The value of boredom

Being someone who schedules everything into fifteen-minute blocks in their calendar, you can understand why having my first baby due in less than two months may have caused me some anxiety.

The anxiety didn’t come from a fear of not coping with being a new mum or being busier, instead, a fear of being bored.

Don’t get me wrong, I know when she arrives I will have my hands full, but it also means handing over the five projects I am currently managing, missing out on stimulating strategy meetings at work and, at times, being home alone without any adult interaction for long periods of time.

What do people do for hours while feeding a baby? What keeps their mind active? 

I had always liked being busy, wearing it as a badge of honour. I was proud to respond to the question of “How are you?” with, “I am so busy!”.  

It made me feel important, it validated my life and, I admit, I judged people who weren’t. I figured they were not driven enough to fill their days, hours, minutes.

It wasn’t until recently that I realised being busy didn’t necessarily mean I was being the most productive or creative with my time.

A few things changed this perception for me. 

1) Island time

Being married to a Fijian often means we go by “island time.” Spending time in the village in Fiji with family, I learned that slowing down physically often meant my mind sped up creatively. 

With no phone reception, no Vespa to speed me around and no expectations from others, I learned to take my time and look around me. It’s amazing how a seemingly mundane job like scraping coconuts can allow your mind to wander and dream.

I am learning to appreciate the time away from technology, realising the world goes on without me online. I am learning to walk more slowly and sit away from the crowd.

2) Letting go of expectations on self

My friend Sarah once said to me, “Don’t should on yourself”. What she was saying is, stop putting unnecessary expectations on myself. That I should be being doing this, I should be reading that, I should have achieved something by a certain time. It’s exhausting trying to keep up with yourself sometimes. So why do we do it? 

Instead, I learned to rephrase sentences with, “It would be great if…” or “I would love to have the opportunity to…” It sounds simple, but it’s helped me gain perspective and also stop putting ‘should’ on others.

3) The realisation that being bored could be a good thing

I watched a TED talk by Manoush Zomorodi, called How boredom can lead to your most brilliant ideas. If you get a chance, it’s worth watching.

I realised things needed to change. I had created an identity for myself that was not only highly unsustainable but also built on a false pretence that the more I did, the more I could achieve. 

Ever since I was a child, I had feared to be bored, having nothing to do, and more recently, I had feared being stuck at home with a baby. Perhaps I had just been worried that I myself would become boring and irrelevant. More likely it was the fear of mission out, or not achieving enough that drove me to say yes to everything.

Recently I have been listening to the Podcast by Jocelyn K. Glei called, Hurry Slowly, a reminder why we need to pace ourselves and manage our attention more intelligently. 

I also read a great article by Fidji Simo, Facebook's VP of Product, who credits her incredible strategy for team productivity to five months of bed rest during her pregnancy. It forced her to work remotely, and deeply and consider what was important and cut out anything that was not focused.

Forced maternity leave or not, I now realise how important it is to allow time in our lives for the ‘nothing’, for the boredom, for the tasks that allow us to slip into “default mode” and dream of greater things. 

When was the last time you were bored?

Lauren Vilitati