There’s a platitude that goes something like if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. The sentiment there is nice, but it’s wholly untrue. Even if you love what you do, it’s still work. And some days, it’s Work with a capital W. On those days, the 2 pm slump hits or any of a thousand different reasons means that you get bored at work. Fortunately, there are still some fun things you can do that will keep you productive, even if they’re not quite in your job description.
1. Write to a Professional Contact
This is an especially salient point if you’re the kind of person who wants to stay in contact with people but often fails to follow through on it. You may like the idea of having coffee or grabbing lunch with someone you met at a conference or who works in a different department, but setting it up just never happens.
So if you want to know what to do when bored at work, one of the simplest is to toss one of these contacts an email, say hello, and see if they’d like to get together sometime. It doesn’t even have to be a professional contact, but since you’re at work, it probably should be.
We list this as a fun thing because it engenders relationships and kicks up the dopamine in your brain. In many cases, doing this once will spur you to write at least one more while you’re at it.
2. Research Conferences in Your Field
Think about this like you’re planning a vacation and getting paid for it. Because in some ways you are. Conferences are an excellent way to improve your professional development, make new friends and contacts (whom you can email at a later date when you’re bored at work), improve your knowledge and skill set, and increase your company’s profile within your industry.
Best of all, though: many conferences are held in amazing locations. If you’re in the WordPress world, WordCamp Orlando and Orange County are definitely worth a look. Every industry has conferences like this in great places. Some towns like San Antonio, TX even work hard to attract conferences and have a lot of attractions for folks in town.
No matter what your industry, if you’re bored, a simple Google search of [Industry name] conferences [year] will return a lot of results. Or at least more than a few.
Best of all: most employers have a professional development line item in their budgets, but they get claimed fast. If you have even the inkling of somewhere you want to go, do some research and talk to your superiors.
And pro-tip: if you apply to be a speaker, the chances are higher that your boss will agree to the trip. After that, it’s all palm trees, mojitos, and research & development and data analysis panel discussions.
3. Listen to a Podcast or TED Talk
Both of these are abundant on YouTube, iTunes, and pretty much everywhere else. Even if your workplace has YouTube or other streaming services blocked, you likely have a cellphone with a few extra gigs of data to spare.
You’re also probably wearing headphones if you’re in an office.
But what if your boss walks by and sees you hunched over and watching a video on your iPhone? Just smile and point at it and say:
“Oh, I found a TED Talk about cognitive dissonance in office workers and how it affects productivity. I can send you the link if you want.”
How many bosses would fault you for that?
4. Start a Podcast or a Blog
If you’re the creative type, planning and launching a blog or podcast using the knowledge of your field can be a lot of fun. You might need to get your superiors’ permission for this, but you can very easily set yourself and your company up as industry leaders by starting and taking part in conversations.
Depending on what your workplace is like, taking on a project like this could become part of your work duties, even. It could spur conference panels and presentations and generate exposure for you and your company.
It may also be tempting to work on your side-hustle blog or podcast, too. But that gets into some shadiness because you’re at work and getting paid. With that in mind, a podcast or blog is a really fun way to engage with your job in a way that can keep the boredom from creeping back in.
5. Work on a Presentation for your Boss
Now, hear us out. We aren’t suggesting that it’s fun to work on your assignments when you’re bored. You’re bored at work for a reason. But you can have a bit of fun putting together a presentation of your own ideas for a suggestion that you’ve been wanting to make. Maybe it’s an improved workflow that will make your daily life easier (and others’, too) or that a lunch book club would improve morale. You might need an intern, and this is how you find the time to get around to asking for one.
Whatever it is, switching gears for an afternoon of working on something you’ve been bouncing around in the back of your mind is a fantastic way to break out of that rut. And because it’s a work project you’re suggesting, the research and presentation time are still being funneled back into the company.
6. Plan/Research a Retreat
Not everyone may be in the position to do this, but those of you that are, listen up. If your company or your team ever goes on retreat, taking an afternoon to work on researching locations and activities can really liven up your day. Not only do you get to look for cool places to go and hang out (again, a mini-vacation on work’s behalf), but you can also file away some of the rejects for your own use later. Don’t let that research on the best cities to travel in South America go to waste!
Also, by doing this, you’re still ticking something off your to-do list. It might not be the task at the top, but it’s something that you would have to do eventually anyway. And looking at Italian hotels and travel arrangements is a lot more fun than reworking spreadsheet formulas.
7. Sneak Into an Idol’s DMs
Whether it’s through a blog or on social media, you follow people you don’t know because you respect them. Not so much celebrities or brand accounts (though everyone respects Wendy’s Twitter account), but industry leaders and influencers and thought provokers. Because you look up to them. But you never talk to them, do you?
Well, when you’re bored at work, it’s time to say hi. It’s time to sneak right into their DMs and let them know who you are. It’s fun to interact with people we look up to, and sometimes you can really make a fantastic connection or friend this way.
Blogs and websites have email forms and contact pages. Draft up a quick paragraph about how their work has helped you in some way, and maybe link to something that you’ve included their ideas in and are proud of. Most people try to check their emails and get back to fans or followers.
If it’s on social, the same thing applies. Draft up a quick hello message and introduce yourself. It’s can be a ton of fun to come up with quirky ways to stand out from the crowd. And if you’ve set up a blog or podcast like in #4 above, ask them to be a guest or do an interview. People tend to say yes a lot more often than you’d think.
Being able to sit down or have a call with someone you admire is both nerve-wracking and unabashedly fun.
8. Tidy Up
Every list on what to do when bored at work includes cleaning your desk/office/cubicle. But we want to just briefly touch on it because this can be fun when taken in the right context. When you do it in a way that, to steal Marie Kondo’s signature phrase, sparks joy in you.
Look around your office/cubicle/space and at your desk. Your workspace.
Does it make you happy? Do you like being there?
If the answer is no, then do something about it. Declutter things that, once again, don’t spark joy or aren’t necessary. And then make a list of the things that actually would make you happy. Things that would make your work life a little better. Maybe that’s a mini-fridge or a poster of a kitten telling you to hang in there.
By tidying up and realizing what you actually like about being there, you can set yourself up to get more of that stuff while getting rid of the stuff that’s just kind of there for no reason. And buying new stuff for yourself is always fun.
9. Send a (Kind of) Silly Email Blast
If you’re able to, writing up an email for your list that has more personality in it can be a lot of fun. As long as it sticks to your brand’s strategy and company mission, you can have a lot of fun with your email list.
Fun headlines get people’s attention. Puns work great for this. So do emoji.
Using animated gifs and memes to punctuate your copy can generate more engagement and higher click-through rates.
You can even write in a different voice and tone than usual, making use of rhyme or alliteration, or even try to mimic the style of a particular writer (try a marketing email for a product written like Ernest Hemingway). Whatever it is, being a little sillier than normal can sprinkle a bit of fun into your day that might not have been there otherwise.
Now You Know What to Do When Bored at Work
While none of these are amusement park or day-at-the-beach kind of fun, they’re a lot more enjoyable than spinning around in your desk chair, staring at the ceiling, and wondering if 5:00 will ever get there. If you think about it, there are probably a lot of things you can do when you’re bored at work that are actually fun and affect your job in some way, but you haven’t done them because they’re not directly on your to-do list or calendar.
So set those things aside, pick one of these things, and beat that afternoon slump.