A person writing in a notebook.

I Keep A List Of Things To Do When Bored (You Should Too)

I no longer mind the waiting room.

“Take a seat. It’ll be just a few minutes.”

You find a spot along an adjacent wall and sit down. Littered on the coffee table are an assortment of dated magazines. Why do all doctors’ offices look the same? You think about picking one up but decide against it.

Too many germs.


Your time in the waiting room

The receptionist said it would be a few minutes, but a few minutes has quickly turned into a half-hour. And having finished scrolling through social media about 15 minutes ago, you now find yourself incredibly bored.

I should use this as an opportunity to practice observing things. So you look around the room, taking in the smell of the worn carpet, noticing the brown walls, the fluorescent lights. That kills about four minutes. Now what?

There’s definitely something I could be doing… but what?

Let me try meditating. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Your calm quickly sours though when you overhear an elderly woman yelling at the reception staff. Every time!

I guess daydreaming won’t work in this case either.


The smaller waiting room

“The doctor can see you now. Come on back.”

Finally! You stand up and follow the nurse to an even smaller room. He quickly checks your vitals and then leaves without saying anything else. Some bedside manner that guy had. I wonder how long I’ll be in this room for…

Once again, you find yourself killing time as a few minutes turns into a half-hour.

What a waste. There is definitely something I could be doing right now… but what?! This is so frustrating! You sit there stewing until the doctor finally comes in and begins the appointment.

It lasts all of about five minutes. Classic.


An hourglass in front of a red background.


My (many) experiences with waiting

As a self-diagnosed (and recovering) hypochondriac, I’ve spent a lot of time in waiting rooms. And I’ll tell you what, regardless of doctor type – dermatologist, cardiologist, gastroenterologist, general physician, you name it – the story above has been my experience more often than not.

You get there early (or at least try to), sit in the waiting room for a half-hour, then go back to a smaller room and wait for another half-hour before finally seeing the doctor.

All the while, the internet is shoddy and you have nothing to do. You just sit there, growing more impatient by the second.


Reading proved ineffective

For a while, I brought a book with me. But, focusing on a book proved challenging in the first waiting room. What with the TV in the corner blaring House Hunters and the occasional, but frequent enough, angry outbursts by irritated patients, there was too much going on to get any real reading done.

But there was just enough not going on to be incredibly bored.

The second waiting room was better. At least you were in your own little box. However, the awareness of time passing always made it difficult for me to get engaged with the book.

The only thing I could focus on was the hum of the fluorescents above me.

Not good.


The Bored List

In David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done, he mentions having a list of things to do when you’re bored – a Bored List. On such a list would be things like:

  • Clean up inbox
  • Deposit check
  • Tidy desk
  • Organize files

Tasks that are mindless, easy to do, and perfect to work on during moments of captive boredom.

Take being on hold with customer service, for instance. During those times, he pulls up his list and works through what he can. It’s not high-level work by any means, but it’s things that he has to do regardless, so might as well do them while sitting on the phone.


Convert boredom into productivity

I love this idea of having a Bored List. A literal list of things you can do when you’re bored.

Because life is full of waiting room moments. And instead of sitting there, getting irritated, and then taking your frustrations out on the doctor if/when she comes in, you can channel that energy into something useful.

Something productive.


Next time you’re stuck in a waiting room, tackle your Bored List.


My Bored List

I’ve taken Allen’s idea and have applied it to my own day-to-day. I have a Google Doc that I use to plan my schedule. At the top of that doc is a section specifically designated for bored tasks.

The Doc is downloaded to my phone so I can access it even without service. And the tasks on that list can often also be done without service. So I’m covered in most tedious situations. Tasks on my list include things like:

  • Organize the notes on my phone
  • Delete apps I no longer use
  • Clean up the files in my Google Drive *requires service
  • Look up new low-carbohydrate snacks to try *requires service


Channel your energy into the list

I keep the list short – around one to four items max – purely for preference’s sake. Any longer and it would start to feel overwhelming. As I complete one task, I remove it from the list. And when I come across something new that should be on it, I add it on.

It’s that simple.

Now when I wait, I’m not impatient. I’m not irritated. If anything, I’m a little miffed when the doctor finally comes in. I was right in the middle of something!

Furthermore, I rarely notice how long I’ve waited since I’ve been doing things the whole time.


Moving forward with your Bored List

In situations of captive boredom, it helps to have a list of menial things you can do to make use of your time. You won’t always be at your desk so I recommend having the list on your phone or in a notebook that you take everywhere with you.

That way it’s accessible at the pharmacy, on the train, on the phone with customer service, or when waiting for the restaurant to grab your takeout from the back.

It’s not ideal for extended stints of boredom though.

I certainly make reading work if I’m on a plane or at the DMV (headphones are a must in both cases). But for situations that call for small bursts of boredom, situations where you want to travel light and don’t expect to be delayed for too long, the Bored List is a great resource to have.

So put yours together and make use of the waiting room.


PS: Let me show you how to achieve your goals.

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