Uh, what?

Boredom. It’s good.

But… why?

It’s become increasingly clear that boredom is pretty dang important.

Boredom is the key to creativity. An occupied mind isn’t the most introspective one. It’s too busy. Much of my problems falling asleep have more to do with an overactive brain rather than not being sleepy. Boredom comes from silent moments where you have nothing to do but think. That is, if you allow yourself.

Bored? Be Less Boring.

That’s a bit harsh. I’m not trying to say that being bored means you are boring. What I do mean is that boredom is an opportunity. It’s a way to be motivated. To quote one of the above linked articles:

With time to consider what you’re doing and why, you may just come up with some useful questions about the direction you’re headed in.

Lifehack: Boredom Can Be Good For You

Being bored means thinking. It means considering why you are bored. Often much of my design choices come down to “do I really want to do this again?” Of course the answer is no. A foundational programming principle is Don’t Repeat Yourself (DRY). The act of having to do the same task over and over again is:

  • not worthy of your time, since it’s a mechanical task that can be delegated to your computer
  • wasting time because you could be spending your time building out features and experimenting

The programmer is the dynamic and intelligent part of the programming process. Computers are really good at doing what we tell them what to do exactly, but aren’t good at guessing intent or being very creative. Programmers are really good at guessing intent and being creative, but are terrible at avoiding errors when having to repeat tasks. (I cannot tell you how many hours have been wasted debugging to find it was all because of a spelling error. Of a word I have spelled thousands of times before.)

So when I’m bored, it’s often a sign I’m hopefully going to get something done. I need to rethink what I’m doing. I have to optimize.

(I’m also really glad when I’m bored of entertainment and entertaining myself. I have nothing but desire to do things, so I just get to work.)

Not the Most Important Thing

The Most Important Thing is… Boredom lets you decompress. The resting brain is an excellent thing. I’ve written before about how breaks and silence can lead to insight. The brain at rest isn’t actually idle (unless you’ve dulled it with sleep deprivation, alcohol, or drugs). It’s doing innumerable things –keeping your heart rate going, regulating your breathing, looking for changes in environment, and running self-checks.

Boredom isn’t bad. The world is a crazy place full of interesting things and your brain is an interesting place that you can explore forever. Dreams are an incredible example of that. Boredom is an opportunity to explore and drive yourself.

Even taking a walk and listening to your surroundings are valuable. Just google “weird things overheard” and be amazed (WARNING: Sometimes the things overheard contain naughty language). A favorite activity of mine is seeing how deep the rabbit hole I can get on Wikipedia. That’s why, if you’ve met me, I’m a font of weird and bizarre facts. That and it’s fun to talk about how odd it is that a beer drinking tree shrew exists.

To alleviate boredom, creativity is key. Creativity, like most mental processes, is a muscle. The more you use it the better you are at using it.

…[B]oredom can be a stimulus for change, leading you to better ideas, higher ambitions, and greater opportunities. Most of our achievements, of man’s achievements, are born out of the dread of boredom.

Indeed, the philosopher Bertrand Russell, who spent time in prison, intimated that prison may be the ideal setting for a creative person. Said Russell, “A generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men, of men unduly divorced from the slow process of nature, of men in whom every vital impulse slowly withers as though they were cut flowers in a vase.”

Dr. Neel Burton, The Surprising Benefits of Boredom

So go out there. Get bored.