Are you able to comfortably sit alone with your thoughts?
Do you look for external stimuli the moment you feel bored?
Does boredom make you less creative or productive?
Boredom is defined as a feeling of discontent with something that is dull, repetitive, tiresome or tedious. We prefer to stay away from anything that is boring to us. But boredom is largely a complex emotion that can have a very positive impact. It can make us more creative and productive.
1) In 11 studies, researchers at the University of Virginia and Harvard University found that most participants did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think.
- Participants preferred to do mundane activities like scroll their cell phone.
- Some chose pain over boredom by pressing a button to give themselves an electric shock.
2) A March 2019 article in the Academy of Management Discoveries reported that boredom is a little-known way to boost creativity.
- Study 1: boredom helped boost individual productivity on an idea-generation task.
- Study 2: boredom manipulation increased boredom but did not trigger other negative emotions like anger and frustration, which makes boredom a unique factor in sparking creativity.
- Study 3: boredom did not always improve creativity for a product development task. The participants needed to have a high learning goal orientation, high need for cognition, high openness to experience, and high internal locus of control to get more creative when feeling bored.
3) Boredom is a cause of divergence-seeking, exploratory tendencies. Feeling bored will drive you to change and do something different, seek challenges, switch to goals or tasks that better serve you, and motivate you to engage in unusual ways of doing things that are contrary to typical or predictable responses.
4) Doing nothing or sitting with your thoughts is hard when there’s so much to do and so much to pull your attention. But if you want to be more creative and productive, it’s good to experience boredom.
5) Being bored is not the same as purposeful, relaxation activities, such as yoga and meditation.
6) To experience true boredom, you could sit with your eyes closed, or look out the window, or walk a familiar route and let your mind wander. There is no music, no podcast, and no other stimuli to engage your senses. It’s just you and your thoughts.
7) Boredom is not a bad thing if you know how to use it as an opportunity for idea generation and creative breakthroughs.
- Timothy D. Wilson,, David A. Reinhard, Erin C. Westgate, Daniel T. Gilbert, Nicole Ellerbeck Cheryl Hahn, Casey L. Brown, Adi Shaked, Just think: the challenges of the disengaged mind, Science, July 2014, Volume 345, Issue 6192
- Guihyun Park, Beng-Chong Lim, Hui Si Oh, Why Being Bored Might Not Be a Bad Thing After All, Academy of Management Discoveries, March 2019, Volume 5, Number 1
- Dyan Williams, The Incrementalist podcast, Ep. 12, Divergent vs. Convergent Thinking
# # #
Dyan Williams is a solo lawyer who practices U.S. immigration law and legal ethics at Dyan Williams Law PLLC. She is also a productivity coach who helps working parents, lawyers, small business owners and other busy people turn their ideas into action, reduce overwhelm, and focus on what truly matters. She is the author of The Incrementalist: A Simple Productivity System to Create Big Results in Small Steps.