How to Survive When Your Job Feels Boring and Useless

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
Jelly beans

It's been a long time since I've had a job that was mind-numbing, boring— a job I kept solely for the purposes of putting dinner on the table. I can remember a few places I served as a temp, where I thought I might not make it through the day. In fact, it wasn't unusual for temps to go to lunch and not return. I never did that. And I never did what Anne Lamott notes she did in her job at a nuclear facility (throw away paperwork without any "fallout," since it was useless paperwork anyway— in her mind— and too boring to bother filing).

Still, it was hard for me to get through.

I wish I'd read about Eva Zeisel then. Maybe it would have made the boring years more livable.

At age 104, Eva Zeisel is a famous designer, and she is still designing things. But Eva's life wasn't always the kind you'd want to live.

In 1936, she was accused of plotting against Stalin, and imprisoned. For an entire year she was even held in solitary confinement, with no hopes of being released. Eva made it through by virtue of her amazing ability to keep designing, despite bereft and lonely circumstances. One of my favorite activities she assigned herself was to make a bra with the materials available in her prison cell. She also did gymnastics, spoke French with herself, memorized poems she composed, and played chess against herself in her head. Is it any wonder Eva is still going strong?

I don't mean to compare anyone's job to imprisonment. But let's be honest. Boring work that we find useless can feel like imprisonment. It simply can.

Just this week, a friend of mine wrote in an email, "I should do a book on how to be productive in boring and useless business meetings." I immediately thought of Eva Zeisel. WWED? What would Eva do? She might do some of the things my friend teasingly recommended. Or that our Team recommended. (As a result of that email, I asked the Team for some tips on how to survive boring, useless work. And they kindly gave me some.)

For the record, let me say I think it is every manager's role to help people experience their jobs as a source of joy and liberation. It is a managerial copout to quote that Colossians verse about workers needing to buck up and do their [boring] work as unto the Lord (managers should consult their part of the text, "provide what is right and fair.")

Anyway, if your manager hasn't quite lived up to his or her sacred role, or if you are experiencing boredom at work for some other reason, here are a few tips to make it through...

Disclaimer: This post is partly in honor of the upcoming holiday, April Fool's day. So the HighCalling Team cannot be held responsible for the quality of every recommendation. Proceed with caution.

Tips for Beating Workplace Boredom

• Eat Cheetos

• Write a poem about Cheetos (or anything else for that matter)

• Do tummy tucks (this counteracts the Cheetos)

• Play Buzzword Bingo (during boring meetings)

• Map a boring meeting (for a full description of this technique, we're going to ask Tina Howard to make a guest appearance to explain)

• Take jelly beans to meetings. Warn people that you don't like boring meetings and if you start counting beans, they need to make a plan. (The editor who shared this tip says this strategy has never failed her.)

• Work on your next novel (or your first)

• Write blog posts (references to Cheetos are optional)

• Say the Lord's Prayer (or compose a variation of it)

• Count life's gifts in a journal (share your entries with a Gratitude Community)

• Read or listen to 48 Days to the Work You Love

• Speak French to yourself or unsuspecting co-workers

• Choreograph an office dance (if your boss is going to be the one with the tutu, do not share this information publicly)

• Ask yourself, what would Eva do? Design garments accordingly.

Image by Milin Alvares. Used with permission via Flickr. Post by L.L. Barkat, author of God in the Yard: Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us.

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