I have no motivation to do my job

A reader writes:

I am absolutely done with my current job. I’ve been here for just over six years now and, honestly, I probably stayed here longer than I should have (I was starting to get bored around two years ago). However, my coworkers are lovely, my boss is super supportive, the benefits are amazing (I will have 35 days of PTO this year plus sick time on top of that!) and the health insurance is fantastic. I just hate my actual job.

I didn’t always hate it, but I’ve grown to realize I really don’t want to do this type of work anymore. I stayed for so long because I kept getting promotions and new projects. But now I’m SO bored. I don’t care about anything. I have ZERO motivation to do anything. I seriously spend most of my days online shopping, reading blogs, reading the news, etc. I do the bare minimum to get by without someone actually noticing I’m not working like 50% of the time. I’m not doing any work towards any of my goals this year because I can’t find the motivation! Every day I come in and say to myself, “I’ll start this project today.” And here I am … emailing you instead!

I’m mortified by how far behind I am in some of my project goals, and I’m terrified my boss is going to check in about them soon. Nearly 75% of my emails I open and just go “I don’t care” and go do something else.

I’m actively applying for jobs, but that could take months. I’m barely getting by each day and ignoring my entire email inbox until 4:30 and then frantically responding to everything before I leave for the day.

The thing is, I’m not like this! I’ve always been a really motivated worker. I got my work done. I used to be horrified when coworkers would say they spent most of their day watching YouTube videos. When I finished what I needed to do that day, I’d always move on to the next project or find something to keep me busy.

I’m just burnt out/stuck/bored out of my mind and I need a bit of help or inspiration getting myself through until I can find a new job. I’m also afraid these awful work habits will follow me! How do I keep my act together and find motivation to work? How do I make sure to start my next job off on the right foot? I don’t want to leave this current job completely ruining the good reputation I’ve built here for the past six years.

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

{ 242 comments… read them below }

  1. OrigCassandra

    There are gamification apps for chores, fitness, etc — perhaps one of them would be generic enough that you could gamify your worklife for a while, see if it helps?

    I haven’t tried any of these, so I’m afraid I don’t have any specific ones to recommend.

    1. Manders

      Ah yes, I’m a big fan of turning tasks that are hard to care about into games! Habitica is a nice one, it lets you set all your own goals and doesn’t push you to housekeeping/self-care/personal tasks. It does look like a game with cute little sprites, so I’d be careful about having it up on your screen at work.

      Ultimately, though, some people are just more motivated when the job *is* the game. I was much happier at work when I found a field where I got regular “scores” of qualifiable success. It’s hard for me to stay motivated when I don’t have any measurement of progress.

      1. Emily K

        I often tell people that a large part of my job satisfaction derives from the fact that I work in digital media and not only do we have extremely granular, quantifiable measurements and metrics for everything, there is little to no lag between when I finish the project and when the results come in. My colleagues in print media have to wait months to get a few key indicators they can extrapolate from. I know within 2-3 days, tops, if my piece bombed or went gangbusters, and I can pinpoint exactly what’s driving the success (more impressions, more click-throughs, higher conversion rate, etc).

        1. Manders

          Yes! A lot of digital media and marketing jobs are great for people who are motivated by metrics.

          I was very unhappy in admin roles, even though I was great at them, because those roles rarely have measurable results. Once I had made all my processes as optimized as I possibly could, I ended up with not enough work to do!

    2. Sar Swan

      Great recommendation! I recommend Habitica, which can be played both from the browser or a mobile app. It’s free to play but you can buy a subscription to get more in-game items for your in-game Avatar.
      Habitica tracks several kinds of tasks: one-time “To Dos” (or multi-step goals), daily/multiple time per week “Tasks,” and multiple time per day tasks “Habits” you want to reinforce.
      Examples: I have a “To Do” to complete a class, which has a checklist of the different chapters I need to read and the various assignments. This helps me track my progress and try to meet my end date I’ve set.
      For a couple of daily “Tasks” I have things like making sure my dining room table has been cleaned off (my former dumping ground), and doing at least 1 yoga posture per day.
      Some of my Habits are 10 minutes of cleaning, 20 minutes of software development work, taking a breathing break, etc. This would be a great place for OP to check off something like 20-30 minutes of actual work or responding to an email, things like that!
      The gamifying part of it is having little pets and outfits and stuff you can have for your avatar, which is pretty cute.

    3. Food Sherpa

      I use Forest by Seekrtech. It’s really for getting people to stop fiddling with their phones, but it helped me with work. I set an amount of time then set a shorter amount for a break. When the timer counts down a ‘tree’ is planted in your virtual Forest.
      Why I like this is when enough points are accumulated you can use them to plant a real tree in a real forest. Also, I can set the time to focus from 5 minutes to 2 hours. This also helps me manage my day.

  2. Eillah

    Allison- if this is too far outside the letter’s umbrella, please delete

    Does anyone with executive functioning issues have tips for how to motivate yourself at work?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      In this case I think it’s too far afield from the letter, but it’s a great topic. Want to send in a letter and maybe we can use it as a Thursday “ask the readers”?

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Oh right! People who struggle with this, does motivation seem like a sufficiently different spin on it that it would still be useful to do it close to the March one?

        1. Eillah

          I’m obviously biased but…. yes, I think it’s a different spin. Would love to see other perspectives, though…

        2. Eillah

          To elaborate: I think it would be helpful because sometimes the advice directed at ADHD-people (even when given with the best intentions) can ignore people with executive function issues. I know writing a list of things I need to do would be helpful, but my problem is that I can’t make myself write the list in the first place.

          1. AJK

            And lots of ADHD people have executive function issues, too. For me, I think the executive function component of my ADHD is much harder to deal with than the distraction component, because once I get going I can usually keep right on going (especially when medicated) but it’s getting going in the first place that’s causing most of my issues!

            1. Jessen

              Same. I don’t have an official diagnosis of anything other than “huh that’s weird” and a lot of stuff that ends in NOS. But while I can be distractible, once I get started I’m usually ok.

            1. bluemonday

              I’d be keen on tips for working with a colleague with motivation/focus issues also. We’ve a lovely intern who (by his own admission) struggles to sit still for more than 5 mins. How should we work with him to help him improve his productivity and focus? We’ve asked him directly (tactfully of course) but doesn’t really have any ideas, just admits it was the same at high school.

          2. Emily K

            Same – in particular, I struggle with emotional regulation and self-monitoring as the major component of my ADD/executive functioning deficit/anxiety disorder. Through years of therapy I have learned that the reason I procrastinate is often because I looked at (or sometimes just thought about) a project and became so overwhelmed by it for whatever reason (size of project, uncertainty of how to proceed) that I immediately switched to another task that didn’t induce the same level of anxiety.

            It took me years just to realize that’s what was going on, because I do it so unthinkingly that my conscious mind barely even had time to register the feeling of overwhelm before I made it go away. Even now that I know I do it, I still haven’t gotten very good at catching myself and becoming aware of when I’m doing it in the moment where I could try to apply a strategy. Sometimes I’ll find myself holding two different thoughts at the same time – the half of me saying, “I don’t have to start on this yet, I still have plenty of time,” and the half of me saying, “If you don’t start this now you’re just going to keep saying ‘I have plenty of time’ until you don’t anymore, so start now!!” But the rational half of me looking out for the long-term will still lose out to the half that’s avoiding stress in the short-term.

            1. Blue Horizon

              I don’t have ADD (that I know of) but I do the same kind of thing. Your description matched my experience very closely. My brain is very good at triggering the avoidance reaction under the radar, and protests loudly if I focus and force it not to.

          3. Close Bracket

            the advice directed at ADHD-people (even when given with the best intentions) can ignore people with executive function issues.

            This is confusing phrasing since ADHD is characterized by executive function deficeits.

        3. Jessen

          I think it would be pretty useful myself. Especially for folk who are still managing to do the job acceptably, but want to do better. (I’m in that position – I’m an acceptable employee but I feel like I could be a very good employee with more motivation.)

          1. Alice

            I’ve always felt like I had some ADHD alike issues, and used a lot of the tips meant for people with ADHD, but this conversation is making me think it’s more of an executive function thing.

            1. Jaydee

              ADHD has a huge executive functioning component. There’s also emotional dysregulation involved with ADHD and often comorbidity with other specific learning disorders, sensory processing issues, and mental illnesses (depression and anxiety being two super-common comorbidities).

              But executive functioning is often the most externally obvious thing about ADHD, especially in adults. Executive functioning just refers to things like attention, memory (especially working memory), planning, prioritizing, organization, time management. Trouble focusing, figuring out what to work on first or how to break a large project into smaller chunks, remembering the instructions the boss just gave you, etc.

              Most adults are not as physically hyperactive as they may have been as kids. In fact, many girls and women aren’t diagnosed or are diagnosed in adulthood because they didn’t present as the stereotypical hyperactive kid. But they have the executive functioning and emotional dysregulation components.

              1. Michaela Westen

                I wonder if my boss has this. It’s so annoying when he won’t focus, or puts off important work for months. I thought it was bad habits and immaturity.
                I doubt he’ll ever be diagnosed though.

        4. Anonym

          Yes, this would be helpful in addition to the previous (wonderful) discussions. ADHD here, too. The motivation can be a huge struggle, and when it interacts with boredom/burnout/less than inherently motivating job situation, it can get especially tricky.

        5. Autumnheart

          I think it’s a sufficiently different spin. The other two links focused a lot on organizational habits, which is a big piece, but another big piece is “How do you actually get yourself to START the first task?” I think that it would be useful to have a thread about that. Even non-ADHD people have days where they can’t get it together, and they might find the info useful too.

    2. Muriel Heslop

      I spend my professional days helping people with this – motivation AND followthrough. I have some advice – I’ll look for your letter.

  3. Yarrow

    Holy crap, I don’t remember writing this letter…

    I’m in the same position and I’ve tried a lot of the things Alison has suggested: Pomodoro and good music for getting tasks done, and trying to re-engage with my work while looking for something new. I want to get more involved in my field by going to networking events and workshops, but it’s hard to get motivated for that. I think it might help keep my head in the game for the time being or help me get into other (somewhat related) work. Any other suggestions for someone bored to tears whose job is making them stupid and lazy?

    1. Shiraz

      I used to have a job that was so so so incredibly boring that I just used so three times in a row! I used to make games for myself out of it. It was the only way to get through the mind-numbingness of it!

    2. Sloan Kittering

      Yes, anything that gets you out of the office or going to a lot of meetings is a good option. I struggle with this myself and it’s partly the issue of just sitting at your desk working alone on projects with no discernible deadline, in my case. External events that you can be late to are good for me and I always feel better the more I break up my week with them.

    3. theAutomator

      I had a job like this once – I thought of it as my Dream Job, but when I got it, I realized that the day-to-day wasn’t what I expected. Instead of a creative, independent role, I was basically a glorified assistant tasked with executing the boring parts of my bosses’ ideas and packaging them up for clients. There was also a lot of reports work and summarizing, all of which was poorly designed because the people who set them up didn’t realize what kinds of report-generating software existed and/or were too cheap to purchase any. I quickly became bored and unmotivated because it was excruciatingly tedious to update several different spreadsheets with the same information over and over, with slight changes between them.

      At some point, I decided I had had enough, and started researching open source (that is, free) software to relieve the tedium by automating parts of the job. My goal was to develop a system that would do the boring parts for me with a minimum of input. Figuring out the software took about as long as doing all the reports manually, so nobody really cared, but it was a lot more interesting than manually doing data entry all day.

      Ultimately what happened was the research and work on the software revealed a previously unforeseen interest in software and I managed to transition out of that career into being a software developer.

      1. TechWorker

        +1 – there is value in working out how to automate something even if it takes just as long (or longer, if you might have to do again and/or the deadline isn’t tight). Not dying of boredom is a start.

      2. JoSam

        This is what I do! I search for ways to make the tedious stuff easier, faster, more efficient! Good on you for transitioning into a new career!

    4. Natalie

      This might sound kind of backwards, but when I was in that situation I focused on developing stuff outside of work that was interesting and motivating to me – started playing an instrument again, got another dog, took on a side client, took care of some health stuff. The way I thought of it was that work wasn’t taxing to me at all, so I had the energy to take on these other responsibilities. And they variously kept me doing things that used my work skills, got me practicing something, gave me things to google when I was feeling extra unmotivated (or in my case, literally had nothing to do), were something to talk about with friends and at parties besides my boring, pointless job, and so on.

      1. Michaela Westen

        Before I got the job I have now I did something similar. It wasn’t so much boredom, as wanting something more in life. I got involved in music and dancing, and in Spanish club, and having these things to look forward to made a world of difference. It was especially helpful when I was working at a place so toxic I sometimes felt paralyzed at my desk.
        When I got this job it was at least 2 steps up from anything I had done before. I cut back on the outside activities so I could apply myself to this job, and it worked. I did well.
        Now though, I’m bored and unmotivated because my boss isn’t around much, my colleagues are mostly in other places, and I sit at my desk by myself with soft deadlines. I often feel my boss doesn’t care about the work or won’t notice whether I do it or not. AAM gives me the interaction my job doesn’t, and if it wasn’t for AAM I would have had to look for another position by now.

    5. Collingswood

      Pomodoro and music help me, but I sometimes still get stuck just getting *started*, even on low time investment projects. I’d definitely love to hear more about overcoming that starting inertia. Other than creating accountability (usually requiring a person to not be happy if I don’t follow through, I haven’t found a lot that helps).

  4. SezU

    And are you sure it isn’t something else that is driving the boredom and loss of motivation? I hesitate to call out depression per se, but I know that I go through low periods that sometimes last a long time, where I don’t give a hoot about anything either. And I do just enough to get by and my boss still thinks I’m great. Does this ‘don’t care’ attitude come out for anything outside work? (If not, then you can probably disregard my whole comment!)

      1. Cathie Fonz

        I agree — I would recommend her first step should be to talk to a doctor about what she is experiencing and ask them if a trial of treatment for depression (6 weeks of Zoloft, for example) might be useful. Clinical depression can manifest in counter-intuitive ways (ask me how I know) and what seems to be an external problem (ie, boring work) can actually be caused by an internal problem.

        1. Emily S

          [Obligatory I’m not a doctor disclaimer] I would recommend someone that may have motivation issues ask their doctor about bupropion (wellbutrin) before an SSRI. Bupropion works on dopamine and norepinephrine, which govern (non-sexual) arousal and motivation, and for me personally, the mildly stimulating/arousal-boosting effect of the norepinephrine helped with my motivation in a much more direct way than only addressing my depression.

          SSRIs are older drugs and as a rule, doctors will generally prescribe whatever medication option has the most research and the longest clinical history unless there’s a specific reason to prescribe a newer drug with less research or history of use, so you’ll usually need to specifically ask about bupropion or they’ll just try you on the SSRI. (Bupropion also isn’t associated with weight gain or loss of sex drive the way SSRIs are, which can be additional concerns you might raise with your doctor as to why you’re interested in trying bupropion.)

          1. Lena Clare

            How about the person with motivation problems ask their doctor if it *is* depression before they get to the medication?

            1. Emily S

              Apologies, I thought it was clear that my comment was building on the advice I was replying to which included “talk to a doctor about what she is experiencing and ask them if a trial of treatment for depression might be useful.”

    1. Boomerang Girl

      That was my first reaction too. I was also wondering if LW has had any medical or appetite changes too.

      However, in addition to that, I have found that having a non-work passion or goal helps me get more engaged at work too.

      1. China Beech

        I thought we were not supposed to “diagnose” here! And it IS possible to be busy AND bored at the same time. I took a job recently that was a step down from a previous all-consuming one, thinking I’d enjoy a less hectic environment but it turns out I do not. The workload is light and not challenging. I am just bored, not depressed and it IS possible the LW is bored as well.

        1. JoSam

          I don’t think it was a diagnosis… Just a mention of low periods often referred to as depression, although I don’t think any of us are diagnosing clinical depression. That is surely for a doc to do. Just a thought that it might be more than job boredom, especially if it goes across their life.

          “And are you sure it isn’t something else that is driving the boredom and loss of motivation? I hesitate to call out depression per se…”

    2. Perpal

      Yeah, i was wondering too. It certainly COULD all be situational; I know I once met many hallmarks of depression that got better once I was able to resolve the thing that I knew was making me depressed; but op if this is really not you then consider other causes. Otherwise maybe taking a month vacation to do a personal project or fun will help! (I originally was going to suggest job hunt but probably best to have a complete break from all work concerns & see if the mood improves)

    3. Falling Diphthong

      I did wonder that, with LW remembering that they didn’t used to be like this.

      Though I’d start with a vacation.

    4. JayNay

      yes, that’s where my mind went as well. being unable to motivate yourself for something that you used to enjoy *can be* a sign of depression. The same goes for ineartia to do anything or feeling tired or “in a fog” all the time. If depression is a factor, then most motivational advice will go nowhere.
      I would suggest checking out signs of depression from a reputable source online (hospital or medical provider website) to see if anything rings a bell. If so, please seek out help & support. And don’t beat yourself up for being out of it at work.

      1. Lily Rowan

        I’ve found that to be a self-reinforcing cycle, too, especially if I add in poor sleep. Lack of focus, lack of motivation, boredom, mild depression just all go hand-in-hand for me, and I can’t necessarily tell which came first all the time.

        1. Jules Verne

          Same. I could have written this letter myself; it’s the closest to my situation out of any AAM letter I’ve ever read. I don’t know anymore if depression is causing the boredom/lack of motivation, or if my lack of motivation and only doing the bare minimum at work is what’s making me depressed. I have days where I just don’t care and read AAM / CaptainAwkward archives all day, and other days where I cry at my desk because I’m filled with guilt over not working hard. I honestly don’t know how to get out of this cycle (yes I am doing therapy/medication and yes I have taken a long vacation in the past 6 months), but I guess I’ll try some of the other suggestions in the comments…

          1. Eukomos

            I found therapy and medication weren’t helpful for me until I tried them in concert with regular meditation and exercise. It was also a fairly intense exercise that worked for me, running; I’d done some pretty serious yoga regularly in the past with medication, though not in combination with therapy, and that didn’t do the trick. Meds, therapy, running, and zen meditation, oh and also cutting back on drinking significantly and making some improvements in my career and social life, finally helped. No one or even two factors on their own ever seemed to be much good, but the combo really clicked.

        2. Not So NewReader

          These circular problems are so hard. I ate junk because I felt lousy and tired. Of course, the more junk I ate the more lousy and tired I felt so guess what? I ate more junk.

          I could see what I was doing and I could not stop myself. If I had been honest with me, I should have quit my job and gave myself a life makeover.

          Sometimes I think it is helpful to look at our lives and ask ourselves what we CAN do to get back on track. It’s tough finding that first idea. But once a person hits an idea that actually works it suddenly gets easier to find that second idea.

          Since I did not decide where to break into my circle, the decision was made for me. I got sicker than crap. Because I felt so lousy I could not get to the store to buy junk food. I couldn’t get to the store for anything. I then decided I was not going to live out my days lying in bed, totally sick.

          So here’s a few of my take-aways:
          Threats: If we don’t decide how our live will play out then circumstances will make that decision FOR us.

          Bribes: If we do make decisions about how our lives play out then we can get thing we want and do things we want.

          Purpose: It’s a basic human need to want to make a contribution. OP, if you are feeling like just another gear in the machine, you have every right to reject that position. You have every right to have meaningful work and get a sense of achievement from it. We need this, like we need food and water. It’s necessary for life. Look around, some of the saddest people are the ones who believe they have no purpose, no contribution. Life does not have to be a hamster wheel, OP.

          Goals: If you want to see some lost people, look around at the people you see who have NO goals. Why not create a little challenge for yourself, OP? You could write in the comments section what you are going to challenge yourself to do and keep us posted. I was thinking that you could say something like, “I am going to get myself out of this job and into a new one in X time frame.” Then you could post once in a while and tell us how you are doing. But the challenge can be anything: running a 5k; raising a guide dog; building a shed for your backyard or whatever you can think of.

          1. Meagain

            As someone who stared at the wall in her office most of the day, I’d say it doesn’t matter about when the cycle started. It started. It hit me about 3 weeks ago and Most of my energy goes to west wing and picture cross. Don’t worry, I’ve got a mile long list of crap to do.

          2. Michaela Westen

            I think break the new job goal into smaller pieces. So make the first goal “I will spend 1/2 hour today looking for a job”. And the same tomorrow, and so on. This way it’s not overwhelming. And as OP’s confidence and motivation grow, she can spend longer and branch out to researching the job market and networking.

    5. KoiFeeder

      I’d worry about other things, too. The first signs of my laundry list of disorders (minus the autism) was massive mental and physical fatigue where I just couldn’t do anything but could read books and stare into space. But middle schoolers are always tired, so no one took it seriously.

      Even if it is “just” burn out/situational depression, a therapist or doctor is still not a bad thing if LW can afford it. They’ll at least have some sort of advice.

    6. NothingIsLittle

      It’s certainly worth considering, but I go through periods at my job where there is legitimately no work for me to be doing because it comes in waves and summer is the slow season. Once I get trapped in the “nothing to do, let me browse the internet” spiral, it’s really hard for me to get out of and motivate myself to do real work when it pops up. It’s helped to read this website, since it’s work-related that makes it easier to switch gears, but even so, I sometimes struggle to get back on track when it’s slow (I do it, certainly, but it’s not always a smooth transition). I think it’s understandable that burn-out would cause the OP to start her day late and end up stuck in an unproductive spiral.

      Again, though, it’s absolutely worth considering whether something like a hormone imbalance or an outside stressor may be impacting OP’s apathy. I’m not sure that would be my first instinct, but it wouldn’t hurt for the OP to think about what might be affecting her assessment of her job.

      1. Alanna of Trebond

        It’s worth considering, but it can also go the other way. For me, slow weeks when I have only one or two things I need to accomplish in a day are actually depression triggers, because it’s easy for me to fall into procrastinating/wasting time, which leads to not doing the one thing I need to do, which leads to feeling bad about it and beating myself up (“you literally had ONE JOB!”). Rinse and repeat that for a few days, and suddenly I’m feeling pretty low overall — you spend a lot of your waking life at work! — and it’s 1000x harder to get motivated in the first place.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch

        Lack of work is a depression trigger for me as well.

        I literally just snapped out of a depressive episode that has left me with some hopefully temporary nerve damage because of how much “don’t care, nothing to do, don’t care” resulted in slouching at a desk at work “waiting” for things to do and then laying on the couch when I got home because nothing to do there either, etc.

        Or it could be a concentration issue of course. I know if I need to be “in the zone” for certain things, otherwise I put them off until my mood strikes or “crunch time” starts ticking down.

    7. Tinker

      Yeah, I think it’s an important distinction to consider whether this is distinctly just a work thing or if it’s more global than that. I’m in a situation that is similar in some ways to OP (in my case it’s not so much that I have literally nothing to do, more that it’s often unclear what I should be doing and how) and a striking data point as to whether it’s the job or me has been that the “crushing demotivation” thing is something that I experience right now exclusively at work and through the arc of my career only at this company and one other.

      Part of why some of my non-work things have a way of leaking into my work time, I think, is because there’s a lure of “if I work at getting my passport updated, eventually I will get a passport; if I work at work-thing, eventually I will get someone showing up at my desk to tell me I did the wrong thing”.

      There are problems I have that show up across domains and even in environments that are otherwise rewarding — I have difficulty switching tasks in my personal life as well, for instance — but some of the problems I have at work are not ones where I am the common element.

    8. wittyrepartee

      It’s all tied together too. Feeling unmotivated at work can throw your system off, which can make you even more unmotivated.

    9. Risha

      I could have written this email a couple of months before I finally got diagnosed with bipolar disorder (the diagnosis happened once I finally slid from very little work being done to none). On average there are probably many more bored people in the working world than depressed, but letters like this always send my mind right to that.

    10. Yarrow

      I’ve considered it and I’m no stranger to depression, which is why I’d like to head off anything that might hasten a slide into depression. The feeling has been hanging around for more than a year and when I’m outside of work, it totally lifts. I think it’s time for a change before depression sets in.

    11. Michaela Westen

      I used to have a don’t care attitude because of the issues from being raised by bad parents.
      OP, have you ever had these feelings before? If so, it would probably help to identify the triggers and cause and address it.
      For example, if parents/boss/authorities don’t show they care about me or the work, I find it hard to care even though I know it’s in my best interest. If they ignore me or the job or the work, I feel like they don’t care, and so on.

  5. Robyn

    I was in this situation too before I left my last job. My boss was super supportive so I was totally open with him that I was bored, and he tried everything he could to give me more interesting things to work on, even though he knew it was inevitable that I’d leave. And often when I thought I wasn’t getting anything done and felt guilty about it (e.g. spent half the day online shopping or reading blogs), to everyone else it still appeared I was the most productive person in the office because I was so good at my job my idea of “slacking” was still better than half the people in the office. It sounds like that could potentially be the case with you too, though even that knowledge didn’t really comfort me because I wasn’t feeling challenged.

    The things that I found to be able to work on when I was totally unmotivated were more “reactive” projects. I don’t know what industry you’re in but for me, that involved getting assigned tasks with deadlines like reviewing new documents and policies, working on incident investigations, etc. It still didn’t make me want to stay but at least made me feel like I wasn’t totally slacking off all the time.

    Good luck, been there, know how much it sucks!!!

    1. Shiraz

      Oh! This was my last job too! Let me tell you… there are a lot of great websites out there that can really suck up an afternoon!

      1. Fortitude Jones

        Yeah, like this one, lol.

        I used to online shop, read blogs all day, run errands, etc. at my last job – that’s how bored I was. I also created my own work projects from time to time, but after a while, I just didn’t care about that either. Finally, I left for a new position somewhere else, and my situation has drastically improved, though a lot of my bad habits from the last job still persist (I’m on here, right?).

        OP’s doing what I did (job searching) already, so I have no other advice, but I do offer my sympathy. It’s so hard to spend your days feeling unmotivated, unchallenged, and full of ennui. I hope you find something new soon.

    2. Elle Kay

      Hey! This is my job too! I’m bored out of my mind, DO NOT have full-time level work to do…. and everyone thinks I’m doing great. I’ve had staff compliment me on how much faster turn-around times are now then under the previous person and I’m just flabbergasted!

      I’m sort-of job hunting, with plans to ramp up in the fall.

    3. dealing with dragons

      this was my same issue – I was able to have the same output as others in my office (or at least able to also make it sound like it) that I could easily coast.

      I just got a new job and I can’t keep up with my newsletters :(

      1. CMart

        The worst part about actually being engaged at work is missing out on all the fun blog action, haha.

  6. Quitting Tomorrow

    This letter comes at such a great time – I’m on the same boat as the OP, with the addition that I have a terrible boss, do not feel connected to my organization’s mission, and don’t particularly care for my co-workers. Basically, the only thing I like about my job is my salary. I am looking forward to reading the comments on this one.

    1. Elle Kay

      The salary and the benefits for me. My boss is NOTGOOD at being a boss and, though he recognizes that, makes no effort to improve, there’s little connection to the bigger “mission”, and my co-workers are fine but mostly meh. BUT I’m also making more than market and paying into a very good retirement plan…that I need 5.3 more years to be fully vested for.

    2. Fortitude Jones

      At least you have the salary, lol. My salary at my last job that I just recently left was shit, and so were my benefits. That made it so much easier to roll out when I’d really had enough.

    3. DataGirl

      This is basically what I came here to write. Same position- bored, procrastinating like crazy, don’t care about any of the projects I’m on- but with the added ‘I work for horrible people and have no desire to contribute to this industry’. Also, this job is nothing like the job description and doesn’t use my skill set which is rapidly becoming obsolete and causing me to not be able to find another job. My only real option is additional training but I don’t want to give up the little free time/money I have on classes.

      1. Elle Kay

        Oh yes, I forgot the “this job is nothing like the job description and doesn’t use my skill set” part. It sucks

    4. Booksalot

      I’m exactly the opposite! Salary is my only issue, which makes it SO hard to leave.

    5. Sloan Kittering

      It’s reassuring to hear so many people here saying, “I struggle with this too!” I have a lot of shame about not being a better go – getter and usually the terrifying amazingness of the comments here make me feel like I must be the worst worker in the world :D

      1. Fortitude Jones

        I’m also surprised by how many people seem to be experiencing the exact same thing, or did at some point. It can be lonely and isolating when you think you’re the only person who doesn’t get any sense of accomplishment or fulfillment from your work.

    6. I Heart JavaScript

      The thing that kept me afloat when I was seriously demotivated was carving out time to develop a new skill. I learned coding (at my Executive Assistant job) and eventually transferred careers. But the other assistants did something similar when they hated their jobs and weren’t motivated–learned a new language, went back to school at night and did classwork during certain parts of the day, etc.

      It made it easier to get the actual job done when it felt like you were being productive in an interesting way at other times.

  7. EMW

    I don’t remember sending in this letter! This is me. But add on anxiety disorder that is triggered by all of the things Alison mentions as consequences. Plus I work from home.

    1. Elle Kay

      I don’t remember sending it either! And I found my anxiety b/c of this job. Hooray.

    2. Fortitude Jones

      If you work from home, are you able to do some light exercise to get the blood flowing? (Does exercise even work for you to get motivated to do something?) I know that when I’m really not into work for whatever reason, if I get up and do some stretching or even brief laps around the room, I have more energy and better focus.

      1. EMW

        I will even work out mid morning and that doesn’t help motivate me to work. To do housework? Yup!

        1. Fortitude Jones

          LOL, dang. Well, at least your house is clean? (lol trying to find the silver lining here.)

  8. drpuma

    By lucky coincidence, when I had a job where I was horribly under-utilized I also had taken on a high-responsibility multiple-month volunteer project. It involved a lot of work-like activities that probably looked very productive to anyone walking by my desk – coordinating with folks over email, tracking things on spreadsheets, etc. For me, it was great to feel productive and know that I was contributing to *something*. OP maybe there is something similar you could do, whether it is working on a volunteer project, contacting your members of Congress, or taking on additional responsibilities in an existing outside of work commitment.

    1. Sloan Kittering

      Yeah if you’ve mastered your job to the point where you’re able to please your bosses without operating at full capacity, maybe you’d feel better if you took on a challenging side project while you job search (because sadly it really can take longer than you’d hoped, and it’s even harder to be shiny in interviews and all over the applications when you’re already off your game).

    2. Carmen Sandiego

      This! After 4 years I’m still in a job where I’ve been incredibly bored from the start, my skills are totally underutilized plus I’m a bit overqualified, and I can’t even bring myself to care about the work because I work with some folks who don’t actually do much/are super inefficient and they’re highly overpaid. I can’t bring myself to want to make them look amazing. Fortunately for me it’s well-paying and the schedule is very flexible, which have been really life-changing positive things in my life. Unfortunately, even though I’ve been job searching off and on for a few years, I can’t find anything that pays nearly as well! (and I can’t really afford a pay cut right now, otherwise it would definitely be worth it to have a job that’s a better fit for me).

      So I joined the board of directors for a non-profit organization I care about. I’ve gotten to spend some of my wasteful time at work doing useful and much-needed board work, and I felt better about it. It also drove me to actually complete my work-work well and on-time, since the board work had deadlines. I would get to the office in the morning, get all my actual work done, and then reward myself by being an amazing board member/volunteer for the rest of the day. My board term eventually ended and now I’m occupying my time with online courses for topics that interest me and feel slightly like professional development, but if I don’t find a new job soon, I’ll probably pick up more volunteer work.

    3. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy

      Except it reads like the LW isn’t under-utilized, but simply isn’t meeting their work objectives? “I’m not doing any work towards any of my goals this year because I can’t find the motivation […] I’m mortified by how far behind I am in some of my project goals, and I’m terrified my boss is going to check in about them soon.” Picking up side projects, while more interesting, doesn’t really seem like a solution to this problem.

      1. Sloan Kittering

        Weirdly though, I sometimes feel like the more things I’m passionate about in life, the better motivated I am – you’d think I would “use up” my energy but it doesn’t seem to work like that. If OP is bored at work and struggling to achieve objectives that should be relatively straightforward, they may need to find something that motivates them. Of course your point could also be correct if OP honestly feels like they would intellectuall struggle to achieve their goals at this point.

  9. Grand Mouse

    I really stand by listening to music if possible! I have fairly mindless work and at this job I can put on headphones and get in the zone.

    Can you make challenges for yourself? I keep myself engaged by finding ways to do things more efficiently, or improve on the result, or take on another task, or switch things up. Also rewarding yourself really helps! When I get in a bit of a funk at work I take a break to have coffee, take a breath, then steel myself for getting back into it

    I have struggled with depression and burnout so I know how challenging it can be. Good luck!

    1. Kitty

      YES. I search “calm focus music” on YouTube, and some days it is the only thing that keeps me focused (Hello, policy writing)

      1. Grand Mouse

        I listen to music with more “oomph” so i can really get into it and keep my energy up. My job is physical so that might make a difference. Definitely play around with different types of music. Something like Pandora is great because it suggests new music for you and you can find out what you really want

        1. MsSolo

          I’ve seen video game music recommended, because it’s specifically scored to keep you engaged and moving forwards with even boring tasks, and to discourage you from getting distracted by things you probably should be doing instead!

    2. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs

      Also recommend movie/show/game/etc. instrumentals that you like. No words helps me focus better, and the music reminds me of awesome scenes/events.

  10. CatCat

    Interesting, I read this and it read just like the outcome of burnout I’ve experienced (not from boredom, but from crushing workload, but dang, same symptoms). Alison’s strategies for dealing are all really great.

  11. iz

    This was me too. As I got experienced in my job, challenging projects became routine. I got stuck in some admin stuff that was supposed to rotate among team members. The less motivated I was, the less interesting work I was assigned. It was a downward spiral. I believe in my case lack of motivation led to depression, not the other way around.

    1. Quiltrrrr

      This is my job too. I’ve been doing this for so long, there really isn’t a challenge anymore. And my boss thinks I do an AWESOME job, but he’s not really paying attention either.

      For me, it also didn’t help that despite ‘Exceeds Expectations’ on my last performance review, the raise was almost non-existent, and now I find out that’s NORMAL for this company. So the motivation took a huge hit with that too. There’s also no where to be promoted to (niche job role).

      1. MsChanandlerBong

        I feel the same way (non-existent raise = motivational hit). I’ve always been someone who prides herself on going the extra mile and really giving my employer his money’s worth, but after no raise–not a single penny–for three years, I find myself losing interest.

        1. Fortitude Jones

          I don’t blame you – no raise for three years? Not even a measly two percent cost of living increase? Dang – I’d be job searching at that point (I’m highly motivated by money).

          1. Quiltrrrr

            My raise was less than 2% and what I was told through the grapevine (because NO ONE from management ever discussed it with me…I was just sent a pdf with the raise info and that was the end of it) is that the company tries to give it’s employees a 3% raise spread out over *2* years (so not a 3% raise every year…more like 1.5%).

  12. merp

    I needed this same advice not long ago. Inventing projects and pomodoro technique worked sometimes but in my case, I just really needed a new job. One thing in the letter caught my eye, about not bringing bad habits to a new job – I had this same fear myself! What has helped is a sort of fake it til I make it approach – of course, to these new coworkers, I would never be the sort of person to surf amazon during the day, so if I can just keep that up long enough to create new habits.. etc, etc. It’s worked pretty well so far. Echoing some things others have said, therapy helped me too.

    1. Fortitude Jones

      I’ve definitely brought some of these bad habits into my new job, though I recognize it and am working towards fixing it, so that’s a start, right? Lol.

      Like this morning, I had back-to-back calls, and now that I’m done – I just don’t feel like doing anything. I actually have an editing project I can work on, but my head is foggy, so it would be pointless. I’d end up making this document even worse than it already is.

      1. merp

        It’s super hard and that is totally a start! Obvs I’m still floating around AAM occasionally during the day, so I haven’t at all perfected being this new, non-distractable version of myself, haha. But my new job is also way more structured than my old job, so that’s helpful on its own.

        1. Fortitude Jones

          Yeah, and see, my new job is loosey goosey, which I kind of like because then I can create my own goals/projects while working on my colleagues projects as needed. But coming from a position that was supposed to be structured and really wasn’t to another one that is kind of all over the place as I feel out what I want to turn it into…probably wasn’t the best idea? Lol. I still love it, though – just need to get my butt in gear.

    2. Just Elle

      This is my biggest fear too!
      I am currently in exactly the same position as OP. Except, I start a new job (same company) in under a month and I have so very much to finish up in current job first, and I’m just… not. I cannot force myself to. I have spent the entire day today browsing on the internet bored to tears thinking about how if I’d just do my actual job, even that would be less boring than rehashing internets. And yet, I don’t.
      And I’m so, very very afraid that I will continue to slack in my new job, and really muck things up for myself.
      But I like your fake it till you make it approach. A chance to reinvent myself… I can work with that.

  13. animaniactoo

    One thing you might be able to do is trigger social pressure for yourself. It IS true that there is a lot of “make work” that we do that is necessary under a capitalist system that wouldn’t actually be needed if we were only working to produce enough actual clothing and housing and sustenance for all of us. But within this system it IS necessary as a function of tracking and producing a bunch of stuff that matters for other people to be able to do their jobs and function – and feed, clothe, and house themselves. Sometimes we can’t care because the task is just too repetitive and boring and sometimes we can’t care because on some level or another, we recognize how absolutely useless the work we’re doing probably is. And that’s hard to fight.

    So, can you try projecting what happens if you *don’t* do the tasks? Think about the people – actual concrete people and unknown strangers who work somewhere outside of your company – who will have problems (potential or actual) if somebody doesn’t do this work? As a method of convincing yourself that it might as well be you? And do some of the gamifying methods suggested above as a way of rewarding yourself for handling X task and Y task?

    Also: Another thing you might find useful is easing yourself into work mode. If you have a task that will take about 5 minutes, do that one. Then do one that takes a little longer. Then tackle something that feels relatively hefty. At least to get started on it. Maybe break it down into its own smaller tasks that can be achieved a little at a time. Try for maybe 20 minute chunks of tasks that can be completed in that time. So that you’re never faced with a burden of a huge dive, but rather lots of small dives that get you to the end of the day, and you get regular “goal accomplishment” rewards for your mindset.

    1. CheeryO

      I like the idea of social pressure as motivation. I hate to say it, but a big part of my motivation is shame (I hate the feeling of getting caught on my phone or on non-work websites… brief AAM visits notwithstanding!) and ego (I have a coworker around my age who started a year after me who is one of those incredibly motivated people, and I desperately do not want to be seen as a second-rate version of her). It also helps that I’m in government, so I can think about the bigger picture of our mission and the taxpayers that support it, who would presumably appreciate it if we did a good job with our daily tasks.

      1. KC Sunshine

        I am exactly like you. Bored and semi-depressed at work. I think the only way out is to get a new job, to try to re-capture some of the organic motivation I used to feel. The trouble is, I have a young child and am currently pregnant, so I feel extra stuck. How can I give up a great boss, great team, easy work, good benefits, and good pay when I have young kids?

    2. Amber Rose

      I thought about what would happen if I didn’t do my work.

      The answer is nothing. Nobody checks my work or knows what I do. In fact, I haven’t done some of my work in ages. I could probably just not do it this year at all and nobody would know but me.

      How to escape this feeling of being a mouse doing dumb tricks for cheese, that is what I would like to know.

  14. Amber Rose

    I could have written this letter. I stick around for perks, but honestly I can’t be bothered to do my job anymore. Lots of stuff just has never got done that should have been done last year sometime. Worse, a lot of the little fun things I used to get to do have been given to a new coworker, so I don’t even have that anymore.

    It’s tough. No real advice from me, just sympathy.

  15. Derry Murbles

    I feel similarly. I have a relatively well-paying job in my county library as a clerk. I get great benefits, plenty of paid leave, we’re unionized. The repetitive nature of my role however has been wearing on me and I just see my days now as “8 hours of internet browsing.” Many of my colleagues have seen libraries as a viable career, abandoning their former pursuits in favor of staying put – I don’t blame them, but I’ve never felt the same, so perhaps that’s telling. I’ve saved up money so that I can go back to part-time and finish school and pursue what I’ve always actually been interested in.

    1. Thursday Next

      That was me, too! I started working at my local library when I was a teenager, and kept the job all through high school and university, working my way up. I made a great hourly wage, we were unionized, it was all very “safe.” But after eight years I was SO BORED and I knew I had to get out before the benefits sucked me in forever. Sometimes I miss the security and low-stakes of that job, but I think I would have been really unhappy if I’d stayed.

  16. coffee cup

    Oh gosh, it me!

    Change ‘6’ to ‘7’ years and we’re nearly there. Except although I don’t like my job and am bored, I manage to motivate myself when there. My main thing is that wasting time is actually more boring in some ways, and as Alison says it’s about changing the way you think about what you’re getting from it. I personally would hate for anyone to find out how I felt and to think I wasn’t good at my job, even though I am not remotely fussed about the actual work, so I keep going. And because I like my team I want them to succeed too, which won’t happen without me pulling my weight. Would that help you, OP? Just an idea from someone who empathises!

    1. Sloan Kittering

      “Wasting time is actually more boring in some ways” – Yes! This is the only thing that I can use to kick my a*s into gear some days, TBH. Procrastination is literally painful some times and I do feel better about my life if I at least get a few things done. But for my personally I wouldn’t be able to fix it thinking about social pressure or anything else.

      1. De Minimis

        I think one of the worst periods in my career was a job where I had absolutely nothing to do for months and just web-surfed 8 hours a day. I’d been frozen out of work projects, and knew the writing was on the wall, but it was a big company and their practice was to do layoffs/firings at a certain time of year, so I was idle for about three months.

  17. Jennifer

    Think about your health insurance and PTO whenever you get bored. I stuck it out at a job where I wasn’t very motivated because of the great benefits. I haven’t been able to find one that offers stellar benefits since.

  18. Mike C.

    I have to wonder if you might, to use an academic term from anthropologist David Graeber, have a “bulls*** job”. There’s certainly no shame in that, lots of folks do, but being able to put a name to it might better help you find a solution.

    1. Sloan Kittering

      Soooo afraid to read that book in case it kills whatever small amount of motivation I have left …

  19. Falling Diphthong

    You have a lot of PTO and don’t mention money troubles–plan to use a big chunk of it. Depending on your budget and proclivities:
    • Go somewhere big.
    • Find a remote airbnb and go engage in some combination of outdoorsy stuff and lolling around.
    • Go visit someone who makes you happy.
    • Find a two-week to one-month volunteer thing and go do that. (e.g. build a house with Habitat for Humanity.)

    That should help with a mental reset. So that if you decide to leave your job, you’re not radiating bleh; if you decide to stay, you have a bit more perspective.

    1. Sherm

      +1. OP, your letter is infused with guilt, and I’m wondering whether you feel like you don’t deserve to take time off because you already take “time off” in a way from work every day. But think of it this way: if you come back from a vacation refreshed and recharged, you may be able to give your work your all again (or at least get closer to that point), such that it will be a benefit to your company. So it’s really not selfish to take that vacation.

      1. merp

        This, so much. I couldn’t bring myself to write a letter like this when I was feeling this way, because I felt so terrible about it. Big kudos to OP, this happens to a lot of people and you’ve started a great conversation with this letter! Take some time off because I guarantee it will feel different and better than reading articles at work as far as ‘time off’ goes.

      2. Fortitude Jones

        OMG, I needed to read this. Yes! I felt exactly like this, which is why I agreed to start a brand new job the following week after ending my last boring one – I’m bringing these bad habits with me from the old job because I never really got a chance to mentally hit the reset button. And I didn’t take time because I really wanted to meet (most) of my team at a conference my second week – had I pushed back the start date, I would have missed making those connections with folks (I work from home), which would have made my job harder.

        I also felt like I had entirely too much non-work time in my last job, so it felt like a vacation – clearly, it wasn’t though. I need to take time off as soon as my blackout period here is over.

      3. Oranges

        I’m here because I just took off so much time for my health issues that… a real vacay wouldn’t be possible until next year (unlimited PTO doesn’t mean unlimited). Maybe I should start planning it though?

    2. Lily Rowan

      Or don’t go anywhere! I just took a week off where I didn’t do anything major, and when I came back a coworker was like, “A one-week staycation is fine, but you know what’s amazing? A TWO-WEEK staycation!” And I can see it! I spent the week relaxing and being with friends and family, and felt great at the end of it, but didn’t do any projects around the house or anything, so I bet I would have made good use of a second week.

      1. Sloan Kittering

        Really? I tried a “re-set staycation” and I ended up realizing I should probably have done something more active to kick myself out of the funk – because surfing the web and lounging around were the bad work habits I was trying to break. But just goes to show you there’s a different solution for everybody.

        1. Green great dragon

          It varies. I find a spell of hard-core lounging and surfing can buy me a few days of really not wanting to do that right now, which at least increases the chance I’ll do something useful. (The other possibility is I find a different way to procrastinate, sigh.)

      2. NoLongerYoungButLotsWiser

        we should have a staycation thread. What I did was 3 things.
        First, I made a list of all the people that I kept meaning to have lunch with, see, have afternoon coffee or breakfast with… and made a social calendar. I scheduled no more than one a day (ie, I did take into my need to recharge). Frankly, if my good intention didn’t carry through to my actually WANTING to see them, then I knew I didn’t really want to continue the friendship. Not every one could make time during my staycation, but a lot of folks – if I drove/ went to their office location, could get away for lunch or something. (In one case I picked it up and we went to the nearby park)

        Second, I made a list of all the local / or near local event things I wanted to do, but often was too tired to do… a play, an art exhibit, going to the aquarium and the museum on week days with various friends, a shop that had vintage laces I’ve always wanted to poke around in….

        Finally, I also made a project list, and picked the “least likely to ever get done on a weekend” project, and got the supplies/support pieces in place or planned. (Address of the dump? rent a truck? hire a friend’s teen to lift and carry on the Saturday after the sorting). Arranging and hiring help as part of the project helped me be accountable.

        But yes, I also took 3 hour naps and did actually discover that I love British mysteries. Did not get my whole house clean, but did get a gnarly project knocked out that I would never have tackled otherwise, and caught up my social circle a lot. So… a mix. But I was refreshed a lot more and made it another year at that job.

        1. Sloan Kittering

          Ooh I would love this thread (see you Friday??). I was super fortunate to have a month’s staycation between the last job, at which I was basically OP, and this job. It was wonderful but it did not fix my attitude problem. I’m still wondering if there was a way it could have played out differently if I had structured it differently.

    3. theletter

      If you go this route I’d recommend 10 days in another country. You could even use the planning to motivate yourself: get your tasks done in the morning, spend your afternoon researching your trip.

  20. Swampy

    Not OP but I’m really glad they wrote in and Alison answered – hearing someone else had a problem like this and the advice was something I think I needed right now.

  21. Also Bored

    My god. I feel exactly the same way. It’s simultaneously mind-numbing and existential crisis-inducing. At some point during the day, every day, I’ll be overcome with anxiety and have to go for a walk or meditate outside for five minutes. Being bored at work for me translates to a lack of purpose in general – not a good feeling.

    For me, the rest of my routine helps me get through the day. My mornings are packed full with action, so are my evenings, either exercise class or out for drinks/dinner with friends/family. Maybe you can incorporate some more routine into your day so it doesn’t feel like a big vast field of boredom. I really, really, feel you OP.

    I agree with everyone else, take a vacation. But I don’t think it will fix things. I know Alison says that our culture has pushed the “find what you love and you’ll never work” narrative and says it’s unrealistic, but I don’t know if I agree. Do you have a passion for something that you’re not doing? Maybe you can do an online program for a degree or certificate in that field. Yes, you need to make money and it’s not always going to be fun, but this level of boredom is dangerous for your soul. Think really hard about what you love, and see if you can turn it into a career, if you haven’t already.

    1. Sloan Kittering

      I do think our expectation that work will fill your life with meaning plays into this. I also struggle with my complicated feelings around our capitalist system and how I’m kicking myself for not being exploited cheerfully enough. I worry there are some people who love work and then there’s people like me. But to be fair I’ve always struggled with this (even in school!) and OP says they used to be different, so hopefully OP’s case is less fatal than mine.

  22. Sharknation

    When I’m struggling with motivation (or with projects that seem kind of amorphous, or where success/progress is hard to define), I schedule out my whole day with different projects. I created a private calendar (so that my colleagues can still see my normal-looking regular one), and I schedule out the entire day like so:

    10-11am: Project A
    11-12: Project B
    12-12:30: Investigate X

    All the way down to the end of the day. Then I tell myself that during that time block, the designated project is the only thing I’ll work on. Even if I goof around a little within that project’s hour, knowing that I have to switch to something else at the top of the hour can act as a mini-deadline that helps me stay more on task than I would if I had, say, until next week to get something done.

      1. Sharknation

        It really helps me stay on task because then I’m like, “Okay, I only have 20 more minutes to think about Project B today, then it has to wait until tomorrow.” Even if I struggle to stay focused (I have a lot of life-chaos going on these days, so sometimes it’s really hard), I don’t spend the whole day trying to force myself to do one thing but instead ‘try my luck’ with a bunch of things, and usually wind up doing at least SOMETHING useful. ;)

        1. Sloan Kittering

          I really like this, maybe it can be helpful to me. I try pomodoro but I find that “just” getting started isn’t enough, because I end up screwing around and then the timer goes off.

  23. steve

    Any chance you can switch jobs in your company to try to find something you like more? Other then that, you need to find a new job.

  24. Get out of the office

    When I get bored and continue to push off project work, I spend a few hours out of the office at a coffee shop and i break down my big chunks of work into really small doable tasks, and then i calendar them out and set up meetings to hold myself accountable. I find that I am able to do this pre-work better when i’m not in the office and it sets me up right to start getting work done. Also big fan of pomodoro timers also.

  25. nameless

    This was me, except I had undiagnosed anxiety just to make it extra fun.

    So I lacked motivation/was struggling, and didn’t do anything about it because I was convinced:

    – it wasn’t worth the hassle to look for a new job
    – I would have to take a pay cut
    – no one would be a reference for me

    If any of this sounds familiar, please talk to your doctor. I wasted so many working years thinking this is the way working was for me and I am so much happier now, not to mention a better employee.

    1. Sloan Kittering

      Definitely true that a self-defeating attitude you just can’t shake (I think of it as “everything sucks now and nothing can possibly be an improvement”) can also be a mental health symptom. Guilty.

  26. violet_04

    I sympathize with you, OP. I stick around for the perks too. The thing is I don’t even have that much work to do, so it’s hard to get motivated to do just the few things that are on my list. I keep telling myself I’ll get to those things tomorrow, but then I don’t.

    I work as a business/systems analyst and a recent reorg has me supporting internal software systems that are completely new to me. I feel overwhelmed and like I’m starting all over. I just want to go back to working on projects where I felt like I had more expertise. Now I find myself just organizing meetings and updating PowerPoint slides and it just feels so pointless.

    It doesn’t help that my boss and co-workers are all remote. I come into the office and have a cubicle, but any meetings I have are conference calls. I don’t actually interact with anyone in person. I usually work from home one day a week. I’m ashamed to admit this, but I use that day to clean my house. I keep my laptop open to keep an eye on IMs and emails, but I don’t get a lot of work done.

    Thanks for writing in. It’s actually helpful to see I’m not the only one who feels like this.

    1. Newbie

      You are definitely not alone. I wrote the comment below yours and it sounds like we are in a similar work situation.

      I really related to the part where you said that you don’t have much work to do, so it’s hard to motivate yourself to get things done on your list. This describes my work situation perfectly. I don’t work from home weekly, but I have the option to if needed. Yesterday I had an appointment during the day, so I “worked from home”. Which really meant taking care of household chores and watching TV with my laptop open in front of me with my email and IMs in front of me in case something came up.

      I do wonder if this is something that people actually experience frequently and just never talk about? This is my fourth professional job since graduating college, and every single job has been slowly paced and I’ve always experienced a lot of downtime/boredom. Three of those four jobs have been in different fields too, so it’s not like I’m just in a field that is slower paced.

      1. Sloan Kittering

        Yes I’ve always noticed that when I have ten million things to do, I’ll somehow get everything done, and when I have one easy thing to do, I will leave at the end of the day without finishing it :(

        1. Alanna of Trebond

          I don’t know if this is universal, but it’s absolutely my experience. And if I’m not careful, it turns into a shame cycle that makes it even more difficult to be motivated the next day.

      2. That Girl From Quinn's House

        I think it is a thing, too. I worked somewhere where I had to manage teens from a summer jobs corps, and every summer, I had to teach them to wait. Because I’d give them a task, they’d complete it, and expect another task right away, and get frustrated if they didn’t have one, and wander off on break and not come back because they were frustrated we were wasting their time, which I get, but *I* had a zillion things to do that were higher priority than “find something for the teens to do.” I had to explicitly explain that sometimes you have to wait for someone to have more work for you to do, and if they entertain themselves quietly with something they can put down quickly when they’re needed again, that is 100% a normal part of working.

  27. Newbie

    Well this letter couldn’t have come at a more ironic time, as I’m scrolling through this blog to pass the time in my very boring work day.

    LW, I really relate to you and could have written this letter. I love my job for several reasons (close commute, excellent boss/co-workers, affordable benefits, flexible schedule, etc), however I also understand the crushing boredom that you are describing and the dislike of the actual job itself.

    The only place we differ is that I feel like my boredom/dislike comes from not having enough regular work vs burnout with the job itself. I am the most junior on a team of three, so a majority of my tasks are very boring and routine things that only take me a few moments to complete. And because I have lack of interesting work to keep me busy, sometimes I’ll find myself putting off those small boring tasks in favor of wasting time online. It’s not to the point where I miss deadlines, but I do understand the disinterest and lack of engagement that it seems like you are struggling with.

    I wish you the best of luck!

  28. Sofa King Bored

    Wow this is timely – I’m in the exact same boat ans sick of living for the weekend, but not being paid enough to do anything… starting to think about self-employment but nothing motivates me anymore.

  29. Hold that thought

    You say you keep getting promotions. One thing that happens with promotions is that the projects you are given move from nuts and bolts directly, to more towards dealing with a number of people doing those nuts and bolts. “Sharing your expertise.” And you say you have been there six years and started getting bored two years ago.

    So: what was it you were doing for those first four years that floated your boat? Maybe you miss those nuts and bolts tasks that you could get your hands dirty in?

    I went through this too in my previous career. I had been promoted to the point where I had a corner office, and when someone had a design problem they couldn’t figure out, they would come to me to solve it. Other than that, my job was to read journals and be thinking about the “next thing”. I didn’t get to do the design work that I loved. I was SO bored that I left and went into something completely different.

    If I hadn’t had the freedom to leave, I would have asked to be put on a design team, in a bid to be fresh and focussed again. Back in the trenches. Maybe going back to what floated your boat at the start of the job, even for part of your time, might help. Get your hands dirty again. Hope this helps.

    1. Jedi Librarian

      I definitely agree. I went from “stocking” and always having tasks to do, and moved over to customer service, where my job largely depends on people showing up. So when they don’t show up, I don’t really have anything to do. So yeah, maybe see if there is something you can do hands-on job. Definitely makes the day more interesting.

  30. Book Lover

    I’d start with a doctor visit just in case. Not to say she doesn’t need a new job and isn’t bored and isn’t right that she needs to move on, but I’d make sure there isn’t a medical issue based on some of things she said.

  31. (Former) HR Expat

    I feel you, OP. Except that I don’t have a lot of work to do and my boss thinks I have too much workload. On any given day I have maybe 1 hour of work. What I find motivating is looking for resume polishers, as Alison said. This is my first time as a people manager, so I’m focusing on developing my employee as much as my scope allows. I’m also focusing on a couple core tasks that I haven’t done before. And of course job searching.

  32. NotThatLyndsey

    UUUGHH I am in the exact same quandary right now but here’s the kicker: I’m self employed.
    I realised about a year ago that my specific industry only has about half a decade before it becomes obsolete and, while up until then I’d been plodding through, that realisation really killed what was left of my motivation. Add a dose of poor health and I really struggle to get through each day, let alone motivate myself to go out and get new clients.
    Gonna go back and read comments now for some miracle cure (maybe..!?), but yeah, ugh, OP, I feel you.

  33. Aspiring Chicken Lady

    I think it’s not a bad idea to rule out depression, and either way come up with a challenge… work or non-work … that can fill in the chinks of your day.
    Whether it’s planning a trip (and then taking it!), or taking up a new and tricky hobby, or working on a professional certification, having a background train of thought can make a slow day better.

    I’m currently doing the work of three, while waiting for a new hire to get trained enough to take on at least a few of my tasks. But somehow having agreed to teach a sewing class for no particular reason this weekend has helped me maintain a bit of balance and sanity.

    It’s not the same as the LW’s situation, but I think having more on one’s plate can kick the monotony.

  34. CC

    So, I had/have this problem (I’m leaving my job very soon, it was a 1-year position). Anyway, I don’t have a perfect solution, but I recommend actively job searching/applying while you’re at work. Set a certain number to apply for a day.

    Then take extreme baby steps. Oh, also I found tough love works a little bit? I ask myself “Are you really so pathetic you can’t finish one spreadsheet (or whatever)?” Again, it works only a little bit, but hey, if it helps it helps.

    1. Anynonymous

      Every time I have a frustrating moment at work I channel it and, if I have the freedom, take my lunch break then and find a job to apply for RIGHT AWAY. Because I also have a hard time motivating myself for the job search – so if I email myself links to jobs to apply for later, it’ll never happen. Drop everything, write a cover letter now – even if I can’t finish and submit the application that day, I’ve gotten a start.

  35. Kiwiii

    I’m right here, too. I’m in admin position as a foot-in-the-door/experience sort of thing in the industry, but it’s obvious to everyone I work with within a couple weeks of knowing me that I could/should be doing bigger and better things. It’s only been about 9 months, but I’ve found myself so so bored with all of my tasks and unless it has a quick, measurable deadline it doesn’t get done because I know it won’t matter.

    I’ve honestly got to get in gear/on top of things soon though or I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to keep that reputation.

    1. Fortitude Jones

      I don’t know what industry you’re in, but if the point of you being in your current boring job is so that you can move up and on, then yeah – you probably need to be asking to shadow people who do the job you ultimately want to do, offering your assistance to them on smaller projects that won’t interfere with your main duties, taking online courses, etc. Those things will look great on your resume if you can find a way to do them.

  36. Vienetta

    This post really resonates with me too. I’m totally bored and demotivated, have very little structure and few goals, but am apparently doing very well, per reviews!

    I stay for the security, salary and perks. But the trickiest part for me is I’m in a niche industry with very few openings, and way more applicants than positions. So I apply for jobs when I see them but feel really demotivated about trying getting out of here, too. It feels like there’s nowhere to go and I’m stuck.

  37. Coffee Owlccountant

    LW, I would like to encourage you to consider whether the boredom you’re talking about with your job is manifesting in other areas of your life. I had a similar experience about a dozen years ago. I thought I was bored and completely checked out of work – but I was also self-isolating, oversleeping, not eating, not taking care of myself or my home, hibernating, and the issues I had at work were symptoms (literally) of a larger mental health issue. Please take a weekend to yourself to think about whether your work-self is actually reflecting a bigger problem, and if that’s the case, I hope you’ll take the opportunity to have a chat with your doctor about your overall health and what options are there for you.

    However, it is 100% possible that none of this applies to you and I hope that is the case! If you find your boredom and checked-out-ness is really only limited to work, then while you are looking for the next thing, maybe you can think about your time left with your current company as training for the next job. You are concerned about taking bad habits with you when you go, and I think that’s a valid concern. Maybe something that would help you be motivated with your current position is to frame the work you are doing now as practice – you want to be diligent in your work with the next company, so you are going to practice being diligent now. You want to be engaged with your goals with the next company, so you are going to practice engaging now. This job is the scales and arpeggios that you do to warm up before you move on to the concerto.

  38. PretzelGirl

    I would try and set goals for yourself throughout the day. They can be as simple as “Spending 1 hour doing X project” then go read AAM. “Reply to 10 emails” then browse Amazon etc. I find the more I surf the internet, less motivated I get. I also feel worse mentally at the end of the day. I feel more drained then I do on a busy day. This has really helped me. In fact I am typing this on one of my little breaks I take.

  39. HereKittyKitty

    Oh man, I thought I might have written this letter. Except the benefits suck and the pay sucks too. I’m someone that really prides myself on my work, but have been scraping by at the bare minimum. I finally decided that since I’m actively looking for a job, the bare minimum that keeps me from being stressed, manic and depressed is perfectly fine. And if they’re gonna underpay me by 10k, then they get 10k less quality of work. Judge that as you like. But ever since I’ve been doing a bit less work, taking on less responsibility at work and taking more breaks at work I find myself less horribly depressed and have had the energy to enjoy my hobbies again. But yeah, it’s a balancing trick. I’ve been job searching for like… 3 months. Interviewed last week- hopefully I hear back soon because I’ve considered quitting so many times and taking up part-time work just get out of it. Yikes.

    1. Fortitude Jones

      And if they’re gonna underpay me by 10k, then they get 10k less quality of work. Judge that as you like.

      Hi, Twin! LOL, you and I totally have the same philosophy about these things, so I won’t judge at all. I, too, also considered quitting my last job and going back to temping, which I haven’t done in almost 9 years, so you know I had to be feeling very bleak.

      1. HereKittyKitty

        I used to be a cake decorator and if I could get healthcare at a local bakery, I’d quit and go right now. But I really really need healthcare because my meatsack is faulty. Solidarity!

  40. TootsNYC

    I read once that people who are successful in long-term jobs–especially if those jobs are a bit repetitive–are those who redefine their “cause” from time to time.

    So the school janitor spends a few years thinking of himself as “making a welcoming place for students to come learn.”
    And then he shifts over to “making it easier for overworked teachers to teach.”
    And then to “preserving the facility to make it less expensive for the taxpayers.”
    And then maybe back to “welcoming students.”

    Whom do you help, with your job? What is the cause you can identify?

  41. Ginevra Farnshawe

    This is… ahem… highly relatable. I’ve spent enormous chunks of my life (including the present chunk) burnt out and confused about “why can’t I just Do the Thing??!!? It’s not even a hard Thing!” When I’m in that spot lists don’t work, scheduling doesn’t work, accountability is touch-and-go. It’s stressful because on top of the fear and self-loathing it generates it’s *baffling*. I am going to share some of my strategies with the caveat that *they are not for everyone* and things like accountability and the time management tools Alison suggests will do a lot more for most people than this exercise will. (Also of course always examine broader mental health issues but I think this strategy applies whether or not there’s some clinical etiology for your lack of motivation.)

    Anyway I’ve had significant success by trying to align my habits with my values/identity—what Alison gets at with her advice to “invest in yourself being seen as competent and productive.”

    The problem I’ve encountered doing this, though, is that I had to get rulllllll honest with myself for it to work. A lot of the values/identities I *think* I hold are not, when it comes down to it, at my core. For example, if I told myself “as someone who cares about being competent and productive, I need to Do the Thing” it wouldn’t work because in my heart of hearts competence and productivity are at best nice extras. The real, deeply held values that, looking back over my life, I have been able to use to motivate myself are (roughly) charm/attractiveness, courage, and compassion (with a dash—ok maybe more than a dash—of defiance). I came to these by literally googling, like, “what are some values” and finding the longest list I could then seeing which three instantly seemed the most right, then checked those against the perception of some good friends. (Three seemed like the right number to cap it at. More than three, maybe four, and I think you are straying away from core values and into extrinsic expectations. I made this up.)

    I had to be open to the fact that my values might not be especially nice-sounding (caring deeply about attractiveness for example). They just… are.

    Anyway, the one I find most useful at work is compassion, e.g. “there is a person on the other end of this email who will suffer, if mildly, if I defer responding to it; it is in my power to spare them that small suffering.” How noble! (I have also told myself “laziness isn’t attractive,” with moderate success). It’s not perfect, and there are a lot of tasks that I can’t make line up with any core value and I just have live with the consequences (internal or otherwise) of ignoring them for longer than an should. Still, I would say that this approach has reduced my indolence and the incumbent misery by like, 30 percent, while helping me clarify what I want out of my next role.

    1. Ginevra Farnshawe

      (Also credit where credit is due, bunch of this cribbed from Gretchen Rubin’s chapter on Rebels. The rest is cribbed from therapy and general being alive.)

      1. TootsNYC

        I was -just- about to come and say, “That’s a similar approach to Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies.”

        Which would be a great book to investigate!

      2. Forkeater

        OMG I had not heard of this before and it is so helpful to me – I just took the quiz, I’m an upholder, which means I’m spinning my wheels not doing work at work when expectations are unclear. I love the freedom but so many of my projects are nebulous with undefined deadlines, makes it too easy for me to waste my time.

        1. Ginevra Farnshawe

          I swear, the, logic behind the, *utter* picaresque that is my career trajectory snapped into sharp focus after that quiz, it was a revelation on the level of the ask culture/guess culture distinction.

    2. Sloan Kittering

      I feel this, one of my problems is a slytherin-like value in “not being a sucker” or “beating the system / being too smart for The Man to take advantage of” that is … very not helpful to me in my efforts to be a Virtuous Employee Who is Conscientious.

      1. Ginevra Farnshawe

        FWIW I supervise folks like this and love it. Just needs the right slightly bemused supervisor/ team member around.

        “Hey Sloan do you know how to use the scanner?”

        “There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus…”

        “Hmmm ok but why literally right now?

        “I LAY MY BODY UPON THE GEARS AND UPON THE WHEELS AND UPON…”

        “Ok. I’m hearing that you don’t know how to use the scanner, is that right?”

        “…AND UPON ALL THE APPARATUS INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO THIS SCANNER…”

        “Thanks.”

  42. Maggie

    I was EXACTLY like this for the last couple of years of my last job. It’s really hard to feel so unmotivated and then feel ashamed of it because that isn’t who you’re used to being! I would recommend looking around your current organization to see if there are other openings that you might be more interested in – especially since you like the company and have great benefits. But you definitely have to be careful about other people catching on an realizing you aren’t doing your work when you should be – I lived in constant fear of that too.

  43. Joy

    A different recommendation, this time for a book – take a look at “The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play” by Niel A. Fiore. It’s not 100% applicable to every situation (I think it’s ideal for graduate students or others with more control over their schedule than those of us with a desk job), but it’s main thrust is that to get through the grind, you have to also have stuff in your life going on that you are enthusiastic about (which others have mentioned in comments already), and sometimes creating that space in your life can do wonders for getting you over a massive procrastination hill like the one the LW is stuck on.

  44. Justme, The OG

    If it weren’t for the number of years working, this could be me. No advice, but serious commiseration.

  45. KC Sunshine

    When I’m working from home, I block all of my favorite websites (except AAM, of course). Sadly, in my office, I’m not allowed to use and browser add-ins. I actually wish that my workplace would ban Facebook, Amazon, news sites, and the like!

  46. Thursday Next

    Oh, I feel this so hard. I’m currently in a similar slump, but I think it’s mostly just that the summer is a quiet period in my industry and I have a hard time motivating myself to do all the non-urgent tasks that pile up throughout the year — I tend to thrive better in a fast-paced environment. I also have recently recognized that my depression has gotten really bad lately, so I’m working with my doctors/therapists to change my treatment plan.

    But a third thing that strikes me, that I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere in the comments, is I wonder whether the LW feels that their ideas/input are valued by their superiors. It’s one thing to be praised for doing the work that you’ve always done well, or that they expect you to complete, and it’s another thing to feel like you can pitch ideas, re-evaluate processes, or contribute to long-term plans.

    I need to feel engaged in my work and valued for my perspective — otherwise, I start feeling like a robot with a to-do list. And this robot would rather be reading advice columns…

  47. Lobsterman

    The trifecta of exhaustion and boredom are thyroid, anemia, and depression. Two of those three are extremely easy to test for…

  48. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain

    What I found that has worked for me is to find something outside of work (or whatever I feel “stuck” at) to get fully interested in. Getting motivated and active in something outside of work gave me a boost in energy that carried over into my work day and at least something to look forward to to get me through the day (like inertia — a body in motion stays in motion, a body at rest stays at rest). Find a volunteer position or take a class that fills the void while still being employed. I really recommend getting your mind off work as much as possible rather than dwelling and spiraling.

  49. Andrea

    I can SO relate. I’ve been bored at work the last few months- like absolutely nothing to do 80% of the time.
    I’m even applying for other jobs and not such much as an interview. I’m getting so discouraged.
    I have a master’s degree and worked my butt off during school while working two jobs. I can work hard and function best when busy… not getting interest in job applications and the lack of work at work is getting harder and harder to deal with.

  50. Punk Ass Book Jockey

    Damn. I could have written this letter. I’m also finding myself unmotivated in my personal life–cleaning, eating well, and exercising feels impossible. I thought it was just a case of my dissatisfaction with work bleeding over into my personal life, but after reading the comments I’m calling my doctor.

  51. Koala dreams

    This letter reminds me of an article I read a couple of years ago about employees suffering from boredom at work, and how being “bored out” might in some ways be as bad for your health as being burned out.

    I hope you can find some time to focus on your health as well as fun activities in your own time. Exercise, self-care, hobbies, spending time with family and friends. When work is tough, we need to take care of ourselves and make the best of the situation. Also, maybe try some things other than surfing the internet when you are bored at work. I find a short walk around the building or a tea or fruit break more energizing than reading blogs. Maybe you can find something similar?

  52. Coasting

    I’d like to join in on the commiseration! I’m in a very similar situation but with a manager who doesn’t manage and completely apathetic, unproductive, coworkers with whom I share no commonalities – we even struggle to chitchat about work. Also, I’m 5 months pregnant, so job hunting isn’t in the cards right now (the disengagement began well before the pregnancy.)

    Some things I’ve tried recently:
    -the Pomodoro method, which works when I commit to it
    -more meetings (more variety, people to engage with, day goes by faster)
    -found and registered for a professional conference that I find exciting
    -working out more (doctor approved- I’ve always found working out to be a cornerstone habit that improves other areas of my life- I eat better so I feel better, I put conscious thought into my schedule, I pay closer attention to my spending, sleep/sex improves.) I miss having pride in my work, but while that’s absent it’s nice to be able to generate a little pride/joy in other areas.

  53. Justathought

    First thing that popped into my head after reading your post was a vacation. (Plus, would you get paid for those un-used days if you wind up leaving?) Take 2 whole weeks or more if you can. I have done this in the past and have found that I typically re-charge by end of week 2 and am ready to work again. Remember summers as a kid? No responsibility and the days stretch endless and hot. Find some sand…take a dip in the ocean….eat ice-cream for dinner. On rainy days, take a nap, and watch The Goonies. Visit friends and have some adult beverages and nachos!

    You might consider making a plan (schedule) to catch up your projects and then talking to your boss.
    If you are frank and let the boss know you are feeling that the position doesn’t challenge you the way it once did, perhaps the two of you can come up with a plan to help you stretch and learn something new.

    Best wishes to you with this!

  54. peachie

    Weird suggestion: Maybe refresh your workspace? Like, deep clean, re-organize, maybe get some cute stuff for your desk? I can’t explain why but often, when I get bored enough to do that, something about the ‘new’ work setting gives me a bit of extra motivation, like a soft reset.

  55. HNL123

    This letter spoke to me on a deep level. I am going through almost exactly the same thing and I even wondered if I blacked out and wrote this letter myself. I’m interested in reading all the comments!

  56. feminzagul

    I find it amazing how universal this phenomenon is and yet the cultural resistance to a 4-day workweek is incredible. How many people would see nearly a 50% life satisfaction increase if we only had to work 32 hours a week? Frankly, I believe at least 50% of jobs could be outright eliminated with no loss of productivity/social functioning, but our society isn’t ready (and probably never will be) to shift so dramatically away from building life around “work.”

    1. That Girl From Quinn's House

      We could even do 36 hours a week, 4 x 9, and it would be a huge improvement in lifestyle for many people.

  57. Irish

    I feel this, but from the other side of the coin.

    I actually really like my specific duties and what I do for the company, but I am starting to feel really bitter about the company and some of my coworkers. I definitely do NOT have a great salary, benefits, etc, and the company culture has gotten more and more old school with time (no more telecommuting, no more flexibility, no dogs in the office anymore, etc). Of the two brands that I work for under the company’s umbrella, one of them is a total boys club, casual sexism and all. The company has lost over about 25% of the employees within the last 6 months, and most positions still have not been filled. I’m burnt out doing two other positions’ work plus my own, haven’t taken a real vacation in almost two years, and the company does not appreciate its employees. It’s just so hard to stay motivated with all that going on, even though I love what I do!

  58. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

    I think the first step in solving this is to figure out the core of why you’re so bored. Is there any part of your job that you do enjoy, or have you taken the wrong career path? I’ve been working for over 20 years and my career has morphed into different types of jobs because of a need and my company’s willingness to give me a shot at something different (I had 4 different titles at my last job and none of them were promotions). They’ve all been related, but it’s led me into things I really enjoyed. You say you have a very supportive boss – have you tried bringing this up with them? Maybe seeing if there are other related opportunities you can explore at the company. Having great benefits/salary/supportive colleagues/great manager are all awesome things to have, but if you’re utterly miserable, it’s just not worth it for your own well being. But before you jump ship, I’d suggest exploring any options you may have with your current company. Most places are willing to give you a shot at something different if that opportunity exists.

  59. Jaybeetee

    I have an issue with this job that’s slightly different, but adjacent, in that it’s one of those jobs that *sounds* really interesting when I talk to people about it, but in reality, maybe 20% of it is actually interesting. The rest being boring admin/paperwork/logistical stuff. I’ve found I tend to procrastinate hard on the “boring stuff” (in the form of, say, surfing the internet and conspicuously minimizing my screen whenever someone walks by…)

    In the last few months, I’ve gotten into podcasts! They stimulate my brain enough that I can plow through the boring work while I listen. Some of the podcasts I find interesting enough that I actually… look forward to boring work I can do while I listen to them? Because they’re topical, they also seem to scratch that “internet junky” itch I have. Warning: if you go this route, up your data plan. Today I actually did slack off some, as my data has blinked until my cycle reset tomorrow, and thus no podcast streaming for me…

    Also, this might be a version of “gamifying”, but I’m exploring the concept of “carrots” in terms of my eternal struggle to get places on time, and that can also be applied to Boring Work Stuff. Like, “if I leave 10 minutes early, I have time for Starbucks! If I leave 10 minutes early, I have time to walk around the building hitting all the PokeStops before I go in!” Perhaps you can set yourself daily goals, and if you hit those goals, find a way to reward yourself? It may work better than beating yourself up for not being more productive.

  60. Jules Verne

    Just another person signing in to say “same here”. It’s nice, at least, to read this letter and the comments and know that I’m not alone.

  61. Introvert girl

    I was going to write this letter, but then you wrote it instead OP. I have the same issue, except even when I give only the bare minimum I still hit my targets and get well beyond them. There is just no motivation. The job is pointless, I’m not learning anything new. One of the things I do now, is doing some intellectually challenging stuff after work, but it’s not enough. The job has become so boring. I’ve been looking for a new job since 10 months now. At least my coworkers are great. I now take one hour a day to do challenging work, which is an improvement but has nothing to do with my actual job.

  62. cactus lady

    Alison would you consider doing a dedicated open thread to sharing tips on this (not just commiserating?). It seems like a lot of us are in the same boat and it would be great to hear from others what has worked for them.

  63. StaceyIzMe

    Somehow, you’ve overextended yourself in the “I can coast on my prior work” department AND you’re bored. You can motivate yourself in any number of ways, but you should take a little time, in my view, to address two key aspects of what’s going on. How did you get here? At some point, you started phoning it in, so to speak, and did so without consequences. That situation isn’t going to last forever. You’re not going to necessarily FEEL great about the work that you do until you engage with it. Figuring out how to do that could be the difference between recovering your sense of self, professionally speaking, and dealing with some unpleasant and utterly preventable fallout. Imagine what would happen if your manager, co-workers and colleagues found out that you basically don’t do your job? A short period of disengagement and disenchantment is part of the normal cycle of work ups and downs, for most of us. There’s a part of professional life that requires most of us to reinvent the job. (As Alison suggested- you could help out with a project that interests you. Or you could use the Pomodoro method. Or find other ways to challenge yourself.) So recovery should look like “oh, dear- that’s a problem!” and “I choose to address it rather than passively waiting for things to implode”. You’ll also interview better- your energy will be more appealing and your offers may be more in number/ higher in quality if you do the work of fixing the dysfunction in your current role. (Otherwise, what are you going to highlight under “accomplishments” either on your resume or in interviews? Social media surfing and shopping don’t pay well for most people.) It wouldn’t hurt to be screened for depression. You may feel like it’s just ennui, but it could be more- especially if it’s been going on for awhile.

  64. The Ginger Ginger

    You say you’re job hunting. Reframe your current work in your head as transition prep. If you find a new job and have to hand all this off, where do your projects and documentation need to be for you to be able to do that without feeling awful? Use that as your new motivation/goal. You’re not just there to do this job you hate, you’re there to wrap up and transition this job to someone else so you can move on. Even without a new offer in hand, it sounds like there’s enough to do to get things in a good place to hand off that you’ll have more than enough to do. And if it takes a while to find something new, you still need to maintain everything in a state that it can be transitioned quickly. Don’t put yourself in a position where you find a new role and are stuck with only 2 weeks to catch up on everything you feel behind on AND figure out a transition plan.

  65. Cows go moo

    OP I have fired two employees in similar situations. I felt sorry for the distress they went through of being fired but rationally speaking an organisation cannot (and should not) continue employing workers who spend a bulk of their time doing personal activities and ignoring work duties…regardless of the reason. Alison mentions using fear of being dismissed to motivate. I want to emphasize this is very much a likely possibility.

  66. agnes

    One thing that helped me was physically moving myself into another workspace. My organization is housed in multiple buildings and I moved to another building. Not sure why it worked but it did.

    You might also want to talk to your boss about taking on some different duties/projects/roles. You can tell them you want some new challenges.

    Also, count your blessings. Sometimes it’s easier to be motivated to do those things you find boring when you actively remind yourself of those things you do like—the benefits, the PTO, your colleagues, etc etc. And also, this doesn’t have to be your forever. You’re doing the right thing to look for other work, but don’t neglect your current job in the process.

  67. BLAHBLAHBLAH

    I go in spurts when I have zero motivation to do f-all. I spend a great amount of time here and on a few other sites. One of the things that helps me DO SOMETHING, is to identify what I want to do, and outright ask my boss if I can do it.
    I go and look for the things that I have passion for, and that will benefit the company or the people I support. Then I say to my manager “I have heard from our people that X is something they need, I have the time… would you mind if I worked on X?” She has never told me no. Feeling effective, useful, and helpful motivates me to do all the BS I don’t want to do.

  68. BLAHBLAHBLAH

    One other thing I want to mention. I am a high-performer in a sea of people who don’t have the skills I have. I can do the same thing they are doing in 1/10 of the time, so I get everything done on time, but I typically do it the week before it is due, and delivery well before the due date. So I still appear to be a high-performer. Just today I delivered something in 3 days that my boss asked someone with my same job and supposedly my same skill level as me had 4 months to do – my work was superior and done in a fraction of the time. My boss is fairly new, she is finally starting to learn that while my counterparts can produce something acceptable, I can do it quickly and in a more modern way.

    1. Fortitude Jones

      I’m the same way, and I’ve found that being highly efficient can lead to the boredom OP’s facing (I know because I was there, and still go through those phases).

  69. char

    I don’t know if you’re allowed to install anything on your work computer, but if you are, you could try installing a browser extension that could block your access to non-work-related sites while you’re at work. I used LeechBlock when I was in college, and it helped me.

    You can blacklist certain problem sites that distract you more often, or you can whitelist work-related sites and make it so that those are the ONLY sites you can access. You can also set it up so that you can access the “fun” sites for only a certain amount of time, and then access is blocked – like, you could allow yourself access for 15 minutes out of every 4 hours as a break, or something.

  70. DataSciGeek

    Going to echo others and say this can be as sign of depression – situational depression. But it’s very hard to recognize until you’re out of there and then realize how much it was affecting you. As someone just getting over this, also from several years in a crappy job, it’s hard to recognize and deal with.

  71. NoLongerYoungButLotsWiser

    I read through the comments, and wanted to add one more possibility I haven’t seen addressed yet.

    This could have been written by one of my former managers. He/she is incredibly bright. One of those folks that got things done in 1/10 the time, and high quality. Moved up and over to a very well paid individual contributor. Could have written this (except for the years). BUT… their personal life is a dumpster fire.

    They are completely focusing on the negatives of the workplace, because it is easier to focus on the fact that they can do the job blindfolded and with one hand, than with the drama and stress of their personal life.

    He/she started job hunting because they think it is “time to have a new challenge.”

    I am a good friend, and pointed out that perhaps it was the universe giving the space – the breathing room – to stop distracting self with work, and to use the space in their mental life, to deal with the things they (truthfully) needed to address. There is so much wrong, it’s painful to hear… and yet they are avoiding thinking about the ramifications, how to fix, or how to manage the rest of their life, by solely focusing on work as the source of all good and all stimulation.

    But at the same time, she/he was phoning it in (see above, can do the job in 1/10th the time of others) and working from home… so of course bored. Because they are is not using any of the life slack/ bandwidth to do some really important personal growth work.

    Just a thought. I recognized it because it was once a life pattern. (Part of my disaster is gone, and I am not bored at work right now… but I cycled through jobs every 3-4 years because of “boredom” for years until I put out my biggest dumpster fire…and I didn’t have a parent dumpster on fire as well…)

    YMMV. It might not “really” be about the job boredom. A new hobby won’t fix a personal life issue, if that’s the root cause. I hope it is not. A happy life and a simply boring job would be the preferable problem to fix.

  72. Bored like a log at a woodworm reunion

    I sympathize so much. I’ve struggled with this at my job for several years. I do my work well enough that my supervisors and colleagues are happy with me. I get great performance reviews. But I’m frequently bored, and there’s little chance of advancement or a lateral move. I have indeed gotten into bad habits like spending way too much time reading blogs. (Why haven’t I quit? Niche field and tied to the geographic area.)

    The two things that have helped the most: first, I’ve sought out new job functions, and been open to them when my bosses offer them. Fortunately I’ve indeed had new tasks added to my job. Learning and mastering the new areas, while not permanently curing the boredom, has at least temporarily reduced it.

    Second, I’ve been changing my attitude from “this job is supposed to be personally fufilling” to “this is my job, not my calling; it keeps my family fed and housed, has great benefits, and leaves me enough energy for stuff I find fun”. That’s been hard, especially because my job *was* interesting, meaningful, and fulfilling for many years. But the more I remind myself that the job is the support for my life rather than the reason for my life, the more I can tolerate it.

    Other little things that help: Using my vacation time! Finding more efficient ways to do my mundane tasks. Setting a timer so that I get up from my desk every half hour; that at least keeps me from getting too lost in the blogosphere. Dragging my introverted self to the other side of the building to spend a few minutes talking with people I don’t see every day about their work; often I learn something I can improve in my job to help them do theirs, or am simply more motivated by seeing how what I do affects what they do. Reminding myself that the company I work for does do really cool things; I may be bored, but I’m not ashamed of my job.

  73. KayDay

    Alison, thank you so much for pointing this out:

    Two years of being bored at work will burn you out! People who have never been in this position sometimes think that being able to spend your workday shopping and reading the news sounds great, but most people who actually experience it find it mind-numbing.

    I barely had anything to do in my first job (my position was in a specific project grant, so the money was there and had to be spent, but the actual aspect of the project that my position was create for was 90% completed). I hated it! I incredibly motivated since I had just finished school and all I wanted to do was work hard and learn about the “real world”. And having people say things like, “enjoy it while it lasts” really just made me feel worse about myself. Not surprisingly, I didn’t learn much at that job, and even though I eventually got more work, I still feel like I wasted a year. And, tbh, the my most motivated, potentially productive year is gone and with it, whatever (small) contribution I could have made with all that focused energy…I’ll definitely never be so excited to go to work again.

  74. Anon for this

    Hard same, OP. I really hoped to read something helpful in the answer but most of Alison’s tips don’t apply to me. It is extremely unlikely that I will be fired: my manager can’t manage, I have a skillset that is difficult to replace, nobody in this company can do my specific job, and we’re in the middle of a huge (and mind-numbingly boring) project with tight deadlines.

    I can’t overstate how much I don’t care for this project. The client is a royal pain who keeps complaining and demanding reworks and expanding the scope of the project while my manager lets them get away with it. Most of the reworks have lowered the quality of the product to the point I am embarrassed of what we put out. I used to fight against unreasonable demands (like if I were asked to do something that is the opposite of best practice) but it led to me being stressed and burnt out so now I just do what I’m told.

    I am still able to hit my deadlines, barely, because I’m good at what I do when I can be arsed. I have tons of PTO that I can’t use because my boss wants me available for this project. In 2019 I’ve taken off a single week in April (company closed down for Easter) and that’s it. I hate this specific project but the other available projects are not much better. I’ve been job searching for 3 months and I feel like I’m stuck.

    1. MissDirected

      This is me right now too. I’ve got plenty to do. I just don’t want to do it. I don’t much care about not doing it either, which I know I should. I even put off going for lunch. And instead of getting on with the pile of work I should be doing I am reading about how other people also don’t have motivation at work!

      I am waiting on a decision from a recent interview (they called and said it would be another 2 weeks before they know, grr) so hopefully that will come through and pull me out of this hole!

    2. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis

      It’s in equal parts reassuring and depressing that so many people are finding themselves feeling the same way.
      I *can’t* find ways to gamify my job (the only thing my job and a game have in common is a lot of pointless button mashing); I’ve asked if I can help with every project that could possibly fall into my remit (which are given and then taken away before I can really get my teeth into the work) and (most worryingly) I’m losing not just motivation, but respect for my co-workers as well (“how about you engage your brain before asking if you can pick mine?” – never said out loud, but thought on repeat)

      And my boss reckons the solution is to give me a new job title! (which potentially comes with a pay rise, but I’m not holding my breath). I don’t want a new job title – I want a new job.

  75. Master Procrastinator

    I was wondering when it would be the day that I would see “me” in a AAM post. This is it – AAM was one of the things I read every day in my previous job because I couldn’t motivate myself to do anything else.
    Letter Writer: get out, find a new job, quickly. Staying in your current situation will sink you further, you will become insecure and question your own abilities. The nice perks are not worth it.
    Good luck!

  76. constantly refreshing askamanager at work

    This answer and all the comments are very, very validating for me! I have a lot of shame around being this way but my workplace lets me get away with so much that I keep doing it. I’m trying to solve this by quitting at the end of the month – I gave months of notice but that’s made things even worse! I have a few weeks left and my management still talks about how great I am and how much they will miss me, going as far to ask me to stick around for another month or two to finish off projects. The point about vacations is important, I think. I’m planning to take an entire month off with a few short trips with my partner. I have money saved and I’m already interviewing at other places that feel exciting to work at, trying to find places where the culture and environment have the things I feel like I’ve been missing here. I suspect the lack of these things (teamwork, process, opportunities to upgrade my skills, etc) have been contributing to my attitude here.

    One thing I want to point out though – the absolute most productive day I ever had recently was a day I worked from home. My partner had to study so we went to a Starbucks together with our laptops. I think we were both trying to not look like slackers in front of each other and got really zoned in. I know this isn’t possible for anyone but if this works for you I would highly recommend it!

  77. NeonDreams

    I completely understand how you feel. I’m in a similar position with my job. I know how to do it and I’m good at it most of the time, but it bores me. Looking for another job isn’t helping matters. I want to get out of the field I’m in (customer service). But the majority of jobs available in my town are retail or customer service related. And they pay a lot less than what my current company does. I don’t have the money to move to a bigger city, either. So, I’m stuck here.

  78. OP here!

    I’m quite late to the game on this. I didn’t see the email from Allison saying she was answering my question because I’ve been so busy at MY NEW JOB and generally being social/seeing my friends and not fretting about spending every moment of free time I have applying for jobs (because, sigh, is that exhausting on top of working a job you hate).

    I will say I wrote this letter in a particular low point. I was also in grad school and finishing up the quarter. It was winter. I was probably a bit depressed and constantly stressed out and my mental state was not great. I also started therapy soon after I wrote it and that helped a ton.

    What did help me was actually thinking about how Allison would respond to this letter. Putting on my Alison hat, I made myself find a project I actually liked doing and focused my energy on that. That project actually helped me get my new job!

    I hope that others who are in similar situations find her advice useful! And I’m keeping this letter to remind myself that if I’m every *thinking* about leaving a job, I need to start looking. I never want to be in such a miserable situation again.

    1. Benvinda

      Glad to hear you are doing better OP and in a new, and better, role! :) I like many here am reading through, to find the answers I’m looking for, relating a great deal to you and the other folks posting on this topic.

  79. Enginear

    You’re bored at work but still have 280 hours of PTO left?! Sounds like you’d rather be at work than on vacation LOL

  80. AKA

    I had a job like that… I managed to read Atlas Shrugged and A Song of Ice and Fire at my desk in the span of a month. Not to recommend either of those books, just putting into perspective how little I was doing…

  81. Just stoppin' by to chat

    Not sure if this was already stated, but the first thing that jumped out to me was that maybe the LW has developed depression. The key phrases about how the lack of motivation started 2 years ago (but they did feel motivated previously), and just not being able to even respond to an email. If they are able, I recommend an overall check-up with their doctor and finding a therapist to work with. Maybe the company has an EAP? Even a few sessions may help to unravel the lack of motivation, and help to change their perspective like Allison suggested. Good luck on the job search LW!

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