It’s highly likely that you know the experience all to well. You’ve just put the last item in your trolley and you’re on the way to the checkout, but it’s the only one open, it’s four people deep and there is no timely alternative.
So you join the queue, unpack your groceries onto the little conveyor belt that should be used for more fun things and you wait.
Right then you face the gateway!
The gateway has a name and its name is boredom.
We’ve all stood at the gateway of boredom and all too often.
We can find ourselves at the gateway when we’re waiting at the traffic lights, sitting at a café expecting a friend to join us, pacing the house before we go out while waiting for our partner to apply the finishing touches to their already faultless appearance, even on the toilet. The gateway is everywhere.
And as we wait at the gateway of boredom, rising up inside of us can be recognised, if we listen carefully enough, the faintest scream for help.
“I’m about to be bored! Save me.”
For a long time my inner scream was “I’m about to be bored which will waste my time! Save me.”
Leaders treasure time. If you’ve read this far you’ve trusted me with your time. It’s an invaluable gift, which I hope to reward by the end of this article.
Leaders understand time is a priceless commodity they only get to spend once.
So what you do at the gateway of boredom becomes a crucial decision for every leader.
It’s at this point, standing before the gateway, like drawing a pistol from its holster, our smart phones are in our hands. We flee from the gates (and our boredom) with mindless updates, email perusal, tweet searches, Pinterest pins, and scrolling instagram pics.
This can all to often be followed by a moment of realisation, “What am I doing? I’m gaining nothing from this.” It can feel like your soul has died a little. The affect of imprisoning ourselves more and more to he mercy of our devices. All because we weren’t prepared to move through the gateway of boredom.
A leader needs to find the other available option, which lies through the gateway. It is a truly wonderful option. It’s life giving and beneficial and freeing and not to be missed, even though it is easily missed.
The more healthy space you can create in your life the more of your humanity you can reclaim.
At the gateway of boredom, should we choose to venture on through, we find a path, which quietly beckons us onward. This pathway leads us into some wonderful things: rest, thinking, problem solving, creativity, joy, prayer, meaning, to name just a few.
I first began thinking about this upon reading Cal Newport’s book Deep Work.
Newport explores what we can gain if we react to boredom differently. He would advocate for the embracing of boredom and not fleeing from it. Because by embracing it we find things we cannot find any other way.
Thomas Frank summarises Newport’s work well,
“Central to deep work are two key skills: embracing boredom and learning to do hard things.”
As I read Deep Work I realised that every leader needs to read this book. Not just to work more deeply and more effectively, but to get more out of our day and become healthier.
Welcoming boredom, enables us to transition into a different state of being, which every leader needs but which is so frequently elusive.
Boredom is valuable to every leader, because of the wonder it offers, not the waste we worry it may.
Do you catch yourself checking your email, looking at your shares, hoping to catch the latest (disappointing) notification, seeing how many likes your Instagram post scored, waiting and checking for the next retweet, etc… and feeling weary, tired, even a little off? Its wearisome. Especially seeing as we just checked them all when we were just bored when we were just in that last shop or set of lights or waiting for someone or seeking distraction.
I’m labouring the point I know so let’s look at the value of boredom.
Boredom is an opportunity to rest.
Over the course of a week how would your mental health improve if you used those moments of potential boredom to rest. You’d likely be able to accumulate around 30 minutes each day, which is 3½ hours each week, at the cost of no extra time. As a leader you’re constantly giving to others, which takes something from you. Rest is the primary source of replenishment, and you may be missing out on a bonus 3½ hours each week.
Boredom is an opportunity to think.
I know some of you are thinking right now, ‘I don’t need more time to think, that’s not a good thing for me’. But it can be if you direct your thinking toward solving a problem or developing an idea. If you’re leading people you’ll always have a problem on the boil. Why not use this time to solve it?
Boredom is an opportunity to be creative.
Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner were the first to develop the idea of blending, which has become a key concept in creative thinking. See this site to understand the detail of it. Blending is where you take several random ideas, concepts or things and bring them together to see what problem you can solve in a completely unrelated area. Creating space to entertain complex, conflicting or contradictory thoughts is valuable for a leader. It is out of this space that vision begins to emerge. When you find yourself on the precipice of becoming bored, why not take a problem you are trying to solve and seek a solution to it by using three things you can see from your current vantage point?
Boredom is an opportunity to pray.
For some of you this point will seem irrelevant, bare with me. Finding space to pray or be mindful is a powerful weapon every leader can use. Prayer enables you to be more present and attentive to what is actually happening in you, to you and around you. It also directs your thinking to the wellbeing of others, and to a greater cause, which in turn will help you feel better.
Boredom is an opportunity to lessen the grip of the fruitless on your life.
When boredom creeps in we can naturally migrate to Facebook, emails, checking our shares, playing games on our phones, Snapchatting, Pinterest, or a variety of other fruitless exercises. These things aren’t bad if done strategically, but how often do you find yourself at the mercy and control of the very tools given to enrich your life and leadership.
Could it be that boredom is a wonderful gift we have that might usher us into greater health and more joyful leadership?
A place where our leadership becomes sharper, our tanks are replenished, our issues decrease and our health improves.
The good news is you’ll likely get to explore it before your day comes to a close. I would love to hear how you go in the comments below.
As an interesting development of these thoughts Dr. Cal Newport, the same Cal Newport mentioned above, spoke at a TED conference. He did so on the subject “Quit Social Media”.
It’s a 14-minute talk that could change your life as he spells out the harm and futility of social media.
You should watch it. It’s challenging. I watched it. It helped me a lot. It could help you too, maybe.
If you want to explore this more, Andrew Sullivan wrote a 6,000 word article. In it he investigates the harms and detriment of social media. They are valuable insights from Andrew, who was entirely emerged in that world. You can find his work here.