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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Boredom Kills Braincells and Profits 

Boredom is not just an annoyance -– it can also be harmful to your and your employees'’ health and productivity. This is true even for the highest-ranked and most powerful executives and appointees, though el WaPo fails to distinguish that bored cabinet members get to look out their picture windows onto the National Mall, while bored cubicle-workers get, at best, to hit 'refresh'’ on CNN.com over and over again. The homeless at least get to surf for porn.

I would argue that high school students are more affected by boredom than many other groups'– and that it probably hurts them the most. Yesterday, CNN ran a story about how high school students wish their courses were more demanding, which doesn'’t surprise me in the least.
I went to a highly regarded high school, and it was a challenging school for those who were highly self-motivated. Sometime about the 8th grade, however, I discovered that I could work really hard and get A's, or I could play video games, write bullshit, and get B's. Three guesses which one I chose. This decision was never really called into question, except by a couple of teachers my senior year (advanced bio and constitutional law, the only really hard classes I took in HS), when it was too late. So, I was bored and spent huge swaths of time skipping '‘real'’ classes and hiding in the darkroom. I arrived at college completely unprepared for the workload.

My first real job out of college was a lovely example of unnecessary boringness. I was working in a biochem lab, where there really was some cool stuff going on. The thing was, my boss was too enamored with his ideas about age and experience and status to realize that he could give me more than menial tasks. So, while he rushed around overworked and stressed, I sat at my desk, reading books (we had no internet -– gasp!) and waiting on PAGE runs to finish or, when I was lucky, waiting for a Western blots to happen. He couldn’t grasp that I, with a mere bachelor's degree, could possibly do anything so advanced as … anything. So I was bored. I was miserable. And I quit. At my current job, though it is infinitely better in every way, I still spend too much time on tasks which in no way engage my imagination, or even any of my real skills or talents. But bored sometimes is better than all the time!

What can we do about boredom in the workplace? I don'’t really know, but if you dig past some of his pedantry, Paul Graham may have a good idea.

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