By Jiji Lee

The Case For Being Bored


Not being busy is an opportunity.

Feeling bored? It might be good for you.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of being busy, especially when we’re pursuing our goals. We optimize our schedules to yield maximum results. We add deadlines and meetings to our calendars so that we’re moving forward. We always know what we’re doing at any given moment. And while it’s helpful to make our days efficient and organized, it’s also important to remember to leave room in our schedules...for absolutely nothing.

That’s right. Because when we pack our schedule to the gills, we miss out on meaningful moments and opportunities. Those serendipitous moments, like running into an old coworker at a party or discovering a new book or movie that you like. Or those times when we just do something for the sake of doing it, and not because it was dictated by our schedule. 

Don’t get me wrong, structure and plans are great. They provide our amorphous days with much-needed shape and direction. But when our days are overly structured and defined, we miss out on being spontaneous. Or being present. 

Why free time is good for you

When we’re pursuing a goal, we tend to be fixated on that one goal, and giving it our all. We try to eliminate any and all distractions or activities that are irrelevant to our target. We say “no” to extra work or social engagements. 

But what if the things we’re declining could actually help us achieve our goals?

It may seem counterintuitive, but those so-called distractions could perhaps work in your favor. For instance, let’s say your goal is to land your dream job. In keeping with a traditional goal setting strategy, you would focus on this one goal, above anything else. You might skip a friend’s party in order to polish your resume or update your LinkedIn profile.

But what if skipping a party meant you were losing out on a potential opportunity? What if there was someone at the party who had a connection to your dream job? And could help you reach your goal?

Of course, not every event is going to result in you meeting someone who could change your life, but if your current goal setting strategy has you so busy that you’re unable to try new things, it might be time to adjust the process. After all, they say luck happens when you’re changing up your routine. So maybe it’s time to add some free time to your current schedule.

As Atomic Habits writer James Clear puts it, “Not being busy is a competitive advantage. Most people are so strapped for time they can't take advantage of lucky opportunities or quickly resolve unexpected problems. Maintain a bias toward action, but leave room for the unexpected”

Being busy might make us feel like we’re being productive, but it also may be preventing us from exploring interesting ideas or prospects. 

Here are some other benefits to not being busy:

Creativity

Our brains are constantly being overwhelmed by stimuli. Whether it’s screens and devices, or meetings and tasks, we are inundated with a stream of information and activity. That’s why taking time off is essential. Being bored not only gives our bodies a chance to relax, but it gives our brains a much-needed break. It’s in this relaxed state that our minds can actually think and make creative connections. As writer Jude Stewart explains in The Atlantic, “But boredom isn’t all bad. By encouraging contemplation and daydreaming, it can spur creativity.” 

If you feel like you’ve been running out of good ideas, stop working and start getting bored.

Productivity

I think so many of us fall into busy mode because of the slippery slope between down-time and procrastination. We fear that taking the weekend off might lead to taking another day off, and so forth and so on. 

Yes, procrastination is a real challenge, but luckily there are steps you can take to combat it. But on the opposite side of the spectrum is being busy, and it's important to keep in mind that being busy can be just as straining on our productivity. We need time to recover from the adrenaline-fueled rush of our days. We need to refuel our bodies and our minds. And by taking time-off we’re actually storing up our energy so that we can be more productive and efficient. 

So if you ever feel guilty for taking a break, remind yourself that you’ll actually perform better when you’re well-rested. 

Reflection

It’s good to have targets to aim for, but if we’re constantly in productivity mode, we’re not actually taking the time to reflect on our progress or problem-solve issues that arise. If you find yourself leaping from one task to the next, take the time to reflect on your experience so far. With your planner, take a look at your monthly or weekly progress and ask yourself: How are you feeling? What have you learned? What challenges have you encountered? How would you do things differently?

This reflection period will equip you with the insights and perspective you need to stay on the right track. 

Opportunities

Having a flexible schedule can allow you to follow your intuition and explore things that are sparking your interest. 

Free time means that the next time an interesting work assignment comes your way, you can say yes instead of declining. Or you can have an impromptu lunch with a friend. Or go on a spontaneous trip with your family. Or visit a museum to finally see that exhibit you’ve been meaning to check out.

Maybe these impromptu experiences will lead to exciting opportunities. Maybe that work assignment will introduce you to interesting clients. Or that museum visit will inspire your creativity. But even if the event doesn’t lead to anything, at least you did something that was spur of the moment, and adventurous. You were following your curiosity and intuition, and that is something you can not plan for.

How to make room for free time

We can’t create more hours in the day, but we can assess how we use that time in a fulfilling way.

Take a look at your schedule and see if you genuinely want to do all the things that are currently on there. Similar to the Marie Kondo decluttering philosophy, examine the tasks and events on your calendar and ask if they bring you joy. Are they aligned with your values, interests, or your yearly intention?

We can’t always decline work meetings or deadlines, but maybe there are events or tasks you can delegate to others so that you can free up your schedule.

Or if your weekend is packed with obligations, try canceling one or two, or all of them. 

It might be uncomfortable at first to see a blank calendar, but let this spark your imagination and sense of adventure. See where the day takes you. Maybe you’ll even discover your next great idea when you’re doing nothing at all.