Is There Such A Thing As “Boring” Work? | Steve's Quest: The Animated Musical Web Series

Is There Such A Thing As “Boring” Work?

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I have a friend who’s an avid gardener, and she has fun doing things many people would find unpleasant or even disgusting.  One example that stands out for me is that she enjoys removing snails from her flowers and vegetables by hand.  True, she’s wearing gloves when she does it, but still I think a lot of us would find it hard to believe someone could love gardening enough to actually like snail-picking.

Watching her do this recently got me thinking.  Many of us see certain tasks we have to do in our work and other areas of our lives as inherently boring or unpleasant.  Doing your business’s taxes, cleaning your desk and drafting invoices are examples of work people tend to see as, at best, necessary evils.  They’re awful, but you have to do them to keep your job or business going.

A Matter Of Perception

But is this true?  Are the tasks themselves awful?  Or do we simply experience them as awful?  And, if so, is it possible to experience them differently?  After all, if my friend can have fun snail-picking—something many of us wouldn’t even do for large amounts of money—doesn’t that suggest it’s possible for human beings to enjoy doing almost anything, if we have the right mindset?

I’ve noticed, both in my own self-inquiry and in working with others, that we can transform how we experience doing something if we develop an understanding of why we see it as painful or difficult.  That is, don’t just take it for granted that doing something is awful—ask yourself why you feel that way.  That kind of understanding, by itself, can shift our perspective, and make things we hated to do before start to seem tolerable and maybe even enjoyable.

Reaching this kind of understanding involves simply doing the task you dislike, noticing whatever thoughts and feelings arise as you do it, and getting curious about why you’re having that experience.  If you find the task so unpleasant that you can’t bring yourself to do it, try visualizing yourself doing it—that will probably be enough to bring up whatever thoughts and emotions you associate with it.

Listening To Boredom

Let’s look at how this process works in the context of boredom.  We tend to think of boredom as a simple emotion that happens for obvious reasons—”I get bored when I’m not doing anything, or doing some dull activity like organizing my file folders.”

But when we become willing to let ourselves “get bored,” and closely examine what we’re feeling and thinking in those moments, we find that boredom actually isn’t simple at all.  What we call boredom is really a complex bunch of ideas and emotions that’s unique and deeply personal to each of us.

If I find myself getting bored, for instance, and I take a close look at what I’m thinking and feeling in that moment, what I usually find is that I’m having the thought “I’m not accomplishing enough right now.”  And I’m feeling frustrated and despondent, and my shoulders are tensing up.  That is, when I look closely enough, I see that what I’m feeling in those moments has very little to do with the specifics of my work, and that it’s actually pretty complex and nuanced.

If I look even deeper into my experience, what I notice is that the sense that “I’m not accomplishing enough” isn’t only with me in moments of boredom—it’s in the background, subtly nagging me, most of the time.  This realization has helped me take the belief “I’m not accomplishing enough” less seriously.

When I’m having that thought, I now understand, it’s not because I’m being lazy or the work I’m doing is inadequate.  No matter what I’m doing—even if it’s the most important and dedicated work I’ve done in my life—that thought is still there.  Eckhart Tolle aptly describes this kind of feeling in The Power of Now as “the background static of perpetual discontent,” which is “easy to overlook because it is so much a part of normal living.”

In other words, it’s just a deeply ingrained aspect of how I see myself and the world, and the more conscious I become of that, the less suffering it can cause me.  Now, when it comes up, I can simply tell it “thanks for sharing,” and continue what I’m doing.  And I came to this self-understanding just by getting curious about why I found myself feeling bored sometimes.

My point is that, if we take a moment to sit with the feelings of boredom, anger, or whatever else that come up in our work, and stay curious about what they’re doing there and what they have to teach us, we can transform our relationship with our work.  Not only can we become able to tolerate tasks we used to avoid before and increase our productivity, but we can learn a great deal about ourselves.

13 thoughts on
Is There Such A Thing As “Boring” Work?

  1. Evan

    I think there is a difference between frustration and boredom. I think boredom introduces a conflict between two desires. Hope this makes sense.

  2. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Evan — that’s an interesting idea. I think I do experience a conflict that’s similar to what you describe when boredom comes up — there’s a critical superego-like part saying “you should be doing this,” meaning something like reordering my shelves, and then there’s what I actually want, which is to do something else.

  3. Daphne

    Hi Chris,

    I’ve been planning a 6-week journey by train along the Silk Route with the purpose of getting absolutely bored along the way! This was to force me to slow down and get back into life’s rhythm. I’ve found that it takes one week of boredom to leave all the usual worries and lists of things to do behind.

    I’m not sure how this applies to work though. Boredom can often be the source of creativity.

  4. Sara

    Chris — This is a very helpful post, especially since I have do my taxes this weekend and I always dread this process.

    I liked your words, “…if we take a moment to sit with the feelings of boredom, anger, or whatever else that come up in our work, and stay curious about what they’re doing there and what they have to teach us, we can transform our relationship with our work.”

    That’s a great suggestion for me as I prepare my taxes!

    By the way, have you visited Barbara Swafford’s site, Blogging without a Blog? I think you might like it, especially her blog registry!

  5. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Daphne — the trip sounds exciting to me. It sounds like, by getting bored, you mean feeling like you don’t have a ton of obligations. I think this illustrates how boredom means different things to different people, and it’s less cut and dried than we usually think.

    That’s a good point that boredom can stimulate creativity — for me, that brings to mind how, if I’m experiencing writer’s block, that empty feeling that I’m “out of ideas” actually dissolves if I’m willing to just sit with it for a while, rather than trying to force myself to think something up. I wrote some more about this earlier at http://www.purposepowercoaching.com/site/?p=206.

  6. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Thanks Sara. Doing your taxes sounds like a great example of a situation where you can notice what you’re thinking and feeling and learn a lot about yourself. I’ve had similar experiences with filling out insurance documents and paying bills. There’s something deeper going on, in my experience, than just “it sucks to sit here paying bills” — for me it’s a feeling like “why aren’t I doing something with more global significance,” and for someone else it may be different.

    Thanks for the site suggestion. I’ve paid her a visit. Best, Chris

  7. Albert | UrbanMonk.net

    Hey Chris! A spiritual teacher I was speaking to asked me a very interesting question. What if the purpose of life is to do whatever you’re doing now? If you’re bored, maybe that’s the fun of life – to experience boredom. We’ve got plenty of time to have perfect eternal peace when we’re dead.

  8. LifeMadeGreat | Juliet

    Hi Chris

    Sometimes one has to delve quite deep to find the reasons. I know that, in some cases, it has required a great deal of thought and effort on my part to understand the source of these types of negative emotions and resistances.

    Juliet

  9. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Albert — thanks for that story. I think it also illustrates how boredom is just a label we put on a set of sensations we’re feeling, and if we remove that negative label and directly experience what’s going on maybe we won’t find it so miserable.

    Hi Juliet — yeah, it does seem like this kind of work starts on the surface with concerns about getting more work done or whatever and then takes us deep into ourselves. I hope that exploration has been fun or at least interesting for you.

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  11. Tom Volkar / Delightful Work

    This will be an interesting experiment that I’ll bring to my taxes very soon. Anything that brings us to greater consciousness is powerful. It’s difficult to judge feelings while actually feeling them. I’ve been looking at things I resist lately to see the connection to other things I resist and often it’s that I need to let go of a certain perspective that I’ve had locked onto these items.

    “In other words, it’s just a deeply ingrained aspect of how I see myself and the world, and the more conscious I become of that, the less suffering it can cause me.” Powerful stuff Chris, thank you.

  12. Chris Edgar - Post author

    Hi Tom — it sounds like you’re doing some powerful work. What I hear you saying is that if you just pay attention to the sensations that come up when you’re doing your taxes or something like that, rather than saying “I shouldn’t be feeling this way” or “I don’t want to be doing this,” you start to get an idea of the perspective those feelings are coming from. This is the way I’ve experienced my work around the kinds of things I don’t want to do as well.

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