Boredom can be a trigger that causes you to do something. Hopefully that something is productive and healthy such as jogging, cleaning the house, or making healthy snacks for the week.
On the flip side, sometimes boredom isn’t so positive. According to The Atlantic, it’s been linked to behavioral issues such as bad driving, mindless snacking, binge drinking, and gambling.
When you’re caught being bored at work it’s even worse because it may indicate that you’re not being productive.
But Wait, Boredom is Actually Good for You
The latest studies suggest that boredom isn’t all bad. A study from the Creativity Research Journal examined the link between boredom and creativity asked two groups of people to complete a task. Group A was given a boring activity to do before the task while group B was asked to go straight into the task. Group A’s results were more prolific than B.
Being alone with your thoughts can spark creativity and give you more time to think through problems and challenges. (You can share this with your manager!)
So the next time you feel bored at work, don’t feel bad about it. It’s perfectly fine to be alone with your thoughts and to think.
When you’re done, use any of the following and get into the habit of being prepared for moments of boredom or free time. Many of these involve personal and professional growth and taking the time to improve your finances.
1. Check-in With Your Goals
Where you are with your goals for the year? Depending on what month it is you’ll know whether you’re on track to crush it or if you’ve completely veered off course. Either way, it’s good to stop and notice where you are.
If you don’t have any goals for the year, now is the time to start. Create a list of high-level priorities for both work and your life.
Think about what you’d like to achieve:
- Career: Are there any projects you can take on, or do you have your eye on a promotion?
- Finances: Can you save more money this year (i.e. with your 401k, or savings account) or pay off debt?
- Life goals: Do you have a special trip you’d like to take? Would you like to meditate more? Volunteer? Learn something new?
- Family: How can you spend more time with the ones you love?
As an example, here are some of my goals:
- Spend more time with family and friends
- Help others who are in need of support
- Form new relationships (mentors, mentees, colleagues)
- Learn something new about writing or marketing through a course, class, book, webinar
- Write at least 45 minutes a day
- Always be kind, compassionate, grateful
- Listen more intently to others
- Travel at least three times a year (and snowboard as much as possible)
2. Start a Journal
Creating a journal that’s aligned with your goals is a great way to never forget or lose sight of them.
Keeping a journal is a great way to process your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and work them out. It’s a way to become more conscious in challenging moments and give you a chance to reflect on what you could’ve done better and how you can improve yourself.
Write down all of your work accomplishments on a weekly basis in your work journal. This reminds you about small and big successes at work. Logging your achievements is also a great way to convey to your manager why you deserve a raise.
Journal Prompts to Use
Journaling can be done in 10 minutes and can change your life if you are intentional with what you are focusing on.
It can help improve your self-awareness at the office.
Here are examples of what prompts you can use:
- Write down one to three things you achieved during the week
- What challenges did you face?
- How did you handle those challenges?
- What can you improve?
- What did you learn?
- What are you grateful for?
3. Make a List of Your Money Goals
It also makes sense for you to have money goals set in place. If you haven’t done this yet, do it now and stop procrastinating.
If you’ve already created goals for the year, check in on your progress. Assess what you’ve accomplished so far and what you could be doing better.
Here’s an example of my money goals:
- Save $30,000
- Diversify and invest 10 percent of my income
- Max out all investment accounts
4. Evaluate Your 401(k) Plan
A 401(k) is a good way to save for retirement because your money grows tax-free. In 2018, the government raised the maximum contribution from $18,000 to $18,500.
You can only open a 401(k) under an employer (not counting a Solo 401k), so take advantage.
If you’re not enrolled in your company’s 401k plan, use this time to sign up. Even if you have an IRA that you’re already contributing to you can still open a 401(k). Even if your company doesn’t match your contributions, you should still sign up.
Before you enroll, figure out how much you can contribute each month. Try to max out your contribution for the year. If you can’t, be intentional about increasing your monthly contributions by a few percentages and work your way up to maxing it out for the year.
If you’d like some help with this, check out Blooom, which helps assess your 401k such as fees, stock/bond mix, and opportunity cost (how much you could be missing out on your 401k).
5. Look Over Your Other Investments
In addition to your 401(k), look at your other investments. See if you can diversify your investments or add more to your overall portfolio.
The kind of investment I’m referring are safe, long-term investments that grow over time, not individual stocks.
Here are ways you can improve your finances:
- Max out your contributions for IRA or other investment vehicles
- Switch to a low-cost robo advisor investment, if you’re paying high fees to have a someone manage your portfolio
- Roll over any funds left over from a previous employer into a low-cost robo-advisor
- Automate your funds each month so you are contributing (even if you’re not able to max out)
- Open a CD
- Open an online savings account (CITBank has a great online savings account that’s totally free to use. I wrote a lengthy article comparing the best savings accounts for 2018.)
- Diversify your overall investment portfolio with crowdfunded investments
Because one of my money goals was to focus on my long-term investments, I did the following:
- Opened a SEP IRA at Vanguard
- Rolled over my annuity 403(b) into a low-cost, robo-advisor, Betterment
- Rolled over my old 401(k) into Betterment
- Maxed out my IRA contribution
- Signed up for Fundrise, is a crowdfunded real estate investing platform
6. Use an App to Save a Little Extra
If you haven’t jumped on the micro-investing app bandwagon to help you save extra money from your checking account, you’re totally missing out!
Basically, these apps connect to your bank account and do things like round up change for your debit purchases and automatically throw them into an investment. The fees are minimal and honestly, you don’t even notice the missing money.
You can also set how much to money you’d like taken out from your checking account.
A few years ago I signed up for Stash with only $20 and just this year I realized I accumulated over $1,000 in my account. I pulled out that money and funded my SEP IRA with it.
Here are more options:
7. More Awesome Companies That May Help You Improve Your Finances
Besides signing up for an app and increasing your existing investments, you can also switch banks or financial institutions to ones that are tailored to your goals.
Here are a few to consider:
- Self Lender: If you have bad credit, this company helps you improve it (and it doesn’t involve a secured card)
- Cinch: A personal financial manager that’s automated. According to their website, you can save up to $4,000 a year by signing up with them.
- Chime Bank: A fully transparent online bank that doesn’t charge any fees and has your best interest at heart.
- Clarity Money: A free financial service that aggregates all of your accounts and transactions in one place so you can easily budget and see where your money is going.
8. Examine Your Insurance
When’s the last time you looked at how much you were paying for your insurance premiums?
A few to look through include:
- Car insurance: If you find yourself driving less, call your insurance company and let them know. Your premium could go down.
- Metromile: This is a car insurance company that only charges you based on how much you drive
- Renters Insurance: If you don’t have renters insurance, sign up (Esurance has a good one). If you have renters insurance see how much you’re paying. Assess what you can adjust (if any) to lower your premium.
- Life insurance: Have you been putting this off? Check out HavenLife if you want an easy way to sign up for life insurance.
9. Research an Industry Event
Sometimes the being in the office all day can be stifling. Switch it up and research some upcoming industry events, conferences, or trade shows that you can attend.
If your role doesn’t necessarily require you to be at these kinds of events, find other ways to be proactive. These may include reading up on the latest news and making the connection to your current projects.
10. Take Initiative for New Projects
There’s nothing worse than listening to someone complain that their job sucks or is boring and never take the initiative to change things. It’s not your manager’s job to give you interesting projects. If you want something more challenging or interesting to take on, make the first move and put the ball in the manager’s court.
Can you outline a potential new project you can spearhead? Brainstorm and take notes. Then create an outline of what you’d like to accomplish. Present it to your manager or director to discuss.
This will show you are taking initiative in your career and stepping it up and be proactive.
Here are some things you can do to get going:
- Research upcoming industry events/eventbrite events
- Find out what’s happening in your workplace’s industry
- Read up on the latest news
- See if there’s anything you can align with your own work projects
11. Update Your LinkedIn Profile
Have you been at your job for the last six months but never updated your LinkedIn profile? Or are you the mysterious person who has no photo? Take 10 minutes and update your profile and add your image if you don’t have one.
Then ask someone to write a recommendation for you on LinkedIn and write one for them too. Tip to get this done faster: Write out the recommendation yourself and have them approve it. Doing it this way makes it easy for the other person to post it.
Asking for a recommendation isn’t because you’re going to search for a new job any time soon, but it’s good to build your profile when you are ready to jump ship.
12. Learn Something New You Can Apply to Your Job
As part of taking initiative to be more proactive about new and interesting projects at work, learn something new that you can use to your benefit at work.
Sign up for a webinar that relates to something you’ve been wanting to learn more about at work (graphic design, etc.)
These are great resources to turn to when you want to learn something new:
- Khan Academy
- TED Talks
13. Create a List of Professional Books You’d Like to Read or Listen to
I’m a huge fan of Audible and audiobooks in general. I even wrote about how you can listen to them for free.
Find a few titles that are must-reads within your industry or your position — maybe you manage a team and want to understand how to lead better.
Then see if you can find that title. Get the price and ask your boss or manager if they can reimburse you for it. At one of my previous employers, they gave employees an educational stipend of $150 for books, a class, or anything they wanted to learn more of.
14. Take Advantage of Workplace Perks
If your place of employment offers commuter benefits but you’re still sitting in traffic each day in your car, consider taking the train or bus to the office. If you live close enough, walk or bike it. You’ll get the added exercise.
Here are some benefits that you may be overlooking, so find out how you can enroll and what documents are needed.
- Transit/commuter benefits
- Gym discounts
- Education/training reimbursements
15. Clean Your Desk
I can’t even begin to express how important it is to have a clean work space at work (and at home). A neat, organized space tells others you’re professional and is a visual representation of you.
According to Psychology Today, keeping a clean home has been associated with leading healthier lives while those with messier homes were more likely to be depressed and fatigued. Clutter can make it more difficult to focus on a particular task.
Another study from the University of Minnesota discovered that people with tidier desks tend to donate more often to charity and keep healthier snacks.
Wipe down your monitors, your keyboard, wipe the dust from your desk, and throw away unnecessary paperwork or trash.
Remove clutter and keep your space clean so you can focus on work.
16. Organize Your Digital Files
Keeping your physical desk clean is important, but don’t neglect your digital files either.
Personally, I can’t stand a hectic desktop and I hate searching for files that should be easily found in a few clicks.
Each week, I set aside some digital housekeeping time and organize my folders and files so that everything is where it should be.
Taking the time to do this will save you time in the future when you’re moving quickly and need to access your files quickly.
17. Organize Your Inbox
Whether you’re an “Inbox Zero” kind of person or only check your emails a few times a day, make sure you organize your inbox at some point.
This means doing things like:
- Unsubscribing from various newsletters you no longer read or need
- Sign up for Unroll.me
- Deleting emails or marking certain email as spam
Additionally, create templates for your email responses. This will help you save time when responding.
- Create 5 email templates using the most common responses
- Make a unique out of office response email
- Download the Mixmax extension on Chrome (it helps you easily schedule meetings on your calendar and gives you the option to schedule emails at a later time)
18. Meet With Someone You Haven’t Seen in a While
Have you lost touch with some old friends, old colleagues, or even relatives? Make a list of three to five people and send them a quick email, asking if they would be interested in meeting up for coffee or a drink to catch up.
People are busy so it helps when you extend the first offer to meet up. Don’t forget to include a specific time, date, and meeting location.
19. Go for a Walk
In order to be productive, it’s crucial to take breaks throughout the day. When you feel bored at work or if you have free time, go for a walk. A walk is the best way to unwind, get some sun, and reboot for the rest of the day.
When you rest your mind and take a break, you can recharge and think more clearly. Sometimes the most creative ideas come to people when they’re on a walk, in the shower, or relaxing.
If you’re lucky and work in a Google-like office environment, go for a walk around campus or get on the treadmill at the office gym.
As you’re walking, be mindful and figure out how you can get more steps in throughout your day.
20. Backup Your Hard Drive
This might be something that is handled by the IT department at your office. If it isn’t, make sure you find out how to properly backup your hard drive so you don’t lose any important information or documents.
Use this time to also clear up some of your cache, cookies, and browsing history.
Update any apps or programs on your computer that need updating. Remove the ones you no longer need or use.
21. Create a Work Music Playlist
These days, the open office setting doesn’t allow for much privacy or quiet time while working.
If you have a private office with a door, consider yourself lucky. The modern office door comes in the form of headphones, so why not have a playlist that gets you in the mood for some productivity.
Make sure you have your go-to playlist when you need to get some serious work done. Perhaps some classical music can help get the brain juices flowing.
Use Spotify to create a playlist of your favorite jams. If you can’t concentrate and work with music playing, you can listen to such as nature sounds or white noise.
It’s obviously not realistic for you to listen to music all day long at the office, but it’s nice to have a few playlists to have at your disposal.
22. Clean Up Your Apps on Your Phone
When you have too many options, it can be overwhelming. Use this time to clean up unused apps on your phone. It’ll free up storage on your phone and train you to be more mindful of using what you have, even if it’s just an app.
I don’t like having too many apps because I dislike clutter on my phone. So, every month I check my phone to see which apps I can delete.
23. Download Productivity Apps on Your Phone
After you clean up apps you no longer use, download some productivity-geared apps.
They are apps that may help you be more efficient with your time and take your concentration to the next level.
Tide is a free productivity timer app.
I turn on the timer and set a predetermined time to do one task, such as respond to emails. Tide helps me during moments when I struggle to maintain focus on one thing.
It also comes with a variety of white noise sounds, such as rain or a cafe background. I use the Pomodoro Method when I work.
You can download it from Google Play or iTunes.
Toggl is a free app that keeps track of what you’re doing when you’re on the computer. It’s similar to a timer because you have to manually start and stop each time you begin a new task.
It helps with productivity because you’re able to see where your hours are going each day. I use Toggle to track everything so I’m not wasting time when I’m working.
I even track how much of my day is going to non-work related tasks such as paying bills online or browsing through Amazon.
At the end of the week, Toggl sends you an email with a detailed report broken down by hours and project.
There are so many benefits of meditation and productivity is one of them. When work is busy and you have a million things to do and a thousand things racing through your mental to do list, meditation can help you relax and take a step back.
If you don’t meditate, consider starting with Headspace, which is a guided meditation and mindfulness app.
I have been using Headspace for almost two years and absolutely love it.
It’s $12.99 a month or $399 for a lifetime subscription.
Train Yourself to Be Productive in Times of Boredom
Personally, I spent the last few years learning different techniques and strategies to be highly efficient and productive. One of my biggest takeaways for maximum productivity is to save your brain power for high cognitive tasks. (For me, it’s writing.)
Because you only have so much creative brain power during the day, lower level tasks and decisions should go on autopilot. This means creating rules for yourself.
For example, one rule is to only check emails three times a day. This ensures I’m using the bulk of my day to do high cognitive tasks and saving lower level tasks for later. It’s also to make sure I don’t automatically and mindlessly get sucked in to answering emails.
Having a go-to list of things to do is very productive, especially when I’m traveling and don’t have access to WiFi. When this happens, I organize my desktop folders and plan my schedule for the week.
Whenever you feel bored at work or know you have some extra time, have your list of goals and priorities ready. Be productive and make good use of this time to tackle your growing list of personal and professional goals.
What do you normally do when you have extra time at work?
Make Some Extra Cash by Taking Surveys
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