Fighting Boredom. Politely

From time to time, I get bored. It happens to the best of us, right? And when I’m bored, I have been known to get inventive to find ways to stop being bored. In the days of smartphones, it usually doesn’t take much to find a distraction to fill however much time you need to fill. Just keep scrolling through Facebook, and it’ll keep churning out stuff it thinks will entertain you, and it’s usually right.

But sometimes it’s just not possible to take out a phone and sit there idly thumbing through the interwebs. Well, I suppose it’s technically possible, but it’s far from polite. There are many situations where it’s a no-no to stare at your phone instead of the person you’re supposed to be meeting with or listening to.

And yet often those meetings are boring. Very, very boring. Soooooooo boring. And so very long. What’s worse is that sometimes I’ll find myself in a meeting listening to things that have nothing to do with why I came to the meeting in the first place. I could be watching paint dry and be more productive.

So what do you do in those situations?

Here are a few of the things I’ve found work for me.

  • Plot out my next book or scene–true, this only works for writers, but it’s a pretty great trick if you’re ever working on a plot. A lot of that work requires time to think things through properly. The best thing about this is that it also requires you to make notes and look like you’re excited (because when you come up with a new good idea, you *are* excited). Ironically, I almost never take notes at meetings. (The only exception is when I’m committing to actually doing things. I note those down, because lists.) So if you see me writing things down in a meeting, and I haven’t just agreed to do something later? There’s a fairly good chance I’m coming up with ideas for my next book or my next scene.
  • Play the movie mashup game–Take one of your favorite movies. Now take the main character of that movie, and insert a character played by the same actor in a different movie. Chuckle at the result. Rinse, and repeat. I’ll give you a couple of examples. Lee Pace plays Thranduil in the Hobbit movies. He also plays Ronan in Guardians of the Galaxy, and the Pie Maker in Pushing Daisies. What would the Hobbit movies be like if Ronan were to show up? Or if Thranduil could touch dead people to bring them back to life? See? Funny. Or how about Groundhog Day Bill Murray being inserted into Ghostbusters in lieu of Venkman? Amusing! One lovely benefit of this game is it often can lead to ideas for my next book. Multi-tasking for the win!
  • Get other work done. Sometimes if it’s a big meeting, you can appear to be doing work for that meeting when you’re actually doing work for another meeting. I (obviously) don’t use this for important meetings I attend, but I (definitely) do it for long drawn out waste of time meetings like, say, school board meetings where I’m there to vote to pass the budget. My only reason for attending those meetings is to raise my hand at a key point in time. All the bloviating by budget hawks ahead of time? Don’t care to listen to that, thank you very much. So I will bring other things I need to get done. (Plus, the internet speeds in those rooms are usually abysmal, as so many other people are trying to turn to their phone for distraction at the same time.)
  • This is a bit dated, but an old game I’d used to play was “phonetically transcribe the speaker.” Because I’m a linguist, and a geek. I’m rusty on my phonetic transcription skills these days, but I’ll sometimes still turn my focus from what’s being said to how it’s being said, instead. Pick apart accents. Epenthesis is a really fun thing to listen for. It’s when a sound intrudes into places where it doesn’t really belong. Adding /p/ to “something” for example (pronounced sumpthing).

So what techniques do you use? Please share, as I’m sure I could use a few approaches. The number of meetings I find myself in only seems to increase . . .

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