Students should get more comfortable with being bored

Avoiding digital distractions useful for students’ productivity

Image by: Herbert Wang
James encourages students to practice appreciating moments of monotony.

We often hear time is money and that time flies when you’re having fun. Phrases like the first tell us that time is valuable, while the second idea conveys time is relative.

As the fall semester ramps up, one doesn’t need much convincing on the former point. The business of student life makes the scarcity of time quite clear.

We can, however, use the malleability of our perception of time to slow down its passing in a meaningful way, and give us more of a valuable thing by doing so.

Our relationship to time is relative—one minute might feel very long for someone waiting in a line for coffee without a phone, whereas another minute might feel very short for someone deep in a TikTok hole.

As students, we often complain about having no time. Though this is a justified complaint, there are ways to avoid this feeling.

One way is to become more intimate with boredom, seeking it out as often as possible and avoiding the instinctual urge to scroll on social media or check emails.

Consider how this approach might work in a concrete example.

Let’s say there’s a paper due tomorrow. You’re working nonstop to finish it and feel like time is working against you. To momentarily stop feeling overwhelmed, you take a break, pick up your phone and scroll on Instagram for fifteen minutes until the urgency of finishing the paper returns to your consciousness.

It’s likely the case that as you return to your work, your 15-minute break felt more like two, and you’re back to working on an assignment which feels impossible in the time given.Instead of using our devices to bring us somewhere far from the immediate task, it’s worth intentionally injecting boredom into our breaks.

This might make 15 minutes feel more like half an hour and if we’re lucky, experience some excitement to return to doing something productive.

Not everyone in this scenario would be excited to return to their assignment—this is understandable. However,  the break will feel longer than it otherwise would, and you’ll give  yourself more time in the sense that matters most—your perception of its passing.

This can be applied beyond breaks from work, especially in mundane actions like making coffee, waiting to cross the street, or waiting in a line for food.

These actions have in common the tendency to inspire distraction and compel us to turn away from the task at hand.

Instead of staring at boiling water, or waiting for the little walking man to tell us we can cross the street, we usually optto check our phones. Even if there’s nothing worth checking, it’s become routine to kill the time with these powerful devices.

This is, again, not the only way of doing things. When boiling water, it could be beneficial and relaxing to watch the water heat up; when waiting to cross the street, watching the cars around us or observe the countdown animation on the indicator already open for crossing could be grounding.

Even when it feels like there’s nothing to do and the urge to succumb to digital distraction is strong, paying attention to one’s immediate surroundings is useful for extending our perception of time.

I can vouch for the value of boredom and the ease with which it can be integrated into our lives.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to sit a meditation retreat at Insight Meditation Society in rural Massachusetts. The daily schedule was dull. I woke up each morning at 6 a.m.; ate a mindful breakfast at 6:30 a.m.; and worked a ‘yogi job’ (mine was vacuuming a staircase) from 7:00 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. I alternated between seated meditation, and meditating while walking in 45-minute intervals, until bedtime at 9:00 p.m.

Something became apparent after four days of living with this schedule. Though time slows down when you are bored, boredom isn’t necessarily a negative experience.

It can be quite refreshing and nourishing.

By managing to partake in so-called boring behaviours, you can have your time and eat it too, and extend your perception of time without making the process unbearable.

The practice of walking meditation might also prove helpful to students. If the idea of breaking from your laptop only to stare at the wall in front of you inspires strong aversive feelings, consider instead walking slowly near your desk, perhaps between aisles in the library, or outside if it’s close enough. The many beautiful gardens and quads at Queen’s are good places for such a calming practice.

This strategy gives us all the benefits of boredom, but also the repeated and rhythmic feeling of our feet moving through space and touching the ground to pay attention to.

However they might embrace boredom in their schedules, students should at least try. It takes few extra moments, if any, and experimenting with different inputs during transitionary and breaking points will reveal variations in your perception of time.

Luckily, this won’t require much effort.

As meditation teacher Sam Harris has noted, being mindful requires that we do less, not more. In practice, this might mean sitting back in your chair during a break, not using your phone, not thinking about the past or the future, and instead being present in the moment.

As the scarcity of time through the fall semester is made more evident by the hour, students should do less, not more. You might find yourself richer in time than you otherwise thought, both in quantity and quality.

James is a first-year MA student in the philosophy department.







meditation, Relaxation, Time

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