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Get bored first, then become efficient

Although boredom is universally reviled, it has proven benefits in creativity and decision-making. In this world full of notifications and pending tasks, what can we do when there is not much to do? 

We are not really used to being bored. In a hyperconnected world in which phone alerts do not stop pinging, our brains are saturated with impulses and data. Overloaded. The question is: Can we get something good out of boredom?

Scientific studies reach a clear conclusion: getting bored is worth it. If we incorporate it into our daily routines and we approach it in a positive way, boredom can help us relax the brain. Are we ready to get bored?

Are we obsessed with efficiency?

We are obsessed with time, used to leading busy lives in which a large number of elements vie to grab our attention. This is why terms such as "attention economy" have been coined in relation to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

If information was scarce in the past, it is now over-abundant and what we lack is the attention to process it. In fact, several studies have estimated that we spend around 60 hours per week trying to pay attention to some things and ignore others. 

"According to some calculations, we usually spend more than 60 hours a week deciding what to pay attention to." 

And once we decide what to pay attention to ... we have to deal with all our personal projects. We want to get fit, learn a language and do other activities that take up more and more of our time. We want to do many things, and sitting around not doing anything is not a valid alternative. We make our decisions in a constant state of urgency, but perhaps there is another way to approach all this.  

Misunderstanding what it is to be efficient

In 1965, the Manpo-kei became one of the first pedometers to count the steps we take. One of the designers of this pioneering product considered that ten thousand steps was an appropriate measure.  Decades later Garmin, Fitbit and many other heart rate applications copied that number. But no one verified whether those ten thousand steps made sense or not. We had to wait until 2019 for a medical study to show that it was an arbitrary figure, without a scientific basis.

According to several investigations, the recommendation that everyone should take ten thousand steps was not valid because many people overexerted themselves and many others fell short in their workouts. The lesson is clear: a single recommendation for everyone is not efficient.

To be efficient is to achieve more with less depending on the circumstances 

Is boredom a form of productivity?

The prestigious anthropologist Amber Case has been insisting for years that to lead a satisfactory life we need to do without everything that demands our attention and does not add value to us as people.

Although we find it strange and counterintuitive, many experts are clear about this:

  • Boredom can be helpful for our personal and professional development.
  • Continuously pursuing goals may not be the best way to achieve them.

Does a person who spends ten hours straight in front of the computer, without any pause, work better? Does an over-trained athlete compete better? In this context, the benefits of napping in improving concentration are yet further proof that efficiency is not always what we imagine it to be. 

"Someone who achieves the same results in four hours is twice as efficient as someone who does so in eight."

Boredom, understood as a “state of low agitation”, helps us be more creative, as researchers Gasper and Middlewood discovered in 2014. Slowing down can be good. Undertaking tedious activities like reading the phone book, counting beans or staring at the wall are relaxing and help us to be clearer about who we are and what we want to do. 

What should we spend our time on?

Faced with these problems, experts even recommend leaving aside the mobile phone or, at least, installing applications such as Forest that help us use the mobile less, or plugins such as HabitLab Today from Stanford University. that helps us understand where our time is going.

This is usually the starting point for many research studies. The logic is as follows: only when we realize we spend four hours a day on WhatsApp, can we do something about it.

But be careful: we could fall back into the trap of urgency, of having to do something with our time at all costs—instead of disconnecting and getting bored in order to be truly creative and original. Before changing anything in our lives, let's spend some time meditating on the habit we want to change (let's start with one, two is too many). 

"There are increasing numbers of applications to help us disconnect from the whirlwind of activities, notifications and information that besiege us".  

How do you find time to get bored?

Building habits is not easy. Let's take a practical example.

We want to have more time for ourselves, so we set out a schedule listing what we spent our time on last week. And we get the following results:

  • 6 hours cooking, including breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • 3 hours at the supermarket, which we went to four times.

Could there be a way to make our time more efficient, by grouping tasks in order to save time? In other words, can we create a habit that gives us a few free hours a week? The truth is: yes.

  • Shopping list. Do a full weekly shop instead of four, the first step towards this will be to make a meal calendar.
  • Cook on Sunday for the whole week. Investing a couple of hours on Sunday to prepare all the meals for the week ahead can free up a lot of time.

Boredom, a good investment for the future

This may seem like a paradox: we want to improve our lives and, to do this, we use metrics to search for lost efficiency. We get stressed about this and they tell us to relax, but then we set out to organize how to relax and we end up exactly where we started.

Perhaps the first and only step to being more creative, to having a better predisposition towards work and to making better plans is to get bored, as simple as that. Researchers like Heather Lench are strong advocates of boredom as an essential biological mechanism. They even state that if we have come so far as a civilization, it is thanks, among other things, to the fact that we have become really bored throughout our evolution.

Being bored is a much maligned activity with practically no followers, but it has proven to be one of the most productive in the long term. Forcing ourselves to do only a few things over a period of time, to limit activities, to leave the house sparingly, can be an opportunity to get to know ourselves better and to return to being active with more authentic objectives. 

"Although it may not seem like it, being bored for a while can be one of the most productive activities in your life."
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