I used to think I never got bored.
As in: unless I was stuck at the Secretary of State, or some function I couldn’t get out of, and either had no book, or couldn’t read a book without being impolite, or was otherwise trapped without a cell phone, pen, paper, or any other means of recording my thoughts and organizing them into some idea worth communicating, I could find something to do or think about and not consider myself bored. Maybe I’d rather be elsewhere doing something different, but I could get by.
My family regularly made road trips to visit relatives in New York that involved 10+ hours of sitting in the car—seven of us in a seven-seater minivan—and I credit that experience with toughening me up to endure transatlantic flights with equanimity.
And on my own time? I struggle to understand boredom. I hear adults say that they’re bored, and I wish there were a way to exchange time: If you’re not using the next hour of your life, I’ll take it!
But I’ve recently come to understand it a little better. Not the boredom of sitting around with nothing to do, but the boredom of sitting in front of a task you have to do and wishing for all the world that you could be doing something different.
I know we usually call that “procrastination,” but I don’t mean that, entirely. Right now, I’m writing this blog post to procrastinate from doing my work out. It will happen, but I’ve deemed this post temporarily a more worthwhile effort. I spent half of Saturday reading a book to avoid doing some sewing. I wanted to sew, but I had a difficult step that I felt a bit uncertain about, so I read instead.
I sometimes avoid hard things by doing other things that are equally worth doing. If that’s procrastination, it’s awfully productive.
But I’ve begun to notice lately a kind of procrastination that seeps into my work day that feels more akin to boredom than what I just described. It’s the rebellious impulse to do anything but the task at hand—even other things that I don’t like. It’s what sucked me into hours of BuzzFeed articles in college when I was meant to be writing essays, or what sends me to YouTube to watch hours of tornado videos when I should be researching my next blog post.
I would never read these posts or watch these videos on my own time. Why is it that I can’t consciously justify spending an hour reading a book when I’m supposed to be working, but I can subconsciously waste two hours surfing Wikipedia articles on pop music icons I don’t even like?
I think the root cause is boredom. Not the kind born of poor imagination, but perhaps of a surplus of energy. Of resenting all the things I can’t do because I have to do the task at hand. Perhaps there’s still a small child in me after all, throwing a temper tantrum, pounding the floor and screaming but I don’t want to!
And all the while, adult me looks on, chiding, scolding, making suggestions like “If you’re that bored, how about you go finish that copy that’s due…”
Friends, Strangers, Internet, I have no solution to this yet. And I know this isn’t a new problem. I know this isn’t a “me” problem. It’s at the heart of every productivity piece I’ve read in the past ten years of avoiding work. It’s been called procrastination. It’s ben called Resistance. And now I’m calling it boredom.
Maybe giving it a name will help me do something about it.