Still work in progress. Updating this post for 2023 as many of the things in this list have changed.
To use your time wisely identify productive things to do when bored that will get you a tiny closer to your goals.
It’s impossible to always be productive. According to Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work, your mental capacity is limited to 3-4 hours of cognitively intense work in a day.
Procrastination is inevitable, so you better prepare yourself to procrastinate productively.
Here’s my list of productive things to do when bored at work or life.
Due to my insatiable curiosity, which I see as a feature not a bug, I repeatedly fail to produce results on a consistent basis. For that reason, I like to setup semi-productive things I can do while avoiding real work.
I call it the “prodcrastination” list, as you guessed it, the unlikely child of productivity and procrastination. While procrastination is seen as bad in our society, it’s an inevitable part of our daily lives.
“Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well.” – Mark Twain
The most productive and successful people putter and procrastinate. Some of them quite a lot, but that doesn’t mean they procrastinate the same way you do. They might consciously choose where to direct that attention and energy from the project or a task they avoid engaging with.
Zen Habits founder, Leo Babauta, confessed on his blog, how he gets people to think he’s productive, how he sets up his work day so he gets stuff done while slacking off and getting lost on the internet.
“On my best days, I’ll get writing and a lot of admin tasks done, but that doesn’t always happen.” – Leo Babauta
Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein, regarded as very creative and productive people, were procrastinators but they were doing other things while avoiding the real work that led to many discoveries and inventions that impacted your life.
One thing that is becoming more clear to me is that you must understand what are your strengths and double-down on them instead of trying to always push yourself through resistance. I have a feeling, long-term you can't win against someone doing something effortlessly just because they like it.
Maybe Steve Jobs knew something saying "If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on."
Get the Foundations Right
To procrastinate semi-productively, lay strong foundations for your career and life. You need to identify indirectly related tasks, activities, topics, questions, and subjects.
I'm still trying to define myself but I mostly identify as a founder with particular interest in marketing and design. At this point in my career, I'm juggling with growth marketing and growing Best Writing.
My work these days is business development, accounting, copywriting, product design, management, sales, marketing, design, automation, SEO, outreach.
These are the topics I am interested in and can wander in my free time when I’m not obligated to produce anything meaningful. In these moments, I’m more relaxed and am able to make unexpected connections in my brain.
I’m referring to the ideas you have when you are in a relaxed state, showering, walking and commuting.
Batching is a method of combining similar tasks and completing them in one go instead of switching between different activities that require mental recalibration.
Some tasks I batch and I do on a daily or weekly basis include: responding to customers, planning content, promoting content, gathering invoices, optimizing content.
My work is independent and highly creative. Reading books, relevant articles, stalking competition and bloggers I admire help me expose myself to ideas, concepts, and systems that help me produce my work faster, more quality and efficiency.
Other than that, having time to think and wander is the only way to stay fresh and focused on the big picture instead of obsessing over the tiny details and missing the forest for the trees.
“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
In 2008, The New York Times published a chat transcript between David Cameron and Barack Obama talking about taking a vacation and having that guilt-free time to think.
Mr. Cameron: You should be on the beach. You need a break. Well, you need to be able to keep your head together.
Mr. Obama: You’ve got to refresh yourself.
Mr. Cameron: Do you have a break at all?
Mr. Obama: I have not. I am going to take a week in August. But I agree with you that somebody, somebody who had worked in the White House who — not Clinton himself, but somebody who had been close to the process — said that should we be successful, that actually the most important thing you need to do is to have big chunks of time during the day when all you’re doing is thinking. And the biggest mistake that a lot of these folks make is just feeling as if you have to be …
Mr. Cameron: These guys just chalk your diary up.
Mr. Obama: Right. … In 15 minute increments and …
Mr. Cameron: We call it the dentist waiting room. You have to scrap that because you’ve got to have time.
Mr. Obama: And, well, and you start making mistakes or you lose the big picture. Or you lose a sense of, I think you lose a feel …
Mr. Cameron: Your feeling. And that is exactly what politics is all about. The judgment you bring to make decisions.
Mr. Obama: That’s exactly right. And the truth is that we’ve got a bunch of smart people, I think, who know 10 times more than we do about the specifics of the topics. And so if what you’re trying to do is micromanage and solve everything then you end up being a dilettante, but you have to have enough knowledge to make good judgments about the choices that are presented to you.
Productive Things to Do When Bored
(2023 update: Consider This by Chris Blachut, Marketing Examples by Harry Dry, The Creative Marketer by Shlomo Genchin, Growth.Design, Nat Eliason's Newsletter, Growth Newsletter, 1 by Jonathan Yagel.) Catch up on my favorite newsletters. Some of them: Trends, Makerpad, Monday Medley, Wandering Aimfully, and Recomendo.
(2023 update: I adopted Tsundoku a couple of years ago and stopped actively monitoring books I read, I prefer focusing on doing. Tsundoku is the Japanese word for the stack(s) of books you've purchased but haven't read.) Organize my reading list. I use Goodreads (mostly use for ratings and reviews) and Amazon Wishlist (mostly use to scroll it from time to time to see if there are any big discounts available).
(2023 update: ). Revise my commitments. Find ways to minimize tedious work and low impact tasks. I use Todoist.
Write and send a thank you email to someone who inspired me. Email a close friend or family member I haven’t spoken to in a while.
Review the services and tools. I use and eliminate the old and unused services. If the same thing can be done with one app, I don’t need to have three. Recently I deleted Evernote, Dropbox, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Study a new skill. Here are digital skills I suggest you learn. Here are my favorite go-to places: Skillshare, LinkedIn Learning (former Lynda), Google Courses, Coursera, and HubSpot Academy. I also made a list of the best content marketing courses.
Send a postcard to someone I haven’t talked in a long time (getting their address might be the hardest part). I use My Postcard app, use “BPBCCB” code for a free €3 credit.
Listen to my favorite lifestyle podcasts. There are many but the ones I keep coming back to are Lewis Howes, Tony Robbins, James Altucher, Tom Bilyeu and Tim Ferriss.
Go down the rabbit hole on Quora.
Organize. Everything from files, documents, photos, screenshots, sporadic notes, book notes, favorite quotes. I adopted the P.A.R.A. Method by Tiago Forte.
Curate quotes. Some of them get published in my weekly newsletter, Life Designed. Some turn into posts like mental toughness quotes, heartwarming quotes and more.
Stalk other bloggers and publications producing good content and check what performs well, in terms of targeted keyword volume, difficulty, competition, traffic, comments, shares. I use BuzzSumo, Semrush or Ahrefs.
Organize my Spotify playlists. These are designed to help me get into specific moods: focus, uplifting and tedious work. I listen to different music when I do different tasks. Writing, planning, thinking, editing requires mental focus and a sharp mind, for that reason I use my Deep Work playlist, mostly deep house and classical music. Some other playlists I use are Get Some! which is an uplifting workout playlist to get me into the mood of pumping iron or running and stretching myself a little harder every time.
Catch up on reading articles. I switched to Instapaper from Pocket primarily for the easier organization structure. With Instapaper, I get to see folders on the sidebar contrary to Pocket where I would need to use tags and will always forget to tag them or come up with ridiculous tags I never search for later. Both tools are great for offline reading and seamless sync between devices. What I loved the most about Pocket, was its content discovery tool. It worked like magic and I discovered a lot of relevant content.
Log my finances, analyze spending patterns and identify where I can cut costs, whether personal or business related. I use Wave Apps and YNAB for personal budgeting and tracking (it’s wonderful). You can get 34 days for free and if you sign up with my invite, you get a month of YNAB for free.
Write 10 ideas. A practice, popularized by James Altucher, the author of Choose Yourself!
Extract and organize book notes. I use these notes for future reference and sometimes publish on my blog, so you can read my notes and decide if the book is interesting for you.
Update my /now page.
Audit my blog’s content and fix indexing, performance, content, accessibility issues found via Google Webmasters tool.
Translate English words I highlighted while reading Kindle books.
Make lists of people I want to connect with and learn more by interviewing them for my habits and routines series.
Review my past commitments and decisions with new data and perspectives. It’s important to keep adapting instead of trying to plan everything in advance and sticking to the plan. Sometimes a new perspective, data or insight can make many things unnecessary or irrelevant. The ONE Thing, for example, impacted me a lot and I decided to quit Facebook, Instagram and Twitter eliminating thousands of mini-decisions in the future, including crafting my image, developing strategies, creating and curating content, responding to comments, hacking algorithms and so on.
Develop ideas that sometimes become articles like this.