I used to have a highly regimented daily routine.
I'd wake up, listen to a news podcast, listen to podcasts on my commute, work a full day, read email newsletters like this one on the commute home, and watch TV when I got home. I'd scroll through my phone mindlessly for periods throughout the day all the way up until I went to bed.
I was consuming things wall to wall. I wasn't giving myself time to think. I wasn't giving myself time to process what I was consuming.
And I wasn't giving myself time to be bored and just explore thoughts.
When was the last time you were bored?
My wife and I just finished watching Pen15, a cute and cringe-worthy show on Hulu about two middle school girls based in 2000. There was so much potential time for these girls to be bored with the absence of technology. They used unstructured time to play with dolls, dance around the yard, make videos on dad's camera, and talk to each other on their personal landlines. AIM and dial-up internet did creep into the picture as well.
They figured out how to utilize unstructured time.
Clearly being bored wasn't scripted into the show, but in the early 2000s, that was just kind of life.
During a long car ride, you'd look at the side of the road.
In a free afternoon, you'd try and figure out something to do without Netflix, social media, games on your phone, etc.
I've asked this question a lot lately: "When was the last time you were bored?"
The disappearance of unstructured time
We're so over-programmed consciously and unconsciously. Like displayed in Pen15, we have so little unstructured time. And any unstructured time we might have is filled with our phone as a crutch.
We no longer let our minds wander.
As this article articulates, once you settle into boredom, you find yourself en route to discovery.
I think this concept is profound. If you open up more unstructured time, settle into the boredom that comes with it, you have the potential to unlock more creativity.
Reclaiming the positives of boredom
In a world that's structured with a permanent distraction crutch, how can we be bored more?
- Put your phone away evening through morning. I know some people that even lock them away every evening. I have my Screen Time set to block my access to social media and work apps from 8 PM - 8 AM daily.
- I've started to exercise without headphones (that means no podcasts). I've used my regular 3-mile run loop to explore messy thoughts deeply to help structure them.
- I've carved out 15-20 minutes a day to sit and be. For me, it's usually on my morning ferry ride. Right now I look out at the snowcapped Olympic Mountains. I know this is a nice setting for doing nothing but I've also done it sitting on the couch or outside in my yard. I do find it beneficial to find someplace quiet, that's beautiful, and early in the morning.
- Reading fiction. This is non-existent to me but I know many people swear by reading fiction in unstructured time. I want to get better at it and will take some good recommendations for a fiction newbie (no sci-fi please).
Ready to downsize your relationship with work and quit burnout?
Hi, I'm Grant Gurewitz. I'm on a mission to end burnout at work. I've been in tech for 10 years (ex-Zillow, current: Qualtrics) who suffered deep burnout and came back from it with no help of the hacky advice out there.
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