Don’t be busybored

More than once in my career, I’ve been busybored. This is when you are both very busy and very bored at the same time. It’s not a good feeling, working hard but not being engaged in your work. How is this state possible?

Busyness is a measure of how many things you have to do, and when you have to do them. Being busy means having a lot of high-priority items due around the same time. Often this manifests as switching often between tasks, dealing with interruptions to address pressing issues, and being worried about finishing everything on time.

Being busy is not inherently bad. Busy can be exciting. Launching a new product can be busy. Preparing to speak at a conference can be busy. Completing a merger or acquisition can be busy.

So when is being busy also boring? It’s when the things you are doing are very familiar and are not challenging you. The fifth time you’ve solved the same problem, negotiated the same contract, or written the same kind of document is less interesting than the first. The tenth time can be tiresome.

Being busybored can impact productivity. If you’re used to delivering great work, but aren’t being challenged, you’ll notice productivity fall as the intrinsic rewards for pursuing and engaging in work fall.

Are you feeling busybored? If so, it’s probably hard to fathom making time to reflect on this feeling when there are problems and meetings and phone calls and deadlines, but it’s really important that you do make time. Even 15 minutes at the bookends of the day to think about how to fix busyboredom will pay dividends.

Here are some ideas on how to get out of this state:

  1. Do less. Sometimes, the solution to being busybored is to spend less time on the things that are familiar, and more on the things that are novel and challenging. Make a list of what you’re working on that’s keeping you busy. Flag the things that you find less engaging. Then, triage the less-engaging items. Can some things wait? Can you delegate some of them?
  2. Coach someone else. Delegate a task to someone who wants the experience, and coach them through it. Teaching is different than doing. As a teacher, you’ll look at the work from a different perspective.
  3. Talk to your manager. Don’t keep the feeling bottled up. There may be a really interesting project sitting in the wings that your manager knows of. If you let him know you’re feeling busybored, he may help pull things off of your plate to make room for the new, more interesting work.
  4. Think bigger. Look for ways to make the work you’re doing bigger than what you’ve done before. Is your work solving a symptom? Solve the root cause this time. Did your boss ask for the same thing again? Figure out how to deliver something extra that she didn’t ask for.
  5. Find something new. Sometimes, being busybored is a sign that you’ve outgrown your role. If there are no new challenges in sight, it may be time to find something new. This is not a quick fix and has lasting implications, so I wouldn’t suggest it unless you’ve exhausted all other avenues.

Most importantly, don’t wait for this feeling to pass, or expect someone else to make it go away. Use the opportunity to find your next challenge that will re-engage you in your work.



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