Benjamin Spall

What to Do When You’re Bored

When you’re bored, even thinking of what to do can be difficult. Whether we’re at home, work, in class, or out with friends, when we’re bored our mind begins to draw a blank, and we start to feel lazy for not knowing what we should be doing.

Feeling lazy and feeling bored go hand in hand. Learning how to overcome laziness is one of the best things you can do to stop being bored, as once you no longer enjoy being lazy you realize just how many things there are out there for you to do, and your time starts to become much more precious to you.

When I was a kid I was often bored. This was no fault of my parents, who took me and my brothers out to enjoy different activities often—but kids get bored more easily than adults if they’re not being entertained 24/7.

Nowadays, I rarely suffer from boredom. While there shouldn’t be prizes for being busy all of the time (humans need rest and downtime in order to function at the height of their potential, after all), it’s been a long time since I can honestly claim I’ve been bored.

There are many articles online that are designed to give you ideas of things to do when you’re bored, but many of these articles spout the same ideas without considering why we’re feeling bored in the first place. In this article, by contrast, instead of looking into what to do when you’re bored, I’m going to look at the root cause of your boredom, and discover how working to overcome boredom is essential to have a long and fulfilled life.

What is Boredom?

Boredom is as a feeling of restlessness that has a number of causes, most notably a feeling that we have nothing of note to do in the moment, or a feeling of disinterest in what we’re currently doing.

It’s common to feel bored at times, especially when you’re young. According to the Mayo Clinic, “boredom can be normal, and is only an indicator of underlying disease when feelings become excessive, all-consuming, and interfere with daily living.”

Despite this, Scientific American note that there is no universally accepted definition of boredom:

Whatever [boredom] is, researchers argue, it is not simply another name for depression or apathy. It seems to be a specific mental state that people find unpleasant—a lack of stimulation that leaves them craving relief, with a host of behavioural, medical and social consequences.

How to Overcome Boredom for Good

While I can’t help you overcome boredom when you’re sat in a long lecture at school or company meeting at work, I can show you how you can overcome boredom outside of work and school, in your day-to-day life.

You see, knowing what to do when you’re bored is less about looking toward a list of ideas for inspiration, and more about knowing deep down inside how you want to spend your time.

Reading one list after another telling you what to do when you’re bored won’t help you if they don’t get down to the root cause of why you’re feeling bored in the first place. Rather than researching things to do when you’re bored, you should research what it is you really want to do.

Mark Twain famously wrote “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” This is as true of our full-time professions than it is of our hobbies and anything else we choose to do outside of work. In other words, “Find something you enjoy doing, and you will never be bored again.”

What to Do When You’re Bored to Overcome Boredom

So, how do you do this? How can you overcome boredom not by looking at a list of things to do when you’re bored, but by, in the words of author and speaker Simon Sinek, finding your “Why.”

Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Find out why you do what you do: Simon Sinek’s 2009 mega-hit book Start With Why is my inspiration here. In the book, and in his accompanying TED talk which has been viewed by almost 50 million people to date, Sinek speaks of the importance of having a “Why” for all that you do in life. This “Why” will tell you what you really want to do; what you are most passionate about. Similar to Mark Twain’s ideal, when you find your “Why” life becomes that much easier, and boredom doesn’t get a look in.
  2. Practice positive procrastination: I’ve written about the idea of procrastinating smart in the past. When you’re bored, consider practicing positive procrastination by procrastinating on the work you’re supposed to be doing with other work that doesn’t need to be worked on at that moment, but that does need to get done. While it’s always preferable to overcome boredom with your most important work, if you’re not feeling it in the moment, procrastinate smart by working on your next most important thing.
  3. Create a to-do list; include fun items: I know what you’re thinking—to-do lists are not the most exciting motivational tool in the world—but they do work. If you’re looking to know what to do when you’re bored, look no further than making a to-do list, but on this list ensure that you add things that you believe you should do, such as any work you need to be getting on with, as well as anything fun that you want to do. Adding these fun items in will make the list seem much more manageable and exciting.
  4. Monotask so you’re not distracted: This one took me a while to figure out. We live in a world that prizes one’s ability to multitask, as doing so makes us look more productive and efficient. In reality, our attempts at multitasking are often a disaster, as instead of doing two (or more) things well, we end up doing everything poorly. Instead, when you monotask not only do you do a better job of each individual task at hand, you’ll quickly begin to overcome boredom, as the more time and thoughtful effort you put into something, the more you’ll start to respect and enjoy the process.
  5. Don’t overthink it: Finally, don’t overthink any of this. Boredom isn’t caused by a lack of things to do, but rather a lack of directional input; a lack of an idea of how to spend your precious time and energy. Not everyone has the luxury of ever feeling bored, so don’t overthink the problem ahead of you, and by all means enjoy your boredom from time to time. But don’t take it too far. In the words of the poet John Greenleaf Whittier, “Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’”

Knowing what to do when you’re bored is easy when you know why you do what you do. While you’re not going to overcome boredom overnight, taking this approach will dramatically reduce moments of boredom in your life.

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Benjamin Spall is the co-author of My Morning Routine (Portfolio/Penguin). He has written for outlets including the New York Times, New York Observer, Quartz, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, CNBC, and more.

How to Reference this Article

Spall, B. (2019, December 11). What to Do When You’re Bored. Retrieved from