Getting bored can be very productive!

Dictionary.com defines epiphany as: A sudden, intuitive perception or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.

I call it: ‘Something that makes pieces fall in place when you are bored’.

I think that the importance of being bored is severely underestimated. Most people I talk to are always finding ways to fill their time with stuff. Getting bored seems to have become a frightening and dreaded experience – as if getting bored indicates laziness or not having enough work. Unfortunately, most of these fillers are unproductive (I am looking at you Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat addicts).

But for me, being bored has been awesome! I have found a way out or an answer to some of the most vexing issues when I got bored. It all started when I changed jobs and moved from a 10 min commute to a 2- 2.5-hour commute (yes, commute-wise the change was nuts). Suddenly I was confronted with minimum 2 hours a day that I had to fill. Like anybody else, I started doing emails, reading documents, listening to podcasts, etc. (note the missing social media). 

But one day, tragedy stuck – my phone and laptop both ran out of battery. And, it was raining! So I was now left with 1.5 hours of sitting in an Uber with absolutely nothing to do – even the Uber driver was not interested in chatting. In other words, I was bored out of my mind!!

At that point, I was struggling with how to measure avg. hours per project in my unit. The complication was that in a typical month, dozens of projects had 1-3 hours logged against them. While most of hours on these projects were spent in the last month, the current month had a few hours spent on project closure process or replying to a few feedback emails or approving outsourcing hours, etc. So, for the current month, while the project count increased significantly (dozens of projects), the total hours increased by a minor amount (maybe 30 hours). As a result, avg hours per project was distorted downwards making us appear a lot more productive then we were.

As I was mindlessly staring out the window of my Uber, I started thinking about a recent book I had read – Charlie Wheeler’s Naked Statistics (an excellent book by the way) and I had an epiphany – track average hours per project on a 3 month rolling period!! This data immediately aligned with everyone’s intuitive feel of what our avg hours per project are. For the operational experts out there, this may seem obvious, but it wasn’t for me – so getting bored turned out to be very productive. And this has continued for about an year now.

There is now a ton of research that demonstrates that it is important children be occasionally bored. For instance, Dr. Teresa Belton of University of East Anglia told BBC that “boredom is crucial for developing “internal stimulus,” which then allows true creativity”.

I think this research applies to adults as well. Obviously, this does not mean that you should be bored all the time – that would imply a different problem. If you are bored because you are not satisfied with your current job or salary or don’t have anything interesting to do, then that’s not the right kind of ‘bored’. But if you do find yourself bored, say travelling in a train (folks from Mumbai will know what I mean), then that’s great – allow your mind to wander, to reflect and you will be surprised at how creative you can be.

It sounds funny to say it but these days I make sure that I am bored at least couple of hours a week.

Do it – get bored and have your epiphany!!

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