Healthy ways of dealing with persistent boredom at work
I recently helped a friend with some career advice. Despite performing very well in their first year on the job, they were already bored there. They wanted to know whether they should take on a new role or leave the company altogether. At one point they said to me:
Well I've always been this way, ever since I was young – getting bored by things and wanting to try something new. Like when I wanted to constantly learn new instruments. So maybe I'm just someone that's supposed to change jobs once a year for my entire career?
At first I thought "hmm, maybe they are right and should change jobs regularly to fit their personality?" ...until I remembered that I was the exact same way growing up! When I was growing up, my favourite thing in the world was to try new things. I never really stuck with a sport, or an instrument, or even a hobby – I was always hopping around.
This behaviour is not necessarily a problem when it comes to your personal pursuits and it's up to you to decide what you'd like to do about it. It's also a natural part of a curious mind and can even be a strength. But it can absolutely hold you back in your professional career if you don't manage it effectively. Organisations are more inclined to invest in people who stay around for longer than a year. After mastering your core responsibilities in the first year or so, you can often start to unlock an immense amount of personal and professional growth by leveraging the foundational knowledge you've built up. But none of that can happen if you constantly leave after 1 year or less on the job.
So if you think your persistent boredom is hurting your career, how can you deal with it effectively? Here are the strategies that have helped me a lot:
1. Find other powerful motivations
Though I have a natural curiosity to try new things, I also value other things in life. For example, I really hate letting my team down. I also only choose to join organisations that are working on a mission I care about. It's important to step back and think about the big picture of why you do the work that you do. How will it affect your team, customers, and the world? By re-discovering and maximising these motivations, whatever they may be for you, you can recognise that your work is about more than just scratching an itch and regain your excitement again. Sometimes doing this for just a few days or weeks will help you get past a boredom hump.
2. See your work from a different perspective
Sometimes, a project or a role is only monotonous because you're only seeing one aspect of it. By seeing it from a new perspective, you open your mind up to new approaches to your work that can get you excited again. For example, during a technical project, you might feel that you've mastered all the technical skills and have nothing new to learn. But you might notice that at this point, you've also become a technical expert on that team. If you reframe this situation as an opportunity to teach or mentor other members of your team, you've now discovered a "new" pursuit within the same project. Your new pursuit is to be the best mentor you can be and not to simply master a technical skill. This exercise can give you a new energy and outlook on your work.
3. Take on new responsibilities
The previous point talked about discovering unseen responsibilities in your current work. But often you can also just step up to take on new challenges that aren't in your purview today in areas that you think add value or want to learn more about. Talk to your manager about what those opportunities might be, talk to colleagues about where you could help out, or identify areas of improvement in your organisation. By growing your responsibilities this way, you can stretch yourself and find a way to satisfy your curiosity again.
4. Find roles that leverage your personality
In every organisation, there are many different roles, with many different possible paths to being successful in that role. Also, different types of organisations require different types of people. Find organisations and roles that value the fact that you'd rather play more as a generalist than a specialist.
For me, this has meant being a founder or a very early stage company employee, where it's not just acceptable but desirable for someone to step up and tackle novel challenges on a regular basis.
These kinds of roles also exist in bigger organisations, where it's desirable for you to understand many different aspects of the business or even move between them. If you don't see one of those roles, maybe you can craft one by better understanding where your organisation can improve and pitching the new role to whoever can create that role.
Note: I do think there is an upper limit to leveraging your personality in this way. You're actively turning your boredom into a strength, but it can still be a weakness if you're not careful and let it go too far. For example, in my work as a founder, it's great that I can wear different hats, but if I let that go too far and leave projects half-done or give up too quickly, then I've still failed at my goals. This is a fine balance that you'll have to strike in your particular role and organisation.
If you're like me and have a natural curiosity that can feel like persistent boredom, these strategies may help you find ways of being happy in your work and achieving the goals you care about. Good luck!
— Soroush Pour (@soroushjp)
Thanks to Rick Marron, Nicole Byer, Jason Hew, Harvey Multani for reviewing early drafts of this post and providing invaluable feedback.
: Not surprisingly, people in this situation often find that they aren't getting as much long-term satisfaction as they'd like out of their personal projects either. This same tendency to get bored and move on causes them to leave things only half-discovered. In that case, these same strategies can help you achieve more in your personal pursuits.