Are you ever in a meeting or talking to someone 1-1 and just zone out, missing what they were saying? And, when you realize this, you’re at a loss as to how to find out what you missed. Then maybe you are angry at the person for going on so long or embarrassed you didn’t pay attention.
Other times, when you’re working solo on a work or home project, do you find yourself so far off course from your original intention with no idea how you got there? Maybe even hours have passed since you started down the rabbit hole.
Then there are the times you feel an incredible sense of restlessness, but can’t decide what to do. So, maybe you end up flitting from one activity to another, not accomplishing much of anything. Alternatively, you impulsively start something, not really considering whether is important or not.
Does any of the above sound familiar to you?
In each of the above instances what you may be experiencing is boredom. And, while everyone experiences boredom, for sure, your boredom may be exacerbated by your ADHD.
ADHD and Boring Work
Yes, of course, everyone is bored on occasion.
But adults with ADHD may experience extreme boredom because of the understimulation they feel due to the lack of sufficient neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine, in the prefrontal cortex. It would be an understatement to say that this low stimulation can be incredibly intolerable for some ADHD adults.
As a result, you may externalize your boredom by getting into action to feed your need for stimulation. When this action is positive — exercising, working on important projects, etc. — it might not be problematic.
However, if the need for stimulation leads you to engage in risky behaviors — picking a fight, drinking or taking drugs, driving fast, etc. — you may suffer serious negative short-term and long-term consequences.
While the consequences might not be nearly as catastrophic, your need for stimulation might lead you to engage in time wasting activities, such as surfing the Internet or watching TV.
Alternatively, you may internalize the boredom and just shut down. That is, you may feel incredibly lethargic, unable to get into action. If you experience this, you can find yourself lying on the couch, thinking you are tired. But, in fact, you may be bored. Does this ever happen to you?
However you experience boredom the question is, “What can you do to manage it so it doesn’t get in your way?”
Step # 1 Know When You Are Bored
The first step is to be aware of when you’re bored. This may seem obvious and simple, but it is neither, really.
For example, many adults with ADHD can become frustrated when they feel bored. And so, while they may be able to identify the frustration, they may be missing the root cause of the frustration, which is that they are bored.
Also, as I noted above, you may think you are tired when really you are bored. But, if you think you are tired and decide to take a nap, you may feel even more lethargic. You see how this can become a vicious cycle. And to break this cycle what you may need in the moment is stimulation, not a nap!
So, it is important to learn what boredom feels like for you. Is it a restlessness, like you’re ready to crawl out your skin? Alternatively, do you feel incredibly sleepy? How do you feel boredom in your body? Knowing your triggers is the first step in managing your boredom.
The next step is choosing how to manage your boredom.
“When I get bored a second feels like a minute, a minute feels like an hour, an hour to me is like a day and a day is like a month. Boredom becomes frustration and frustration becomes anger.” ~ Newsletter Subscriber
Step # 2 Identify the Payoff of Doing the Task
When you have a visceral connection to the reward — payoff — for doing a task the brain’s Reward System kicks into gear. And when this happens dopamine is released to various parts of the brain, activating your motor functions, intention, and memory pathways.
Bottom line, it is easier to do a task when it is important to you — there is a payoff. That probably makes sense to you. Yet, you may look at your long list of to do’s, feel overwhelmed and see it as an undifferentiated long list of “stuff I don’t have time to do.”
Check out the examples of Joe and Hillary below
Joe and the Recycling
For example, while Joe agreed to take care of the recycling, he consistently bypassed the overflowing bin, leading to arguments with his spouse. When he decided the importance of doing it was to support his spouse his resistance fell away. And he came up with a strategy to make sure he took it out regularly.
Hillary and Updates
Hillary was struggling to get weekly updates to her boss by their Tuesday 1 – 1 meetings. And, each time her boss called her on it, Hillary’s resentment grew. Finally, she tapped into her desire to be a dependable professional who follows through, and her resistance diminished.
While this certainly won’t get you to the finish line, identifying the importance of a task to you is the first step in getting you to the starting line. Because, without a good reason for doing the task, you will likely continue to gloss over it.
Your turn. Choose a task you find boring and uncover the payoff for you.
Step # 3 Decide on an Approach to a Task
To put your best self forward, the next step is to decide on how you can approach tasks that are not intrinsically interesting to you by discovering answers to the following questions:
- Am I clear on the desired outcome, as well as how to do the task?
- What time of day is best for me to work on this task?
- How should I structure the time I spend on this task — one hour every day, 1x a week for three hours with breaks, etc.? How should I structure my breaks?
- What’s the best environment for me to do this task — a noisy coffeehouse, a quiet office, my patio, etc.?
- What kind of support, including accountability, would be helpful to help me follow through?
- Would it help to time when I do the task to when I take my medication?
What else could you do to make it possible to tackle tasks that are boring for you?
Step #4 Practice Getting Comfortable Being Bored
We know no matter what you do some tasks are just going to be boring. We also know that with repeated practice our habits become more entrenched as we strengthen the neural pathways in our brain.
So, if every time you are feeling bored, you become frustrated and turn away from the task that is boring and toward some form of stimulation, like playing with your phone or surfing the Internet, this will become your habit. Maybe this is true for you now.
What if you could learn to put up with a little boredom? Okay, stop yelling at the screen. I know this may not be easy, especially as an adult with ADHD. Yet, I think you can do this if you are willing to put up with a little initial discomfort.
The next time you’re confronted with a boring task:
- Remind yourself you may feel little bored and it might not be that comfortable.
- Create a warm-up routine to make it easier to start.
- Focus on persistent starting, rather than how boring the task will be.
- Limit the amount of time so you only have to be bored for a short amount of time. 🙂
Because it’s impossible to avoid all boring tasks. And it makes it that much harder if you fight what is, right?
Question for You
What is one step you can take to date to manage the boredom you feel when you try to tackle a task that is currently on your plate?