9 Ways to Get More Out of a Boring Job

With jobs at a premium, many of us are forced to take what we can get. And sometimes what we can get requires even less brain power than our “leisure studies” minor. Here’s how to make it better.

Day in, day out, same shit different day.

This is not how humans were meant to survive. Sitting in a cubicle or an office or staring at a computer screen for eight hours may not cause you to hate your job, but it is worse: It’s boring.

Routines can be good, sure. Forcing yourself to wake up at 6 a.m. and head to work is something of a blessing. It’s called a “work ethic” in some circles. But for those of us who need a little more, the whole S.S.D.D. thing gets old within a couple weeks.

And for those of you who want to get more out of working in a fluorescent-lit, ceiling-tiled hell, it comes down to a mindset: You probably can’t change your workplace into something resembling the Google offices — taking the giant metallic slide downstairs could be ruinous on your suit — but you can change the way you go about doing your work.

1. Set Short-Term Goals Throughout The Day

Whether you’re in it for the long haul building the foundation of a career or just building a worthy resume for future employment, most success experts always say the same thing: Be goal-oriented. The problem is, some of us are too big of fans of instant gratification to look ahead 10 years.

That’s where short-term goals come in. If you’re a person who thrives on working toward something (aside from the paycheck, that is), think of it like this. Every new day is like a new mission. With each mission comes a set of objectives. Fulfill each objective to move onto the next one and, at the end, feel as though you’ve successfully completed the mission. Fill out 50 forms in 20 minutes? Hell, I’ll send you a miniature trophy for that one myself.

Sure, this is basically a glorified checklist, but the mission/objective mindset makes things more serious. Even if the lives of a school bus full of children aren’t on the line, simply thinking of the boring 9-5 as a mission to get through can change things for the better.

Please note that this isn’t a call to go through the hallways in a full combat glide in a ghillie suit. That being said, achievements are a proven motivator. Just look at some of the video games out now. (A hundred headshots. Hell yeah, bro.) And if your job is really that boring, you’ve probably played those games during your downtime and know the raw, cathartic waves of victoriousness that wash over your fatigued bodies when the little trophies pop up on the screen.

2. Build (Professional) Relationships Within the Workplace

If you’re truly bored at work, that probably means you’re a big fish in a small pond. Or, well, just not doing your work. Both situations aren’t ideal by any means.

Playing the odds here, there is probably someone within earshot who feels exactly the same way you do. Although you may not end up rising through the ranks and owning the company in the next year together, just having the comfort that you’re not alone in your boredom can help. Not even just boredom, actually. Having someone or multiple people there you can talk to — people who you save stories to tell to Monday — is a commodity.

During some rough patches while I was working in the past, I was able to work through them while facing some fairly ridiculous adversity — for some background, someone had told me I wasn’t  welcome in the workplace due to my ethnicity, among other things — because of the people. What got me through it were the people I worked with. More important than that, I worked for the people who worked for me and setting an example of fighting the good fight.

3. Count Your Blessing (Your Job)

It’s a simple concept, really, not warranting a lot of explanation. Think of it like this: There are people out there who are more educated than any of us. They have more experience. They are those who would take any job to support their families.

And they very well might take our job for less.

Since “job” and “hobby” aren’t interchangeable for most of us, hang tough. You have the one thing 8.3 percent of Americans (as of the end of July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) say they don’t have — and want: employment.

4. Step Up Onto the First Rung of the Corporate Ladder

If you’re looking to stay within the company, take a look at advancement. This, actually, is something of an evolved version of step one.

Being productive and showing your boss that you are indeed a hungry, driven employee is something that usually doesn’t go unnoticed. Getting all your tasks done on time or, better yet, ahead of time, means that, despite the monotony of your current position, you are motivated.

Cutting your teeth, earning your stripes, paying your dues, whatever you call it, it’s something that’s done in every industry and field. Whether you’re reaching your quota of dispersing free trial memberships or rewriting press releases with finesse, actively doing your job and letting the people who matter know you want to do it well is failsafe.

If it comes to it, take some initiative and ask the higher-ups if you can help with anything. You may be surprised when you’re inundated with responsibility, but that could be a good thing.

5. Tunes

Music is a wonderful thing. The right type of song can make the most tedious, monotonous work seem like something completely different. If you’re allowed to listen to music, take full advantage of it. Get some good headphones and ride it out.

Example: Imagine sitting in a room and attempting to thread a needle. Put on John Coltrane’s Wise One. How relaxing. Now, think of doing it while listening to the Mission Impossible theme.

I can attest to the fact that music has a truly remarkable effect on people. One day, I found myself walking through the office, wordlessly giving people a bag of rubber bands, going to the computer and putting Ecstasy of Gold from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly on full blast. Cue the most epic rubber band Mexican standoff in history during which guys were literally riding office chairs on their knees between desks.

Even if you prefer to do things mindlessly, there’s a band for that. And if you work best while angry,  there must be a Nickelback/Justin Bieber playlist out there somewhere.

6. Educate Yourself

In a fun way. If you’re finding yourself with constant time to kill — not just I-don’t-want-to-work time, but legitimate I-have-nothing-to-do-because-I’ve-done-everything-time — read up on anything.

Don’t go about dicking around reading something that won’t enrich your life or, hell, even your work experience. If you’re truly passionate about what you do but want a challenge, the Internet is overflowing with information about how to do whatever your job is better.

7. Eyes on the Prize

Keep something in the back of your mind to look forward to. Even put it down on paper if you must. I have a letter from my parents attached to the sun visor of my car that I read when I need motivation. In it, my father wrote, “Never, ever stop chasing your dreams.”

Even if it’s just a weekend hanging out with your best friend, there’s always something to look forward to. If your job is just awful, you have the weekend to look forward to. Or even clocking out. Thunderheads clear up eventually.

While this is also kindred to being a goal-oriented person, it’s more of a personal angle. This isn’t the mission, this is the pint after the mission and everyone’s home safe.

Keep your career in mind, your cash flowing and a positive outlook. Life is a journey, my friends, and if you have a clear view of the oasis a mile out, fall in and make a break for it.

8. If All Else Fails, Take Full Advantage of Being Off the Clock

If everything has failed, if no hope, no shimmer of light at the end of the tunnel remains, if all your goals have been achieved and nothing gets better, just live it up outside of work.

Do so much that, at the next morning at work, you’re just glad to have some time to sit down or relax. Make sure you can actually function, of course, but if you have no choice but to expend little energy at work, make it so the energy you have to expend and the brain power you have to use is challenging.

Hey, desperate times call for desperate measures.

9. Finally, Look For A New Job

If you’re confident enough that what you’re doing isn’t for you, it may be time to pack up. I’ll put the disclaimer here that this isn’t telling everyone to leave the job they’re in with starry-eyed hopes of becoming the next Anthony Bourdain, but if it really is that mind-numbing and impossible to fix, get something lined up that isn’t.

Leaving a comfortable, but boring job is something of a risk. Being unemployed is, by most measures, worse than having a tedious job.

Luckily for us, the Internet has largely replaced classifieds pages. Websites have more in-depth job descriptions and allow for instant communication via email, too.

Before you head out the door, though, truly evaluate what you’re doing. Is moving on for the best? Is it more detrimental to stay than go? Most importantly, can you survive without the job? It’d be paradise to be able to make decent money at what we truly love doing, but this is reality.

Be smart about how you steer your life and career, but never, ever stop chasing your dreams.

Gin Ando is a news junkie and coffee addict. He currently works in advertising and cannot stop writing. As a post-college twentysomething, he too is navigating the adult world. And he needs friends. Follow him on Twitter @GinAAndo.

  • Tim

    Awesome post. I know I can relate to being bored and lost at work most of these days. This does a good job at pointing out a few things we can all work towards for personal development to try and break out of the funk.

    Of course, I don’t see a bullet about reading Primer at work, what’s up with that? ;)

  • AH

    Thanks for the timely article. After watching 25 percent of my department get laid off earlier this year, I left a position in my chosen field to take a job as an executive assistant. The pay is generous and the benefits are unbelievably good – but I still can’t help occasionally feeling it was a step down in many ways. I’m grateful to have a job in these tough times, but it’s often hard for me to find meaning in my work.

    My situation is somewhat unique because my office is a branch of a larger organization. The staff consists entirely of me and my boss, and he’s frequently on the road. I’m by myself most of the time, with very little connection to anyone at my company’s headquarters.

    That said, numbers 1, 3, 5, and 7 have been key for keeping my spirits up Monday through Friday. I focus on the fact that I need to support my wife while she finishes her senior year of college and try to pursue the tasks that are given to me with excellence. When my boss is gone and I don’t have much to do, I spend a lot of my time reading. I’ve also been able to take on freelance projects to further my long term goals.

    I still have days that drag on from time to time, but overall taking advice like this has really helped me stay upbeat.

  • Dan

    a job is a job is a job. no matter how menial take pride in your work and the fact that your being paid to perform a task. I guarantee there’s someone out there who would love to have your job. I don’t care if you get paid to shovel shit, be the best damn shit shoveler you can be. Your extra effort could mean a world of a difference.

    “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is to work hard at work worth doing.”
    Theodore Roosevelt

  • http://www.whyietc.com Daniel

    Agree with each point completely. A few of these work well for me because a couple of my jobs at college are really homework time, so staying focused can be hard when it is as boring as homework.

  • http://www.cheapestwaytotravelhq.com Kyle

    Best option is to spend that bored time at work to create your own job on the side. Being locked into work from 9-5 or longer everyday just doesnt make any sense to me. You’re obligated to be there no matter how hard or efficient you work which is a flawed system. I spend my down time creating my own blog which I’ve created in hopes that it can hopefully give me the flexibility I want.

  • Brandon R

    What fonts are you using in the header image?

  • Henry

    My job is routine and boring. At every company, I turn the job into a game. The company’s profit is the score. If I a find a million savings or profits that nobody is looking it, I get excited. Today, I found a potential loss of $2 mil after doing some research. Emails are flying around from the VP and people are coming to me for help. I love it.

    Next month, I will be focused on killing that score.

    It definitely pays off. I am in a low level non-management position. We are not eligible for bonuses. However, my boss got SVP approval for bonuses for 2 years in a row.

  • Gin A. Ando

    Thanks for the comments, guys. I really do appreciate hearing from readers.

    Dan: You are absolutely correct. One of my favorite quotes comes from Martin Luther King Jr. to the same effect–Be the best little shrub on the side of the hill.

    Henry: You’re the embodiment of this article and a far more patient man than I. I’m sure people will take notice of what you’re doing, but, from what I gather from your comment, personal pride and satisfaction goes a long way for someone like you.

  • http://virilitas.com/ Shawn (Virilitas.com)

    Good suggestions, Gin; numbers 5 & 7 have gotten me through many days/weeks/months of work that I couldn’t have tolerated, otherwise.