How to get the most out of a boring job

Being unhappy at work is the worst. We spend so much of our time there – it’s sad to think we’re just wasting that portion of our lives away.

Most of my job dissatisfaction comes from boredom. I miss college where your schedule of classes only lasted a semester. I loved that I was always learning something new. I also loved that if one class was mega boring, I just had to survive it for a few months and then I’d be able to move onto something totally new.

Unfortunately it seems like once you enter the working world, things don’t work that way. Yes, you get new projects at work, but for me, they aren’t new enough. I need an entirely new company with entirely new products to learn about.

I met with a friend recently who doesn’t quite hate her job, but she’s definitely bored. And not the kind of bored where she has nothing to work on; it’s the kind of bored where she has plenty to do, but she finds it all SO BORING. Like she will find any excuse to do something other than her work because she doesn’t have a good excuse for why she’s falling asleep at her desk at all hours of the day.

We talked about her options: look for a new job or stay where she’s at. Or ramp up her caffeine intake. While she knows she eventually wants to look for a new job, now isn’t the right time. So how can she make the most of her current situation?

Research

First, I asked her if she wants to do the same kind of work when she’s in her next role. She knows she doesn’t want to do exactly the same kind of work, but she wants to stick with something that would be a good transfer of her skills – she’s not willing to take a big pay cut to start over in a completely unrelated field. I asked if the work she’s doing right now will help her get her future job, and she was a little unsure.

“I don’t feel like I’m learning anything with the work I’m doing,” she said. “It’ll be nice to say I did this work, but I truly don’t think I’ve learned anything about this skill – once I’m in the new role, they’ll realize I’m an impostor.”

“Does it have to be that way? Can you push yourself to learn these things, even if you don’t need to know the info in order to be successful at your current job?”

“Oh…”

It’s like it never occurred to her that even though she’s not required to have this knowledge in her current role, she could take it upon herself to learn the more advanced skills.

I’m sounding pretty judgmental right now, aren’t I? How rude! I’ve been in this same position before. I think sometimes you get in a rut and you just throw yourself one pity party after another. That’s what I would do, and I’d stay in that rut until I had no other choice but to go into hardcore job-hunt mode. This is what I’ve had to do to myself: be rude and judgmental to snap myself out of my clouded ruts.

So I asked her, “OK, we just figured out one area where you could force yourself to learn more. What other aspects of your job would allow you to learn more and hone your skills in order to make yourself more marketable for a future role?”

We were able to come up with a short list of items for her to research and practice.

I’ve done this in previous roles myself. It’s kind of a win-win. Not only are you learning and adding skills to your arsenal, but it also gives you something to pass the time when maybe you are a bit…bored. In some of my previous roles, I had plenty to do, but didn’t feel a sense of urgency to get the work done, similar to my friend. By setting aside a chunk of time for research and practice, it meant I had less time to get my work done…which created some urgency! So I was learning and becoming more motivated to get my current work done, all at the same time.

Network

Since my friend was a little unsure about what her next role would be, I told her another thing she should be doing is networking. My recommendation was to network internally, just to capitalize on easy introductions and coffee dates since she’d be in the same building or general vicinity. I told her that a great thing that comes from networking is that you not only learn about different areas of the company, but you also might learn about a few additional people you should talk to, both internally and externally. Hearing other people talk about what they do on a daily or weekly basis can usually give you a good idea whether it’s something you could see yourself doing. It also helps you see the personality of the team, and provides some insight (possibly) on the leader. It doesn’t hurt to learn what future roles along that career path would be either, just so you’re prepared.

While it would be great to just move to a new role whenever we wanted, sometimes we need to stay put, whether we have a choice or not. I have a few friends who work for an organization that has amazing flexibility and other perks, but also has a long list of incredibly frustrating aspects. But the good perks, including better pay than most other employers, keep my friends in place. They all say the same thing: “I have to figure out how to change my mindset.” For me, it’s been impossible to change my mindset. Reminding myself how good I have it or how bad it is at other places never seems to help me. I have to figure out a new goal. Networking and learning are the only goals that have worked successfully for me.

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