Over at the New York Times, a frustrated employee shared their story of a lazy, “do-nothing” colleague with the Ethicist. “She frequently takes lunch breaks, comes in later than her start time and is not actually working on her ‘work from home’ day,” they wrote. “… In addition, she is constantly complaining and indifferent to her projects. She gets the job done with minimal effort, often blaming results on clients or outside factors … None of our supervisors seem to notice or care and they tend to let sleeping dogs lie. ”
We’ve all known at least one colleague like this. In some instances, you may even be that colleague and without knowing it. But maybe it’s not your fault; it could be that the job description was misleading or you’re burnt out after several years in the same role. This week, Quartz’s Sarah Todd recently addressed the problem of what to do when you’re bored at work—and the answer doesn’t involve spending time on Reddit or scrolling through your Twitter feed.
Instead, Todd writes that if you’re struggling with boredom, it’s also very likely that your job is the culprit and you’re struggling to find motivation in a role that’s no longer interests you (or was never exciting to begin with). And while you may not be in a position to change your job, there are things you can do to make it feel less tedious.
If you want to crawl out of the Reddit hole you’ve found yourself in during work hours, make short-term goals for yourself and find motivation wherever you can.
Reframe your job as a game
If you’re struggling to be motivated by anything at work, Quartz refers to a paper by University of Florida social psychologist Erin Westgate which contains a useful suggestion in surviving mundane responsibilities: Add a layer of challenge and make it a game.
This could mean setting a timer to finish a project or responding to at least 10 emails before 10am. Creating a short-term goal might make work feel more fun or like it’s passing more quickly, at the very least. (In our Black Mirror reality, Washington Post recently reported on the “gamification” of jobs by big companies to incentivize their employees; Lyft and Uber set targets for their drivers to encourage them to log longer hours, for example. Meanwhile, Amazon has turned some of its tedious warehouse tasks into actual Tetris-like games for employees. This isn’t the kind of thing we’re recommending here.)
And once you achieve that target, set another one. “Keep yourself as busy as possible to make the time go quicker,” u/rishi_cup writes on a Reddit thread. “… If you have breaks, section your day off into smaller, achievable goals. ‘Oh, 10 o’clock break. I’m already a quarter through my day.’”
And reward yourself, too. Give yourself a cap of five minutes on Twitter after hitting a target (and no more) or try out the Pomodoro method.
Find motivation outside of work, and shake up your routine
If you’re able to, take a day off next week; you might find motivation at work if you actually have something to look forward to. Alternatively, as another user on Reddit suggests, try asking your manager to tackle a different project for a short time, just to break up the tedium of your typical responsibilities.
“An opportunity to do another job with a whole new team for 12 weeks fell in my lap,” they wrote. “The project wasn’t onerous, it was well within my capability and I got a breather from all the irritating things in my normal job. A change was as good as a holiday … The important thing though is that during those three months I got enough space to examine what my intrinsic motivation to be at my job was. I looked at what sort of work attributes I want to spend my time in and how well these aligned with the work I did.”
And the expression is true: Don’t take your work home. This means leaving the physical (ie. your laptop or paperwork) and emotional (ie. stress) at work, which is always easier said than done. Don’t check your emails, Slacks or IMs when you’re home. And reward yourself for making it through the day—dinner with a friend, an hour in front of the PS4—whatever might relax you.
Apply for other jobs
If you truly despise your job, before you jump ship, take a good look at what’s creating issues for you at work. “Is your boss a hovering micromanager who doesn’t give you any autonomy, despite your years of experience?” Allison Green of Ask a Manager writes for LinkedIn. “Or maybe it’s the work itself; you might have signed up expecting to do X but ended up doing Y or the workload might be way too high or so low that you’re bored for hours every week.”
Once you’ve figured out the issue, Green recommends taking time to find out whether it’s worth fixing, maybe through a discussion with your manager. And if the issue isn’t fixable, then it might be time to apply for other jobs–just don’t jump on the first opportunity that comes your way out of desperation.
“When you’re miserable at work, it’s very easy to grasp at the first life raft that comes along, but leaping too hastily can mean you end up somewhere else where you’re unhappy too,” Green writes. So take stock of your job and consider its benefits; maybe you have an excellent work from home policy or vacation schedule and it might be worth sticking around another month.
And take your time while exploring other opportunities so that you can find a job that will actually motivate you to do more with your workday beyond digging through Reddit posts or Wikipedia entries.