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Why being bored at work can be good

November 22, 2014, 4:00 PM UTC
2011 Matrix Awards
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 11: Robin Koval,president of the Kaplan Thaler Group attends the 2011 Matrix Awards at The Waldorf=Astoria on April 11, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
Photograph by Jamie McCarthy — Getty Images

MPW Insider is one of several online communities where the biggest names in business answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How do you stay excited about your job? is written by Robin Koval, CEO and President at American Legacy Foundation.

As world famous soprano, Beverly Sills said, “there are no short cuts to any place worth going.” The trick is remaining excited throughout what can sometimes be a long journey to that destination. Let’s face it: while the big goals we are aiming for in our careers, relationships or life can be wonderfully inspiring, the day-to-day work of getting there is often … well, a little boring. In our “always on,” attention-deficit starved world, the patience required to wait for the big pay-off is increasingly in short supply – especially for the millennial generation that will soon make up the majority of the workforce. Statistics tell us that 50 percent of millennials expect to be at their job for less than three years.

So how do you muster up the grit to stay personally engaged and keep your teams (both younger and experienced) excited to walk in the door each day?

That’s a critical issue I face at my organization, Legacy. Taken from a long-term perspective, our mission is to create a culture where youth and young adults reject tobacco. Our truth campaign has helped reduce the teen smoking rate from 23% when we began the program in 2000 to less than 10% today and the numbers continue to go down. Our latest evolution of truth asks young people to join with us and be the generation that ends smoking. But, as passionate and sure as we are about our ultimate mission, a long-term David vs. Goliath battle like ours requires a great deal of resilience, tenacity and grit to stay on course and reach the finish line.

So here are a few tools that I use both personally and with my team to keep everyone engaged as we keep our eye on the long-term prize:

Being a little bored is okay
We all know that it’s unrealistic to expect our jobs to be fun or interesting all day. But what many of us don’t realize is that we can use the slow periods as “boredom breaks” to recharge creativity. Instead of “leaning in,” give yourself permission to “lean back” – to daydream, muse about a long-term issue you never seem to have time to get to, or read that article that’s been in your inbox forever. You’ll find that your brain uses these down periods to switch from left-brain rationality to right-brain idea generation.

Celebrate little victories
Whether it’s ending teen smoking or turning around a tough business situation, it’s important to honor the small, easily overlooked incremental steps along the way and celebrate them. I send a note to my staff each Friday recounting the weeks’ achievements (often things as small as a good meeting, a favorable statistic, or a staffer achieving a personal milestone). When I look back at a month or two of notes, I am always amazed and gratified at how much we have accomplished.

Believe in plan “B”
The disappointments and frustrations of work can wear away and obscure our long-term goals. The next time your great idea, budget or proposal gets shot down use it as a chance to come up with a plan “B.” Experience shows that our back-up plans are often better informed, more creative, and more likely to succeed. Remember, Steve Jobs didn’t introduce the iPhone until his second stint at Apple (AAPL).