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How to battle boredom at work


Though neuroscience suggests that boredom can be good for us, we all try to avoid it. Even the most exciting jobs in the world — astronaut, nuclear engineer, helicopter pilot, virus hunter — can sometimes be filled with drudgery. Nobody is immune from paperwork and meetings.

The problem with boredom at work is that its negative effects can linger. You might be able to power through a mind-numbing task, like stamping 500 envelopes, but in doing so, you harm your ability to accomplish subsequent tasks. Suppressing boredom doesn’t prevent its effects; it simply puts them on hold until later.

Like whack-a-mole, downplaying boredom on one task results in attention and productivity deficits that will bubble up again.

In our recent peer-reviewed research, my colleagues and I demonstrate a more effective strategy: alternating mundane tasks with meaningful ones. This approach can effectively curb the negative effects of boredom, offering a promising path to enhanced productivity.

These findings are based on several studies we conducted. For example, we asked volunteers to watch either a tedious video on the different kinds of paint that can be used inside a house or a more interesting one on a Rube Goldberg machine. On a subsequent task, the participants who watched the boring paint video mind-wandered more and were less productive — but not when they were told that the task would be used to help children with autism. In other words, when the second task was made to appear meaningful, this offset some of the negative effects of boredom.

Boredom serves an important purpose. It signals to us that we should stop what we’re doing and do something — anything — else. But boredom can become problematic if we try to ignore it.The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

Boredom, Workplace, The Conversation, Notre Dame University, How can I stay focused at work?


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