necessary messages sent and answered before reaching my destination.

4. Practice your new skills/language

If you’ve recently taken up martial arts, practicing your skills on your commute is a little difficult, but you can definitely get some language practice. It’s especially easy if you’re using an app like Duolingo, but you can always try reading or listening to something in your target language to get some practice, and long commutes are perfect for that.

Closing words

We all feel bored sometimes, and for most of us, it’s a profoundly unpleasant feeling. However, boredom can also push us to try new things and why not make those things productive. From organizing and exercising to learning a new language, there are so many things you can do instead of flipping between the same three apps on your phone for hours on end. Why not give these things a try?

Did I miss an awesome thing to do when bored? Do you want to share your own experiences? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

Maili Tirel

School psychologist

School psychologist, teacher and internet counselor from Estonia. Passionate about coffee, reading, dancing, and singing in the shower, much to the neighbors’ dismay. Counseling catchphrase: “It’s okay!“

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